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Becoming A Change Agent in Healthcare: The Key to Meaningful Improvement

May 25, 2022
Will Caldwell, MD, MBA

Senior Vice President and Executive Advisor

Article Summary


Facing constant change and dwindling profit margins, healthcare organizations consistently rely on financial management in response to market changes. While a financial focus is crucial for survival, healthcare leaders should realize the power of clinicians as change agents in driving meaningful clinical improvement and curbing rising costs. Providers’ dedication to delivering first-class care and eagerness to continually discover the most effective care delivery methods—powered by analytic insight—is the foundation of clinical improvement. This powerful combination of clinical passion and relevant data is key to successfully surviving and thriving in an ever-changing industry, in which financial rewards depend on patient outcomes.

change agents in healthcare

U.S. healthcare leaders increasingly prioritize managing budgets and cutting costs. This financially-focused approach isn’t surprising, considering that many countries struggle with rising healthcare costs—a major part of national budgets for most industrialized nations—and lack the know-how to effectively contain these expenses. However, in some cases, a fiscal-first mindset can deprioritize the most important part of healthcare: the patient.

As healthcare organizations face unprecedented financial demands, they also face equally important quality and safety issues that can lead to devastating outcomes (e.g., mortality) and steep financial penalties. Therefore, when considering strategies to reduce costs and eliminate waste, leaders should not underestimate the power of a clinical change agent in healthcare to improve and create more cost-effective care.

Without a Change Agent in Healthcare and Access to Data, Clinical Improvement Is Hard to Achieve

Clinicians care deeply about the quality of care they deliver to the patients they serve. They generally aim to exceed the standards for performance because they are committed to continuously improving care delivery.

Yet, while clinicians want to meet and even surpass the rigorous criteria for quality care, most do not really know how their individual performance compares to their peers; they lack an effective way to measure the quality of the care they deliver. Without quality and outcomes insights, clinicians can’t use data to understand what is best for the patient or identify best practices.

Additionally, the reward in fee-for-service models is focused on volume, instead of value, further incentivizing clinicians to focus on quantity of care over quality of care.

A Change Agent in Healthcare Can Transform and Redefine Value

Innovative clinicians are already working as change agents by collaborating with each other, identifying evidence-based care practices, measuring outcomes, and continuously improving care for the patients they serve. Disease by disease, they are attacking the medical conditions that afflict humanity, and in the process, improving the quality of care they deliver to patients.

As change agents, clinicians cans ask several key questions to guide the innovation and quality improvement process:

  • What is quality?
  • What should we measure?
  • How can we achieve the best outcomes?
  • How can we continuously improve?

Answers to these questions can spark new ideas or different variations of current ideas that can lead to more effective improvement methods. Clinical curiosity and consistently questioning current practices is the key to achieving new heights of clinical care delivery.

Empowering Clinicians with Data Leads to Clinical Improvement and Lower Costs

A growing number of clinical change agents in healthcare are discovering that questioning common practices and using data to choose the most successful practices is enhancing professional experience and patient outcomes. This continuous improvement can be rewarding and aligns with professional commitment to deliver excellent care. However, constant development also requires access to relevant data and a willingness to explore which practices work best.

For example, health systems can use analytic insight to tweak existing practices and perfect their processes to meet their populations’ specific needs. In one case, these small changes reduced heart failure and thousands in cost savings.

Clinicians can work together to agree on a definition of quality, then start measuring their performance against that definition with data. They can share and debate what the data reveals and identify what works best based on analytic insight. In this collaborative process, clinicians, team members, and operational leaders can learn from their experience.

Using data and analysis to drive continuous improvement is critical because organizations who focus on quality frequently have lower costs. Most clinicians would agree that the potential for savings in the care delivery process is exciting, but many doubt the feasibility of the required changes in a real-world clinical setting. To achieve these savings, clinicians—the team members who can change the front lines of care—must shift their mindset to measuring care by quality instead of quantity.

A Change Agent in Healthcare: The Answer to Low Quality, Rising Costs

As clinicians work to optimize care delivery and outcomes, they shift the focus to what matters most in healthcare: the quality of care delivery to the patient. In the process of improving care delivery, healthcare organizations will manage—and cut—costs. By measuring value in healthcare, the industry will understand that clinicians play a central role as change agents in healthcare by improving care and bending the rising cost curve.

Additional Reading

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