Culture makes a bigger difference than technology

by Olivia Read Government and Health Industries Strategy Consultant

Email +44 (0)77 1898 0827

Our health and care organisations attract many of the most hardworking, dedicated and passionate individuals in the country. Healthcare is by its nature a values-driven profession, with patient care at its epicentre. Caring for others at their hour of greatest need, and often being the deciding factor in their survival, is an incredibly powerful motivating force. Few organisations can lay claim to such strength of feeling in those who work for them.

For technology to deliver the promised revolution in patient care, outcomes and experience it needs to play a significant role in both addressing the shortcomings of NHS culture and harnessing the extraordinary potential of its purpose-driven workforce. Yes, NHS culture needs to change to adopt technology effectively; but technology also needs to be a decisive contributor to a more holistic cultural evolution that reaches beyond better use of tech.

So, how can we kick-start this cultural revolution and create the right conditions for tech powered healthcare?

Empower front line staff to deliver the change

Empowerment and autonomy are key factors in boosting job satisfaction and morale. They are also essential for enabling innovation and widespread uptake of technology solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic offers some important lessons in how to get this right: in many NHS organisations, decision-making processes were adapted to give teams the freedom to self-govern, innovate and collaborate. Judicious de-centralising meant that changes to benefit patients could be more easily implemented, which played a critical role in accelerating the adoption of technology across health and care settings.

Enabling this starts with the right leadership – leadership that is collective, adaptive and compassionate. This means that leaders mobilise people to find solutions, build individuals’ capacity to deal effectively with change, and create the conditions for others to progress and thrive. These leaders don’t provide answers – they support others to find them. Distributing leadership responsibilities and decision-making powers across healthcare organisations begins at board level, as we discuss in more detail in our report. Setting the right behaviours at the top is a crucial first step in reshaping culture to deliver tech-powered change.

Create a culture that allows time to care

Technology needs to be focused on addressing the core challenges faced by health and care professionals. Time spent on paperwork rather than with patients, and on convoluted, counter-intuitive digital processes (e.g. updating medical records in multiple systems because they’re not integrated) are high on the list. Designing and deploying tech solutions that make the lives of front line staff easier and allow them to spend more time caring for patients is paramount. Removing mundane tasks wherever possible and giving people the tools to do their job effectively improves morale and work-life balance, and would help to create a more positive NHS culture.

For technology to facilitate these improvements, it needs to be aligned with the NHS workforce’s values and behaviours. Tech and innovation companies should spend time understanding the cultural values that underpin the NHS and its workers, and technology must reflect these values and meet the needs of the workforce. In practice, this means designing solutions that enable better patient care, improve collaboration, and create efficiencies that give time back to staff.

Harness the critical few

As with any cultural change – and technology is no different – finding champions and informal leaders of transformation is essential. These people can be at any level of a healthcare organisation, and will have a strong interest in or aptitude for using technology to do things differently and a powerful influence on others. It’s important for leaders to identify and harness these ‘critical few’ to foster grassroots adoption of technology and spark internal innovation: once they champion change, others will follow. As we suggest in our report, these tech-savvy innovators should be given protected time to help promote and scale new technology across health and care organisations.

Ensuring the right conditions are in place for tech champions to encourage change is also key. As we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a clear, shared purpose has the power to accelerate transformation at an unprecedented rate. An established vision and considered consensus-building are needed to maintain this momentum. Important too is a more moderated view of risk, not at the expense of patient safety, but with sufficient flexibility to allow staff to try new approaches and fail.

Cultural change is the most critical element in technology transformation across health and care organisations. Yet it is also the area that receives the least investment, and is the toughest to get right.

Find out more about our recommendations to address this in our ‘Getting the culture right’ essay.

by Olivia Read Government and Health Industries Strategy Consultant

Email +44 (0)77 1898 0827

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