The Doctor is In: Preventing Telemedicine “Underachievers”

Dr. Robert Cuyler

In last week’s blog, I outlined a number of reasons why new telemedicine projects may fail or under-perform. (For those of you in the telemedicine field, don’t feel singled out.  A variety of surveys on change management estimate that 70 to 80 percent of corporate re-engineering projects don’t meet senior management expectations).

The Importance of Organizational Vision: The Script

Make no mistake, the introduction of telemedicine into a healthcare organization’s delivery system will invariably ‘touch’ a wide variety of personnel and systems, from IT to medical staff to medical records and human resources.  Each ‘touch’ will require introducing and emphasizing a new vision for care delivery, new roles and expectations for everyone involved, and altered work processes (including creating new processes and obsoleting old ones).

In the book Implementing Telemedicine, Dr. Dutch Holland puts it clearly:

“Organization members seem to respond better to organizational change when they understand why the change is necessary and/or desirable. The case for organizational change is, therefore, a rational explanation of the need to change … put in terms of value to organization members.”

Simply put, in order for your healthcare organization to successfully implement telemedicine, you must make sure that everyone, from IT to HR, believes in the vision and understands why the organization needs to adopt this new program. Most importantly, full, focused and public buy-in of senior leadership is critical (which, depending on size of project, can range from CEO and board members to a department head or chief medical officer).

What to Watch Out For

If you hear the following statements uttered in your organization, you may have an “organizational vision” problem on your hands, and senior leadership will need to address it sooner than later for your telemedicine project to work.

  • Is this really going to happen?
  • Is this change optional or mandatory?
  • How do I keep doing my old job while taking on this new project?
  • Is my direct boss fully behind the change, giving it ‘lip service’, or against it?
  • Who will explain this new direction and train me on what my new role will be?
  • If I haven’t heard repeatedly that this new telemedicine project is supported by the ‘big boss’, is it safer for me to ‘wait and see’ than to jump in with both feet?

These uncertainties and more will ripple around the organization until and unless senior leadership (preferably the CEO) explicitly and repeatedly highlights the telemedicine initiative, explains its role in the organization’s future, and directs the rest of the organization to provide the resources and attention to make the telemedicine project launch successfully. Your leader must lead.

Using our theatre metaphor from last week, the “crew” needs to know whether they are going to perform Hamlet or Waiting for Godot.  The “director” (senior leadership) needs to make that clear.

In my next post, I will discuss “the roles,” the variety of individuals who will take part in the telemedicine program and the related work processes of all involved. Stay tuned!

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