View from the Bridge

12 Steps to Prepare for 2021 – Big Challenges – Bigger Opportunities

2020 has been a year like no other.  Though I’m very optimistic about the sun shining brightly in the future there are still some lingering clouds in the sky.  IT professionals frequently refer to their work in 3 parts – people, process, and technology.  I want to focus on people issues before starting the list for 2021.

Throughout the world, the psychological impact of COVID-19 has been unequalled.  Recovering from our shared trauma is critically important.  We’ll need to heal our spirits after our bodies recover.  Adding to our psychological suffering was the increasing polarization in politics which has bled over into other parts of our lives.  The 2020 campaigns for political office were divisive often filling our social media, press, and TV programs with anger.  Sadly, anger is contagious, and the polarization is likely to continue until we recapture the best parts of our humanity.

Polarization is the outcome of distrust and misunderstanding and is an impediment to progress and kindness.  Adding to polarization is social media – tweeting and trolling – the need to attack those whose opinions are different.  It threatens our democracy and all its institutions including our healthcare and public health sector.  We must find a way to reconnect – to restore trust, to heal the human spirit.  Social distancing simply adds to the challenges of getting to understanding.  The progress on removing polarization will be slower until we can get into the same meeting room, shake hands, and talk face-to-face without a screen in between.

Healthcare is a people business.  We need to remind ourselves and our coworkers and be proud that mercy and compassion, not anger, define our profession and us as professionals.  We need to model that mercy and compassion in our personal lives, in our interpersonal relationships not just with family and friends, but with strangers.  One way to do that is genuine listening in pursuit of true understanding – so easy to say, so difficult to do.  Lower your defenses.  If you create a list of resolutions for the new year, please add to it active and courageous listening, building trust, and treating everyone with mercy, and compassion.

So, let’s start our list for a new and brighter 2021.

  1. Treat yourself, all your stakeholders, and everyone else you meet with mercy and compassion. If you don’t pay attention to yourself, your ability to help others will be diminished. Be merciful and compassionate to patients, families, employers, employees, payers, vendors, and strangers. Forgive yourself and others who may stumble or request assistance. Remember that you and everyone you meet has lost a job, family member, friend, or business associate or knows someone who has. Help them. When you ask how someone is doing, don’t let “Fine” get in the way of the truth. Ask questions to get at the truth, but don’t let your desire to help violate their privacy. Model that behavior by thinking about the positives in your life and, when appropriate, opening up to your friends and family. It’s often a gift to them when you ask them to help you when you need it.

    As both a parent and grandparent, I’ve witnessed the stresses on both children and grandchildren, particularly the younger amongst us. Like the adults, young and college age children are susceptible to depression and anxiety – they catch it from their parents, the media, their teachers, and friends.

    Unfortunately, they are not always equipped to understand, express, or address those feelings. Though parents of school age children frequently express the stress they feel from home schooling, I’m not sure that everyone is paying attention to the children who are also stressed, depressed, or anxious. Seek professional help to modify your own behaviors in order to provide the support they need, to help you and them cope more effectively, to make sure that you’ll all weather this storm and come out stronger when the immediate crisis subsides.

  2. Collaborate enthusiastically. That’s something we all witnessed during the pursuit of a vaccine. In the past, vaccines were often developed in small groups without much fanfare. In 2020, radical collaboration was the key to our shared success. Radical collaboration means that you seek to help others – don’t wait for them to ask. Pursue opportunities to work with others. The lesson is clear – the more collaborative we are, the faster we will get to success. That’s true in all aspects of our life – personal and professional. Collaboration often creates understanding and empathy that makes the world a better place.

    [Author’s note: Subsequent blogs will expound on some of the brief actions suggested in the remainder of this list. Lest you think I believe 2020 was all bad, please note that I’ll do a recap of lessons learned and successes that helped bring light into 2020.]

  3. Redouble your efforts to secure your IT environment. Our patients and providers have entrusted us to protect their data. Let’s ensure we’re doing everything possible to protect that sacred trust. Make sure that you lead the efforts to enhance or create a culture of security and privacy.
  4. Reinvent your IT organization – Embrace Digital Services (DS). Redefine normal. The future will be brighter, better for those who redefine themselves. IT is too restrictive a name to define what we have done, what we can do, what we need to do. Rename your IT area to include Digital Services.
  5. Work diligently on revenue enhancement and cost containment. Expand your organizations telehealth capability. The financial health of many providers has been significantly impacted. Facilitate operational improvements.
  6. Open up to new partnerships. There are far more nontraditional players in the health and public health sector than ever before. Create synergies. Try to move your key vendors – no more than a few – to partner status which will require commitment and work by both parties.
  7. Challenge the status quo, respectfully. If you’re exploring outside innovations, remember pragmatism, practicality, and sustainability. Deploy solutions quickly and adjust rapidly.
  8. Embrace AI and ML, cautiously. Do so with a healthy mix of optimism, skepticism, and realism.
  9. Address the increasingly important Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). We are far more than what’s been captured in traditional EHRs.
  10. Address unhappiness with EHRs and other IT products and services. Improve the UI and reduce documentation requirements.
  11. Revisit your ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions. There is so much value that can be realized from reimplementing old ERPs or installing new ones.
  12. Do a self-assessment. Use the new year as an opportunity to inventory both your personal and professional life. Create a Life List (not a bucket list) of what to do with a fresh restart. We can all be our better selves. You may expect the best from others, but it’s more important to demand the best of yourself. Invest in yourself. Learn, teach, work, play, sleep, laugh, cry, talk, listen – exercise your mind and body. Sometimes the most selfless thing you can do is to focus on your own well-being. Become your best self, and if you fall short occasionally be as compassionate and forgiving of yourself as you are of others. Commit to a regular review of your life-work balance. Adjust as necessary. A better you makes a better us. A better us provides better care.

Hurrah for 2021!  Let’s make the best of these opportunities to improve the health and care in our communities, our nation, and our world.  

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