When was the last time someone in your organization needed your help?
I bet it was recently. There is a saying that every role is replaceable; well, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve spent the better part of my career speaking about—and producing two books about—the importance of supply chain management to the delivery of quality patient care. The work we do always makes a positive impact on patients’ lives. Think about it: without the scalpels to perform surgery, without the sterile wipes to disinfect, without the very sheets on the beds they recover in, without all the things that fall under supply chain’s control, patients would have far worse outcomes. And with the changes in reimbursement and the advances in technology, healthcare needs supply chain to be involved in organizational and care delivery decisions in order to solve the overarching issues the industry faces every day.
Since the launch of the Affordable Care Act and, subsequently, the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes (CQO) Movement, we’ve been saying that this is the time for supply chain professionals to lead and take our place at the table as integral players in value-based care. And yet, even with all of the progress that has been made, that place is not just waiting for us. We have to earn it. And to do that, we need to continually work to become more strategic.
Historically, before beginning to tackle more quality-focused initiatives, the Chief Nursing Officer was once a head nurse. Before connecting data intelligence with integration strategies, the Chief Information Officer was once the head of data processing. The Chief Integration, Transformation, and Innovation Officer roles didn’t even exist until hospital leaders flexed to market changes. And while inventory control will always be an important part of the supply chain role, that doesn’t mean that’s all we have to talk about. Instead, we must change the narrative. We must focus on how our role in supply chain connects to bigger picture strategies and patient-centered goals. We must address innovative solutions, not just everyday challenges.
Much of this relies on the supply chain becoming more clinically integrated. When working with clinicians, however, we will always fall flat if we lead with empty promises. In other words, we cannot say that we are focused on achieving the tenets of CQO but not have the tools and infrastructure in place to succeed, especially given unforeseeable market disruptions. Success begins and ends with the right culture. Culture is the foundation upon which strategic, clinically integrated supply chain initiatives thrive.
Think about the culture of your department and your organization. What words come to mind? Are they words like agile, highly reliable, proactive? Or are they words like rigid, transactional, risk-averse? Transforming your culture into one that encourages collaboration in order to reduce total operating expenses while improving care quality and outcomes requires collaboration that includes executive support; trusted relationships between administration, supply chain, and clinicians; transparency; consistency; and an overall willingness to invest in improvement and empower your staff.
Every health system is different—what works for other hospitals may not work for yours. However, I’ve found that all successful culture change initiatives have a few things in common: a clear, incremental action plan that holds everyone accountable, an engaged leadership and clinical team, accurate data, and a strong governance and technology infrastructure.
I think we can all confidently say that transforming our hospital culture to one that supports multidisciplinary, patient-centered collaboration is important…and inevitable. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Shifting culture requires a sea change, and people don’t like change. That’s where smart change management comes into play. I strongly believe that practicing smart change management is the most instrumental step in the successful evolution not only of hospital supply chain management, but of overall health system transformation. There are five essentials to successful change management:
Taking the approach of figuring it out as you go along often results in the initiative taking longer or the cultural elements that really need to evolve never taking hold. Culture change is extremely difficult. Assess your current culture compared to best practice, understand what needs to change, and make a plan.
The importance of clear communication cannot be overstated. Communication matters and the language you use matters. Be prepared to ask (and answer) difficult questions, listen, share knowledge, and as you go through the process, share successes to help motivate your staff.
Effective change management plans are grounded on having empathy for how that change is affecting all who are involved. This level of awareness can make or break an initiative. For example, the first time you are in a room with key stakeholders (including clinicians) is vitally important. Are you prepared? Have you appropriately assessed their needs and what is important to them? Have you listened? Have you gained their trust? Once you gain their trust the challenge becomes one of helping their teams embrace the CQO mindset. That is a whole new level of understanding. Be prepared and be aware—this kind of innovation is disruptive.
If you say you are going to do something, do it. Bring accurate information and data to conversations and follow-up on project goals. Hold yourself accountable and make sure you have the buy-in from organizational leadership so that others will be held equally accountable.
Things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to. Be open to change, and if it means the betterment of your organization and patient care, accept the outcome.
Supply chain professionals have always made a difference in patient care. But the more strategic we become, the more value we bring. I encourage you to think about one change (even if it is small) that can help you evolve and better position yourself to make a positive, strategic impact on your organization and patient care. Be the culture change that you want to take place.
Christopher J. O’Connor
President & CEO