Leading in Crisis: How to Prepare, How to Execute, How to Thrive (Part 5)

In this final article in a five-part series focused on crisis leadership, we consider preparatory actions to take before the next crisis. (Previous articles have focused on what to do during a crisis and critical steps to take as a crisis begins to subside.)

Identifying Changes Made

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 20% of physicians engaged in telehealth. Yet a mere eight weeks later, survey data indicated that 63% of physicians had now adopted telehealth. This sharp increase in the use of an already present, but not pervasive, technology was one of many changes organizations made as they adapted to the crises of the pandemic. Research conducted 60 to 90 days after the pandemic initially became prevalent in the United States provided a compelling statistic for purposes of this discussion.

60% of physicians now using telehealth said they intended to continue using it in the future

For many people, the disruption in the delivery of clinical care was one of the more significant positive outcomes of the pandemic. A massive retooling to providing healthcare services using telemedicine increased access for certain segments of the population by video and text, and the widespread adoption of a relatively new modality that providers can use to reach and assist their patients. Identifying telehealth as an effective response to the changing delivery of healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic was the “aha” moment. It highlights a critical action item for leaders to consider as they prepare for their next crisis: what changes did we make during this crisis that were important to our near-term future success? Merely identifying the changes made helps open the door to crucial learnings for leaders to discover and use to help them prepare for what happens next.

Evaluating Changes Made

Developing a deep understanding of the changes made during (and as an immediate result of) a crisis should be one of the first post-stabilization activities healthcare delivery systems complete. This identification is essential in helping the organization prepare for and ultimately deal with the next crisis. However, detecting the changes is only the first step to preparing; leaders must then take that information and evaluate the changes to see if they are worth implementing permanently or if there is a lesson to learn why this change influenced the outcomes of the crisis.In that evaluation process, there are a series of questions leadership can ask to help guide the assessment and uncover truths.

  1. What changes made during a crisis have improved the organization (e.g., its employees, its operating efficiency, its clinical services, its financial performance, etc.) during and after the crisis?
  2. How do you know those specific changes resulted in an improvement?
  3. What data or other results quantify the relative improvements those changes made?
  4. Why were those changes so impactful?
  5. What made those changes necessary?
  6. Which of those changes are you interested in making a permanent fixture in the organization?
  7. Why are you interested in making those changes permanent?
  8. What resources are needed to make those changes permanent?
  9. What is the anticipated impact of making those changes permanent?
  10. What evaluation process will you use to monitor the impact of those changes in the future to ensure they are as relevant post-crisis as they were mid-crisis?

As we continue our example of telehealth, it is crucial to understand why the massive uptick in utilization during the pandemic occurred and what benefits it has created. Arguably, this is more important than the simple recognition that it happened, as it speaks to what needs to take place next.

Responding to Changes Made

Although it may seem evident that telehealth will be one of the more lasting changes to come out of this pandemic even it is not without challenges. Some people are calling this period “The Great Acceleration,” given the massive shifts it has furthered in telehealth, e-commerce, cloud computing, and reshoring, among others.

For example, despite the ambition of the current telehealth users and their reported commitment to the platform in advancing care, at this time, 35% of the American population does not have broadband internet access. Lack of broadband access makes real-time telehealth via video-conferencing or another data-heavy program difficult, if not impossible.

Thus, for all the progress since mid-March 2020, those changes are not perfect. Research indicates that asynchronous communication (like texting) may be the most impactful approach to leveling the field for more people to benefit from telehealth. To be clear, it is highly unlikely that dyssynchronous communication is the only solution, but rather, it indicates that it should be part of the more global future solution. Meaning, organizations should applaud themselves for the work they have done in synchronous communication and care, but the progress should not stop there.

With our telehealth example, after identifying and realizing the impact of telehealth(it brought care to patients where they lived), the real challenge is to figure out how to continue to bring care to patients wherever they are, including in homes where broadband is not available. For many organizations, this may mean permanently maintaining a robust telemedicine program that includes both real-time and asynchronous care. Allowing these both to be options for patients may help ensure access to healthcare, regardless of their access to steady internet.

The process of robust assessment and continual search for solutions will build on initial successes during a crisis, and it will create the most optimal outcomes that will help organizations best prepare for their next crisis, whatever shape or form it takes.

We’d love to hear about how you anticipate continuing your telehealth services post-COVID, and adapting it for future use. Email us today to speak with Aimee Greeter, MPH, FACHE, and share your experience. Coker is here for you as a strategic partner to help evaluate and prepare before your next crisis.

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