On the back of the pandemic, the past two years have taught the healthcare sector important transformational lessons in the areas of adaption strategies and service improvements such as using digital technology to deliver care and to support disease monitoring. The sector has been characterized by innovation and execution at a pace never seen before, proving the ability of healthcare organizations to dramatically heighten their agility, slash response times and meet public needs. The sector has been forever changed as a result because the luxury of time and a steady environment are no longer needed nor available for transformation to happen.
COVID-19 has also taught leaders important lessons. In my role at KPMG, I’ve had discussions with healthcare leaders about how their management styles evolved during the pandemic. Many leaders reverted to a more directive, command-and-control approach, gripping operational performance tightly. However, others maintained a continuous improvement mindset, empowering staff to make change, coaching rather than telling. With this approach, a tolerance for controlled failure (learning from mistakes) actually proved pivotal in redesigning pathways at pace.
Prior to the pandemic, many of the latter organizations had embarked on a continuous improvement journey. Some continued on that journey, whilst others paused their programs to focus on the pandemic. I feel there are no clear winners as there are potential benefits to both approaches. I would however argue that having a focused and effective management system, underpinned with improvement techniques and the right behaviors can be quickly adapted to focus on whatever the most pressing issues of the day are.
On the back of the crisis, continuous improvement techniques have also evolved at pace with lessons learned in the area of working collaboratively instead of taking siloed approaches. An example of this lesson being put into practice to improve care was the “adopt and adapt” workshop KPMG in the UK recently facilitated through which senior national-level healthcare stakeholders were all put in a room and tasked with rapidly changing specific care pathway areas. This was really a rapid improvement event on steroids, taking a “fail fast and learn from it” approach through which the pathways were then adopted and adapted locally up and down the country, with a huge amount of success. This approach had a bit of command and control, and a bit of continuous improvement methodology rolled in and worked really well.
All of these lessons learned in the crisis will serve healthcare organizations well now and, in the future, as they will need to respond to the many challenges that are buffeting the sector. In many jurisdictions, procedure wait lists are at an all-time high and the impact of severe health problems that went undiagnosed are just starting to be understood. Health inequality continues to be an issue too. Globally, the pandemic has also placed an extraordinary strain on a dwindling supply of health workers. These challenges are forcing healthcare leaders and their teams to think and work differently, to examine how their workforces are trained and deployed, and how technology can be used to help improve patient experiences, lighten provider workloads, and empower patients through self-care. These topics are explored in this fourth issue of Healthcare Foresight, through the articles below:
- Through a virtual roundtable, healthcare leaders from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States share how they and their organizations have evolved through COVID, offering rich insights on leadership, organizational transformation and flexibility.
- In the United States, we learn about the challenges healthcare organizations are facing and how technology is being used to help improve patient and workforce experiences.
Perhaps the legacy of the pandemic will be that it has forced healthcare to be proactive instead of reactive. The sector should not lose these important lessons and transformational momentum because we can expect a dynamic future as the status quo. No matter whether it is a crisis situation or steadier times, the future of healthcare will likely continue to involve complex challenges that will require forward-thinking, flexibility and resilience.
Healthcare Foresight guest editor