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4 keys for managing change amid chaos

While chaotic situations can turn many things upside down, they can provide an opportunity to reflect on current processes


Content provided by Pulsara

By Kinsie Clarkson

Chaos is woven into the DNA of emergent care. Emergency care professionals face the unknown around every corner – from supporting a low acuity patient to managing a mass casualty event. You never know what you’re going to get.  

In order to effectively handle large-scale emergency situations, we need an easy way to create new connections and communicate with people we don’t usually talk to – preferably in a familiar way that doesn’t require us to learn a new system.
In order to effectively handle large-scale emergency situations, we need an easy way to create new connections and communicate with people we don’t usually talk to – preferably in a familiar way that doesn’t require us to learn a new system. (Photo/Getty Images)

Sometimes, you have a day that’s more chaotic than others. Other times, the chaos lasts much longer than a day – it can become a lasting situation that extends into months and even years. Few seasons have been quite as chaotic as the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has tested and tried our healthcare systems to the breaking point, introducing factors like virus spikes, hospitalization surges, burnout and staffing shortages.  

To keep growing, improving and adapting to the situation, some things will need to change. The problem is, it seems impossible to do anything about the situation while you’re treading water. It can feel like trying to bail out a rowboat as you continue to paddle – trying to do everything all at the same time. But if you can introduce a change that will either help paddle the boat or bail with less effort, the time and energy it takes to implement that change will ultimately make the job easier in the long term.  

The pandemic has caused many in healthcare to realize that our current processes for communication in healthcare aren’t sustainable. When we try to communicate outside our standard day-to-day patterns using the same technologies we always have, they don’t give us the transparency or ease of communication that we need to respond quickly. In order to effectively handle large-scale emergency situations, we need an easy way to create new connections and communicate with people we don’t usually talk to – preferably in a familiar way that doesn’t require us to learn a new system.  

As we face surges and staffing shortages, it’s never been more important for team members to be able to connect with one another and exchange detailed information quickly, efficiently and correctly. We need to be able to support patients from a distance, and we need to be able to see critical needs across our region and easily transfer patients in need to the places with the resources to care for them. We need a reliable system that helps us stay in touch with each other – something that can match our needs at the moment, whatever the moment brings.  

If you’re thinking about making changes to your current processes, you’re not alone. Here are some of the significant concerns that arise when managing change in the midst of chaos, as well as practical tips you can put into practice when talking with your team about change management.  

1. WHY CHANGE SOMETHING NOW? WE’RE IN A CRISIS!  

The middle of a chaotic situation certainly doesn’t seem like a good time to try a new way of doing things. There are all sorts of variables: overwhelmed resources, not enough beds, not enough staff, surges of new patients, new variants – forget optimization. You’re just trying to keep the wheels on.  

In certain situations, though, making changes to the current system can help relieve the pressure on your overworked, overwhelmed and overburdened system.  

When it comes to healthcare communication, the change can’t wait for the crisis to end. The learning curve might seem steep, but optimizing your workflows to provide better tools for your organization can save a lot of time, energy, stress, and frustration in the long run – not to mention improving the grade of care that your patients receive.  

Change in a crisis is hard. Taking the time to alter course can seem like the straw that will break the camel’s back. But if you take the time to adjust, you might find that it provides not only some much-needed relief, but also other benefits like streamlined workflows, higher team collaboration and morale and, ultimately, improved patient outcomes. 

2. THERE WILL BE MORE RESISTANCE TO CHANGE DURING CHAOTIC TIMES – SO IT’S ESSENTIAL TO DISCUSS WHY YOU’RE DOING IT.   

Change is challenging under the best of circumstances. During chaotic periods, you’re going to encounter even more resistance. Chances are, your team members are in survival mode. They’re tired. They’re burnt out. They’ve had it, and they’re not sure how much longer they can hold on. They don’t have much of an appetite for change. Even the suggestion of trying something new seems like yet one more mountain they don’t have the energy to climb.  

They can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel – but maybe as you search for a solution that can help, you see a glimmer. You may not be able to see the end of the situation or the solution that will solve everything, but you do have an idea for how to institute a change that might make things a little easier. You can see a spark of hope.  

To create buy-in, it is essential to help your team see that spark of hope, too. In order to create lasting change, you’ll need to get everyone on board with the vision. Hosting stakeholder meetings that include everyone affected by the change is a great way to communicate why things are changing. Explain the reasons for the decision and how it will help those involved deliver better patient care. In order to be on board, everyone needs to understand the “why” behind the change. What is this going to accomplish? How is it going to make life easier for them? And, ultimately, why are you doing it?  

Once everyone understands the vision, how it will benefit their patients and how it will make their lives easier, they’ll likely be more willing to give it a try.  

3. EVERYONE IS TIRED. TRY TO BE PATIENT WITH THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO RESIST.  

While it will be difficult, try to be patient with those who continually hold out and refuse to cooperate. Chances are, it’s more out of fear and fatigue than from any real objections to your goals. After all, we all want better care for patients, right? Once everyone understands how the plan will happen and how they fit into the big picture, they’ll be more motivated to participate.  

In the middle of chaos, it’s also common for team members to feel overworked, overwhelmed and underappreciated. They may be more inclined to feel that new changes will complicate their lives, especially if they don’t have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Try to listen to concerns, understand where they’re coming from, and allow everyone the chance to have their voices heard. Once team members feel that their concerns matter and have been taken into consideration, they’ll be more willing to try out the solution you’re proposing.  

4. CHOOSE VENDORS WHO ARE EXPERIENCED IN COACHING TEAMS THROUGH CHANGE MANAGEMENT.  

If your team is thinking about implementing a new technology or process, the prospect may seem intimidating or daunting—especially if you’re in the middle of a surge event or extra workplace stress. Knowing the ins and outs of your system as you do, it may even feel impossible. It may feel like too much time, too much effort, and too many people involved to try and implement what feels like such a large-scale change.  

But you shouldn’t have to walk this path alone. When choosing a vendor, keep these things in mind. Try to choose someone who knows how to coach teams through the process of changing the way they’ve always done things. It should be the top priority of any good software vendor to be a true partner in change management, and to walk with you every step of the way. The best vendors will provide you with the tools to be successful as you implement their solution, and will be committed to working with you to make sure that it meets your organization’s needs.  

While chaotic situations can turn many things upside down, they can also provide a golden opportunity to reexamine your current processes and find ways to make things easier. Changing your normal processes or workflows in the midst of chaos isn’t easy. But when it’s directed toward a process improvement that will help lift some of the pressure off your teams, it will be worth it.  

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