Learning From Other Industries

JANUARY 14, 2014
In an October 28, 2013, Harvard Business Review blog post entitled “Bringing Outside Innovations into Health Care,” Mike Wagner suggests that the only organizations that will succeed in the future will be those that are willing and able to change and that continuously innovate and implement recommended changes. He notes, however, that these improvements are much more difficult to achieve than one might think: “History shows that 65% of transformation efforts yield no improvement while 20% of efforts result in worsened outcomes. Even when there is improvement, performance usually returns to previous levels within a few years.”
 
In an era in which both health care delivery and health care financing are undergoing fundamental changes, these statistics do not offer confidence that we will end up with a transformed health care system that operates optimally. After all, they suggest that only a small portion of organizations that attempt to transform themselves will achieve positive and sustainable change that leads to improved outcomes. We need to identify and learn from these companies so we can follow their example.
 
If you are interested in working in an organization like this, there are a few recommendations to consider. Even if you are not in a senior position with the ability to effect change in your company’s work culture, you can still have an impact. The first step is to transform yourself. Fundamental organizational change can only take place if the organization’s members are ready for change. While that might sound simple, I have found it to be very difficult for people, including myself, to put into practice.
 
Everyone has aspects of their job that they like, and when proposed changes threaten to disrupt these aspects, insecurity and concern naturally take hold. This tends to manifest itself through anger, frustration, negative thoughts, and general distrust. This is especially true when employees are saddled with new responsibilities that they feel unqualified for or uninterested in. It is important to recognize these emotions in yourself, understand where they are coming from, and be willing to embrace the proposed changes. Not knowing what form your job will take can quite naturally inspire fear, but change is always needed to produce improvement. I have found in my own career that changes I initially feared and opposed ended up leading to improved patient care and an ultimately positive change in my work experience.
 
Walker also recommends studying beneficial changes made by other industries and seeking to implement similar changes in your practice. I refer to this as environmental scanning. Those who keep up with medical and pharmacy literature are well aware of new services being provided by other hospitals. Unfortunately, this only covers innovations in our own industry. While knowing this information is essential, it is also important to keep up with advances in other industries. What could you learn from watching mail sorting and delivery at the US Postal Service or FedEx that could be helpful in improving drug distribution? What could you learn from observing a local furniture or car manufacturing plant that could be helpful in improving your approach to IV compounding? What could you learn from telemarketers or door-to-door salesmen that could be helpful in patient counseling? Your initial answer to each of these questions might be nothing. However, staying within our professional silos and sticking to a belief that there is little others can teach us can hold us back from true innovation and improvement. Only those organizations that engage in environmental scanning and consistently endeavor to learn from others will be positioned for success in the future.
 
Have you visited organizations outside of the health care industry to investigate ways of improving your current operations and clinical pharmacy services? I would enjoy hearing about these visits and what you learned from them.

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