Working in a healthcare system can often feel like entering a time vortex. Tasks you think should take a day to complete realistically take a week. Projects on a 90-day timeline conclude after a year. Though technology has increased the pace of life, making actual progress seems to take longer.
In the 16 years I’ve worked in healthcare, I’ve found that many delays are due to departmental silos. Each department does what is necessary to make budget, protect staff from layoffs, and mitigate patient and physician complaints so they can fly under the radar as long as possible. This seems to be especially true in the modern age of healthcare mergers and acquisitions. Though multi-department leadership meetings exist, they often do little to build trust among team members.
To accomplish team objectives and decrease project timelines at one healthcare system, I found the best approach was to break down these silos myself. Below are four common-sense ways to cross departmental divides and improve communication in your healthcare system.
One of the easiest ways to promote active engagement and participation is through inclusion. Nobody wanted to be the last kid picked for kickball, and nobody wants to feel left out of a project that involves his or her department. If you’re questioning whether to involve certain team members, involve them. You’re better off taking more time to create buy-in up front than applying bandages at the back end. The extra effort taken in the planning stages helps to ensure that your initiative doesn’t only continue to move forward, but that the very people who might have worked against you are instead active supporters.
In my line of work, my team would often be tasked with the creation and implementation of new growth strategies. Though our team had the knowledge and capability to create and implement strategies on our own (we didn’t need other departments to be involved), we included those the strategies would affect.
During the initial planning meeting we included clinical service line leaders, frontline staff, the medical staff office, administration, and physicians to ensure all stakeholders had a voice. We considered them our internal customers, so we solicited their feedback on our ideas and tactics regarding the strategy for their departments. They were included in every step of the process, so they were naturally more supportive of the project as it progressed.
Cultivate an Atmosphere of Learning
When trying to break down barriers between departments, getting in the trenches to understand what your colleagues do is crucial.
Because I was implementing growth strategies, the approach I liked to use was asking both clinical leadership and physicians to teach me about their service line, the selling points, and the differences in specialty procedures. I wanted to truly see and understand what made them better than our competition. I often shadowed medical directors during procedures and patient interactions so that I could ask questions and significantly increase my understanding of their job functions.
Though I did this for purposes of growth, there’s good reason for this to happen all over the hospital: the orthopedic leader can better understand what happens in the cancer center; the food service leader can round on inpatient units; the telecommunications leader can interview administrative assistants to serve them better. Every department interacts with other departments, so opportunity abounds!
Shadowing clinicians immediately created a connection for me with the physicians and clinical staff. Additionally, when my team was out attempting to grow their business, my internal stakeholders already knew I had their best interests in mind because I’d learned directly from them.
When it comes to creating buy-in, being seen by stakeholders is a necessity. Though many healthcare leaders are head-down in meetings most of the day, there’s much benefit to be gained by stepping out from usual patterns now and again. Continue to build relationships by attending events for other departments, stopping in to say hello between meetings, or eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Spending all your time in the administrative wing or within the four walls of your office may help you check items off your task list, but it does little for strengthening relationships and garnering approval and feedback for your department’s projects. Be genuine, make friends where appropriate, and consider how you may be able to help others just by being present.
Spread the Love
When you hear something good, share it. If you combine the above strategies, you can be making yourself present and learning about other departments while simultaneously soliciting feedback from physicians and administrators. Ask what's working well, and you may be surprised with the responses you receive.
Most importantly, when you get positive feedback, don’t keep it to yourself. You can share the feedback with a director, a vice president, or even the CEO; you can find specific employees and pass on the news directly; or you can send thank you cards to employees yourself. If you hear about others providing five-star service in your healthcare system, celebrate it. This not only generates support for your projects and your department, but it encourages others to act in a similar manner to improve the organization overall.
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