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In the current healthcare landscape, many hospitals are joining or affiliating with larger systems in order to establish more efficiency and deliver a higher standard of patient care. Piedmont Healthcare has integrated business processes and systems and is in progress with a third hospital joining their now seven-hospital system since 2013. The two completed IT transitions have largely gone smoothly because the organization focused on a solid transition of technological platforms and adopted a series of best practices based on previous mergers. However, it is my perspective that deploying best practice technology and process standards is now considered a core competency and an expectation. These are important components in the work of merging two often very different IT cultures. The cultural integration of the IT team is often the least visible component within a transition and only tends to be visible when things are not working optimally. When one walks in a room, we tend not to think about the lights that illuminate a room until they start to flicker. Given the formal tracks of establishing the governance framework within a transition, there are other less formal keys that the CIO should consider when in the midst of a merger. I will focus on three keys to a successful merger of IT culture. In healthcare, you will always find your way if the focus is aligned with positive outcomes for patients. The three keys I will highlight for CIO’s include recognizing existing strengths, being visible and engaged during the transition, and focusing on creating a shared culture.
When merging with another company, whether it is a hospital or not, it is important to understand what they do well. During due diligence, you will already have discovered a sense of the gaps. It is important to recognize what they do well early on, even if it will change over the course of the transition. However, even in the worst scenarios, I have found there is something good in the operations that could be considered a best practice. If at all possible, incorporate this element into your integration efforts. Change is challenging and this will go long way in establishing professional alignment. Recognizing an opportunity to improve or considering a problem from a different perspective demonstrates to the organization that merging with you is a partnership, not a takeover, and that their input is valued. The goal is for everyone to improve and operate optimally. Even if you are not able to operationalize it during the transition, make it a point to capture these practices for later evaluation. These capture practices, identify potential optimization opportunities to improve post-merger. From a healthcare perspective, we are always looking for ways to improve quality outcomes for our patients. Quality is the number one driver at Piedmont and when new hospitals join the system, we want to examine what each organization does well and if those practices can be adopted system-wide. We have seen numerous practices start at one hospital and, after finding success, be swiftly deployed to other hospitals in the system. That is one of the major benefits of having being part of a multi-hospital system.
"In healthcare, you will always find your way if the focus is aligned with positive outcomes for patients"
Being visible and engaged may seem like an obvious element to a successful merger, after all, you cannot merge an organization with yours without being present. However, in this case, I mean visibility outside of your core areas. I feel like it was integral for me to participate in key business sessions outside of my direct responsibilities. As a CIO, I have a perspective as a bridge builder between departments that few others have. There were many times that issues were brought up in meetings and my “outsider” perspective was able to facilitate a solution. It is important to be in the room and also have additional perspectives in the room as well. Dozens of departments in a hospital touch on patient care, even in ways that appear indirect, and by opening the conversation and presenting problems to a wide group, a surprising number of solutions are often generated that may not previously have been considered.
Another element of visibility that paved the way for successful mergers for Piedmont involved introducing established employees to aid in the transition to, and adoption of, new technology for the on-boarding teams. There was no better way to demonstrate a welcome to the team than to introduce our new employees to their teammates from across the system. It was a way to prove how serious we took the transition, how focused we were on their success and how we operate as a system. Piedmont Healthcare has a great culture and we want to introduce that to our new teammates as quickly as possible.
For the most part, people have entered the healthcare industry because they care about helping people. Piedmont Healthcare’s purpose is to make a positive difference in every life we touch. This is true for every patient and visitor in each one of our hospitals, but it is also true of all of our employees. A transition from being an individual hospital to being part of a system can be overwhelming and even anxiety-inducing. People can feel uncertain about what their role is or how their jobs will change as they are asked to operate under a new set of guidelines using technology they are often unfamiliar with. A successful transition requires a certain level of comfort and confidence.
While a CIO is focused on technology standards, framework, analytics and governance, the core of any merger or transition are the people involved. We may constantly be searching for innovation, best practices to produce better outcomes and new technology that will lead to greater efficiencies, but we adopt those changes so that our patients receive the highest quality healthcare and know that Piedmont always puts patients first. Healthcare organizations will continue to align, partner, merge and affiliate with each other for many years into the future. Piedmont Healthcare is stronger with each addition and smarter as each hospital continues to learn from each other. No matter where you are on a merger and acquisition journey, and even if you are not on one at all, examine the strengths of the organization around you, get involved in different areas so that you hear and provide additional perspectives, and focus on creating a culture that values the work you do and the people for whom you work each day.