How to Create a Culture of Safety in a Decentralized Healthcare Landscape

In the early stages of the pandemic, healthcare organizations made do with what was available. Bed shortages and widespread staffing issues were front-page news for months on end, and alternative care models scaled rapidly to accommodate the growing need.

In fact, by the end of 2020, travel nursing grew 35 percent, and ambulatory care was one of the fastest growing and highest-margin segments of the healthcare industry that year. However, the pandemic didn’t introduce staffing shortages or traveling — it simply accelerated trends that were in the works long before COVID-19.

But with the recent end of the federal public health emergency, the industry is in the midst of defining what a new “new normal” might look like. With more opportunity for reflection, we have a chance to make it a better normal, rather than a return to business as usual. Said differently — as an industry, are we looking to build a new future or simply rebuild the past?

It’s a heavy question, and you’ll likely get different answers depending on who you ask. However, where a comprehensive solution might remain a bit nebulous, the approach is clear: in an increasingly decentralized healthcare landscape, we must break down the silos that pervade our organizational processes, technologies and relationships and work collaboratively to realize opportunities and hard-wire solutions identified over the past three years.

Build Purpose-Driven, Scalable and Sustainable Solutions

While rapidly deploying alternative care options was imperative at the height of the crisis, we must ensure that we’re meeting these alternative models and shifts with the same level of scrutiny and consistency that we expect from traditional hospitals.

Looking specifically at the trend toward more widespread outpatient care, associated strategies were largely influenced by factors ranging from the case for shorter stays and the resulting reduction in risk surrounding adverse events to payer pressure, provider opportunity, increased savings and consumer demand. However, while this strategy still offers plenty of opportunities, there is concern that many emerging care channels lack the same level of standardization, sustainability and accountability as traditional healthcare settings and that many are beholden to the influence of outside stakeholders.

To address these concerns with both historical issues and emerging trends, we must work collectively to build cohesive, purpose-driven solutions that address our current needs and keep our people, patients and organizations safer. In short, this will require teams to focus on purpose-driven efforts that are scalable, standardized and sustainable.

Break Silos & Foster Cross-Functional Expertise

Even in the best of times, maintaining patient care standards and meeting accreditation and regulatory requirements are complex tasks. Often, competing priorities and stretched workforces create workarounds and numerous processes or systems to accommodate specific (and sometimes, individual) needs. These workarounds and siloed workflows, in turn, lead to increased risk and so-called “stupid stuff.” In a similar sense, reactive tech investments lead to added expense and significant sprawl that is both resource-intensive and introduces numerous points of failure — especially when solutions are homegrown or highly customized.

We’ve seen the adoption of an integrated, purpose-built infrastructure in the health record space with emergence of enterprise-level EHR solutions, but many more specialized functions continue to address siloed processes with siloed solutions. While this might solve short-term needs, it fails to address the “system” part of “health system.” Rather than assessing whether a solution meets a given function’s needs, we should be asking how it impacts the entire organization.

From a process standpoint, siloed approaches are common (especially when functions or organizations are understaffed), but they can be busted. Cross-silo leadership that focuses less on vertical hierarchies and more on cross-functional expertise can ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time with the right information. What’s more, it can also help organizations break past old ways of doing things and focus on new, cross-functional approaches that benefit all stakeholders, while also potentially saving hospitals money and improving patient outcomes.

Standardize Systems & Processes

With a collaborative, purpose-driven approach, health systems can hold all sites to the same standards and ensure teams have the same information and are aligned in terms of how they manage governance, risk, compliance and workforce management. Even small changes can improve patient experience, as well as identify problem sites or highlight opportunities to standardize positive outcomes and practices across care channels.

While many of these changes can be handled at the intrapersonal or procedural level, cross-functional collaboration and effective standardization often requires an associated IT investment. This means that (like more operational efforts) technology must also be scalable, standardized and sustainable. In these cases, less is often more, as fewer disparate systems mean consolidated IT costs, time back for IT professionals and super users, fewer points of failure and less effort toward upkeep — ultimately offering healthcare organizations room to grow.

As we move into this next phase together, the healthcare industry has an opportunity to course correct and improve on existing models and reconcile where emerging opportunities have gone a bit off the rails. Standardizing and centralizing systems and processes is an imperative, enabling organizations save time, money and resources, while reducing headaches, mitigating risk and allowing teams to focus on what matters most.

To learn more about how your organization can build a culture of safety leveraging your people, process and technology, connect with one of our experts today.

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