Why Agile in Healthcare Is Becoming a Significant Initiative

December 22, 2021 by Stefanini

“Agile” is becoming more than a buzzword for many healthcare companies – instead, it’s now an important initiative. In one of the industries hit hardest by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations need to find new ways to be flexible and adaptable, all while providing quality care to patients. 

Yet, adopting an agile way of working is not new to many healthcare companies. From implementing new digital health applications to better serve patients to transitioning to a value-based care model over the traditional fee-for-service model, many healthcare organizations have slowly started becoming more agile – whether they know it or not.

Let’s take a look at the many ways that agility can benefit healthcare enterprises.

Agile Starts with Innovation

Agility in healthcare starts with ensuring patient satisfaction. At the same time, adopting agile methodologies assists companies in rapidly deploying functional applications by expediting agile development processes.

Since agile is a project management philosophy (that has its roots in software development), agile principles can be adopted by healthcare professionals in a variety of settings. The agile approach to project management provides guiding principles that help teams communicate, decide how to prioritize tasks, and adapt to challenges they encounter along the way. Specifically, agile healthcare teams prioritize the following values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes;
  • Collaboration over contracts and formal negotiations;
  • And responsiveness over rigid planning.

With this approach, agile empowers teams to customize planning processes to meet specific patient needs, leading to greater potential for innovation in the modern healthcare industry.

Further, agile initiatives often accelerate innovation due to their emphasis on acknowledging, planning for, and embracing change. Therefore, innovation centers within health systems are perfect places for agile projects to take shape. Innovation teams are often working on strategically important but high-risk projects. With an agile approach, teams collaborate with other units within the organization, such as business planning and information technology, to receive feedback and reach desired outcomes faster. These teams can also incorporate patients to ensure that the focus remains on the people who will be receiving the organization’s services.

The Need for Agile in Healthcare

According to a 2019 Bain & Company survey, more than 60 percent of respondents indicated that speed to market and adapting rapidly to the changing needs of customers are only becoming more important as the industry evolves. Further, 75 percent of healthcare executives reported that their agile teams outperformed their traditional teams.

Research by McKinsey’s Organization Practice has shown that agility combines a stable backbone with adaptability, making it a great framework for helping organizations navigate the healthcare industry’s ongoing uncertainties.

Agile frameworks can also help healthcare companies:

  • Foster growth through new alignment models and innovative partnerships
  • Increase time-to-market for new healthcare applications
  • Achieve market differentiation by investing in new functions or products
  • Increase efficiency and reduce costs by improving productivity (without losing local responsiveness to customer needs)
  • Improve performance transparency in both clinical and nonclinical areas
  • Empower frontline staff to meet evolving consumer preferences and needs

Top Applications of Agile in Healthcare Companies

Agile healthcare practices prioritize clear communication, evaluation and feedback, and focused, flexible goals. The following are some of the most common applications of agile in healthcare settings:  

1.      Open communication channels – Quality healthcare delivery stems from excellent communication between doctors, nurses, specialists, pharmacists, other professionals, and patients. As communication is one of the main tenets of the agile methodology, transparency between and across teams becomes easier to achieve. For healthcare teams that have daily stand-up meetings,

2.      Support for point-of-care technology – New digital tools and innovations are enhancing the delivery of healthcare services, including improving point-of-care documentation, patient care, and monitoring. Many computer and mobile applications have been built for both medical professionals and the public to improve the way healthcare services are delivered. Through agile management, teams can build the types of applications medical professionals and patients need and iteratively develop desired features and functionalities.  

3.      Empower teams to be self-organized – Healthcare facilities need to provide the same level of service 24/7. To maintain constant productivity, organizations need to ensure that their teams are self-organizing by investing in each team members’ skills and capabilities. Team members should feel confident in relying on their own medical knowledge and be able to make sound decisions without needing to consult their supervisors constantly. With more independent teams, organizations can be confident that they can maintain normal operations around the clock.

4.      Setting clear metrics – Every team member should know what is expected of them and their role. To maintain transparency, set clear metrics that your employees understand and agree with. This conversation will help you get a better picture of your staff’s day-to-day activities and what can be reasonably expected while also setting goals they can work toward.

5.      Cross-functionally collaborating – In traditional organizations, many departments and teams work within siloes, which makes it hard to share relevant data and other health information across the organization. With agile project management, data is the top priority. In a healthcare setting, data is crucial for improving operations and management processes. When more people have access to data-driven insights, teams can more efficiently drive the implementation of quality healthcare solutions.   

6.      Adapting to change – Adaptability and flexibility will allow healthcare teams to provide higher-quality patient outcomes. Try focusing on responsibilities over roles, and incorporate feedback from patients and clinicians to help the team iteratively adapt to new processes and objectives.

7.      Innovation – It’s no secret that healthcare evolves quickly. As new digital tools and technologies emerge that enable new models for provider-patient relationships, healthcare management should deploy best-practice methods to provide cutting-edge care. Agile healthcare teams can quickly identify and assess problems in care delivery, personnel scheduling, medical supply acquisition, and other tasks.

8.      Focus on quality output – Becoming agile means that the healthcare organization prioritizes quality. By planning processes and key metrics, training and preparing your team, creating sound and informed decisions, and investing your resources to implement efficient processes, you can empower your team to deliver the best healthcare services to patients across all sectors, including clinical consultations, emergency, and intensive care, medical laboratory operations, and facility sanitation.

How to Become Agile

Becoming agile is all about communication. For healthcare organizations that are just embarking on their journey to agile, it starts with communicating their vision to all managers and employees throughout the enterprise. McKinsey recommends taking the following steps:

1.      Define your goals – Meet with the team that will be leading the organization’s agile transformation. Then, define the enterprise’s overall strategic objectives and discuss how applying agility will help you meet them. Goals can include targeted segment/market growth, enhanced value-based care models, and reimbursement capabilities.

2.      Assess where you are today – Identify pockets of agility that currently exist in your organization, such as innovation teams or IT departments.

3.      Create a new model – Identify the specific aspects that make up the stable backbone of your organization. Then, overlay the dynamic capabilities and model for agile teams and units.

4.      Use agile to become agile Start with agile prototypes; then, iterate and refine these processes according to defined feedback loops. Create space for learning and local adaptation in the dynamic elements, then scale by shifting targeted areas to a more fully agile model that encompasses rapid prototyping.

5.      Learn and improve Scale agility and formalize the new model. By converting one area at a time to agility, your organization will move closer to a model that is self-sustaining.  

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