Unprecedented times, unprecedented challenges, unprecedented rates of change. Covid-19 has undoubtedly had a profound impact on organisations across healthcare, with levels of change being achieved in days and weeks what may have ordinarily taken years to do. 

As a result, Covid-19 has highlighted how that there’s an appetite for change, that people are more open to trying change. There is now a driver and impetus for organisations to change far more fundamentally and quickly than they’ve ever dreamed of before. Unless that is, the problem of change fatigue kicks in.  

One change after another can impact significantly on those leading and involved in change; it can lead to increased stress, exhaustion, decreased organisational commitment and the potential for change plans to be thwarted. Or, worse still, individuals can default to old ways of working.  

When there’s a real emergency, like we saw with Covid-19, there is a greater understanding of the need to embrace change and rally round; because of the pace and urgency, people can see the results of the change. 

But what about when things calm down? How will the accelerated pace of digital transformation impact individuals – and change leaders for that matter? How can you ensure change fatigue doesn’t become a problem? 

“Across healthcare, Covid-19 is a complex problem in a complex system, so people have been asked to take on board a lot of change in a short space of time,” says Alicia Dubeau, Managing Consultant at Agilisys. “There’s a danger that the changes can be seen as all about the organisation and not the individual; that the pace is to achieve organisational objectives whilst overlooking the individuals needs and contribution. When this happens, and the risk of change fatigue increases, there’s a need to adopt a different model for change that focuses on two main elementsthe emerging direction of change rather than big bang, and a change approach which ties more into emotions and values. 

Alicia adds that people need to think what they are doing adds value and they have influence. 

There needs to be a focus on shared values, and those involved need to have an emotional connection to the change to keep their energy levels and commitment high . 

This view is shared by Rachel Dunscombe, CEO of the NHS Digital Academy and KLAS Arch collaborative UK lead. “Change must be contextualised. It must be explained. We must find ways of communicating the what, why and how. This isn’t always done well. If you’re not considering your communication with stakeholders, then you’re not doing change too well. Unless you can explain it to stakeholders logically, you’re not doing the right change at the right time. After all, if you can’t convince yourself, how can you convince them? 

Rachel adds that change must be humanised if change fatigue in healthcare is to be avoided. “At times like these when people may be suffering change fatigue – or in danger of it – they need to see how they are contributing to the cause. They don’t need targets and compliance – they need to see how, for example, keying in data saves lives.” 

Honest appraisals 

As we work through a period of relative calm, taking time to appraise transformation efforts and new technology is crucial in fighting change fatigue in healthcare – and across the rest of the public sector for that matter.  

“As well as measuring the practical successes of any transformation and change, we need feedback from clinicians and patients too,” explains RachelWhat can people tell us about the experience? Qualitative and quantitative feedback combine to detail the lessons learned, both positive and negative, that will shape what we can take forward and build on and what we need to do differently. All of this must constantly keep people in mind – whether that’s individuals within the organisation or patients.” 

Alicia adds: “We also need to instil more energy, so it’s about celebrating the successes (you could look at some of the great things introduced because of Covid-19) so you can garner the positives and increase the energy. Innovation sessions can be useful to show how quickly some changes came about during Covid-19, so people can see that change doesn’t have to take a long time. Encouraging open ideas also demonstrates that people are being listened to.” 

Technology-led motivation 

Interestingly, Rachel points out that digital transformation itself can alleviate change fatigue in healthcare.

“Technology and the transformation of care delivery can help to alleviate change fatigue by providing a better work/life balance. 

For example, GPs can be empowered to deliver care remotely, from a place that suits them. Why shouldn’t they benefit from remote working? It’s about seeing those patients that need to be seen face-to-face, not just everybody. Technology is flexibility, which should be embraced, if it’s communicated the right way. 

There’s also an ability for the right technology to create better pathways to care delivery. Data transparency is a good example – if a patient is entering information online, that’s safely shared, this can enable clinicians to triage more easily. 

Rachel concludes by saying: “When thinking about transformation we need to keep asking ‘how can we get healthcare staff more of what they need to use the new systems? If change improves the working day, enhances patient outcomes and improves a practice’s safety – the list of benefits goes on and on – and it’s communicated effectively, the potential for change fatigue is lessened. 

Further reading: The NHS Change Model – found by clicking here  contains a handy energy domains tool that provides understanding of how it may impact transformation delivery styles and methodologies. Head to page 28 for more information.