View from the Bridge

12 Steps to Prepare for 2022 – Big Challenges – Bigger Opportunities

Optimism has served me well throughout life but it’s not sufficient to deal with some of the stark realities we face. The overriding impact of COVID continues. Very sadly, in spite of the fact that we have effective vaccines and supplies are not a problem in most areas of the US, more people died from COVID in 2021 than in 2020. Healthcare is an evidence-driven endeavor yet getting people to set aside their political beliefs and focus on science continues to be a challenge. We must find ways to communicate more effectively – to simultaneously change hearts and minds. As IT professionals we must focus first on the people issues – process and technology are of lesser importance.

Throughout the world, the psychological impact of COVID-19 has been unequaled. Recovering from our shared trauma is critically important. Adding to our psychological suffering is the polarization in politics which has bled over into other parts of our lives. Political zeal is divisive 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. We have the clinical tools to help our bodies recover – now it’s time to heal our spirits.

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 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 better, brighter 2022 based on a similar 2021 list.

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.

Let’s not forget the impact on younger generations. 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. At least this year, our families with school-age children are relieved of the stress of homeschooling. I’m not sure, however, that everyone is paying attention to the children who are still stressed, depressed, or anxious.

Summon the strength to seek professional help, if necessary, to modify your own behaviors to provide the support they need, to help you and them cope more effectively, to make sure that you all will weather the resurgence of the original storm and come out stronger when the pandemic finally ends (I pray) or morphs into a more manageable endemic. In a digital world, the human elements are essential.

2. Collaborate enthusiastically. It was the collaboration of the scientists and clinicians that created not one but several effective vaccines. 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.

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. Continue to evolve the IT organization – Embrace Digital Services (DS). We’ve seen what digital medicine can do. We have redefined normal. 2021 is brighter than 2020 because so many organizations have digitally transformed the provider, patient, and family experience. All parties feel a great degree of freedom restoring a sense of control to providers as well as patients and their families. Rename our IT areas and titles to acknowledge our evolution to Digital Services.

Use digitally-enabled processes to deliver better care everywhere. Though home health has been delivering care at people’s homes for decades, there is renewed talk about “hospitals at home.” Telehealth, remote patient monitoring, at-home delivery of health care products and services, and new partnerships between traditional and non-traditional healthcare organizations help move us towards achieving the objectives of the Quadruple Aim.

5. Work diligently on revenue enhancement and cost containment. Don’t focus only on cost savings. Explore new ways to enhance revenues. Identify risks to diminishing revenue and increasing costs so you can create practical and pragmatic solutions to mitigate the risks. Innovation and opportunities abound but it takes focus, prioritization, great governance, and collaboration to achieve the benefits.

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. Work with your payers. In general, the goals which may appear to be parallel often converge.

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 issue of Health Literacy. If you cannot understand healthcare and all the supporting activities, your chances of success as a patient or family member are limited. My blog “Digital Health – Health Literacy Matters” addresses the complex nature of health literacy. Visit the AHIMA Foundation website to see how Health literacy impacts health equity.

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. Read Sue Schade’s blog to answer the question, “Will your ERP enable the business transformation you need?

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 2022! 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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