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12 Steps to Prepare for 2024 – Big Challenges – Bigger Opportunities

If you’re fortunate enough to work in healthcare and IT, every year presents a significant mix of big challenges and even bigger opportunities. Next year is no exception. One of HIT’s paradigms for approaching challenges is to focus on people, process, and technology – technology being the easiest of the three.

To be successful, planning for the future must be attentive to some elements from the past and many of those from the present. Rather than dwell on some of the current global issues such as the pandemic, war in the Middle East, the upcoming presidential elections, and polarization, I want to focus on the local activities which may have national or global implications. Perhaps the greatest of the challenges today is our workforce, hence the focus on people. The press is filled with articles and opinion pieces about the “great resignation”, “silver tsunami”, and a long list of mental health issues which originated with or have been exacerbated by both healthcare and global issues.

As a reminder from last year, healthcare is a people business. We need to remind ourselves and our coworkers 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 and equally important, our coworkers and business partners. One way to do that is through genuine listening in pursuit of true understanding – so easy to say, so difficult to do. Give others an avenue to express themselves. For your own sake, lower your defenses. As you create a list of resolutions for the new year, please add to it active and courageous listening, building trust, and treating everyone with kindness.

So, let’s start our list for a better, brighter 2024 based on a similar 2023 list. Each of the following is an opportunity.

1. Treat yourself, all your stakeholders, and everyone else you meet with kindness, mercy, and compassion. If you don’t pay attention to yourself, your ability to help others will be diminished. Airlines remind passengers that in case of emergency, put on your own mask before helping others put theirs on.

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 someone or something of value over the last 4 years – a family member, friend, business associate, or job. 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 both the positives and negatives 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. I’ve witnessed the stresses on my own children and grandchildren. Like adults, children of all ages are susceptible to depression and anxiety – they catch it from their parents, the media, their teachers, and friends.

Unfortunately, we’re not always equipped to understand, express, or address our feelings. Though many events no longer require masking, there still is concern about COVID, RSV, and the flu. One or all of those are sure to increase stress. I’m not sure, however, that everyone is paying attention to the children who are still or may become stressed, depressed, or anxious due to conflicting messages.

Summon the strength and humility to seek professional help, when necessary, to modify your own behaviors to provide the support others need, to help all of us cope more effectively, to make sure that we have the tools and professionals to help us all weather the resurgence of the original or the appearance of a new storm. In a digital world, the human elements are essential.

2. Collaborate enthusiastically. Be proactive. Pursuing radical collaboration is the key to our shared success. Seek to help others – don’t wait for them to ask. Pursue opportunities to work together. 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. Pay attention to DEI. The process of exploring all the facts of DEI will reveal truths that are sometimes difficult but necessary to accept. Understanding is the first benefit. Other benefits include but are not limited to improved patient outcome and satisfaction, reduced health disparities, employee satisfaction and productivity, community engagement, and innovation and creativity.

4. 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 guard that sacred trust. Make sure that you lead the efforts to enhance or create a culture of security and privacy.

5. Continue to evolve the IT organization – Embrace Digital Services (DS). All organizations should have begun their digital health journey. It’s table stakes now. Use digitally enabled processes to deliver better care everywhere. There are so many opportunities in this area alone. Use existing governance structures to manage demand or create multidisciplinary teams to set priorities. One of my favorite phrases is “We can do anything. We can’t do everything.” Ensure your efforts are aligned with at least one of the objectives of the Quintuple Aim.

6. Work diligently on short and long-term 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.

Beware, however, of focusing only on the short-term gains. Do not sacrifice the mid and long-term future. Build a strong legacy with benefits now and for generations to come. Consider the ethical and moral implications of your decisions. Consider Michael Dowling’s 6 ground rules for cost cutting.

7. Be open to new partnerships. There are far more nontraditional players in the health and public health sector than ever before. Create synergies. Try to move a few of your key vendors to partner status which will require commitment and work by both parties. Work with your payers. Goals which may appear to be parallel often converge.

8. Challenge the status quo, respectfully. If you’re exploring outside innovations, remember pragmatism, practicality, and sustainability. Deploy solutions quickly and adjust rapidly with sensitivity to the power dynamic in relationships.

9. Embrace AI and ML, cautiously. Do so with a healthy mix of optimism, skepticism, and realism. There are tons of valuable resources. Investigate thoroughly. Be deliberate but do so with enthusiasm. The potential for good and bad is substantial; hence, the suggestion to approach potential solutions with caution.

10. 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”.

11. Address unhappiness with EHRs and other IT products and services. Improve the UI and reduce documentation requirements. Some of the burnout stems from poorly designed programs and processes. Measure user satisfaction regularly and adjust the environment to address issues associated with technology.

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 2023! Let’s make the best of these opportunities in 2024 to improve health and care in our communities, our nation, and our world.

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