Change Management: Understanding the Emotional Impact of New Technology in the Workplace

payor enrollmentStress, frustration, and anxiety – these are all typical responses when someone tries to change our usual way of doing things. Of course, this includes technology (especially technology!). Why is change so hard? Probably because we take comfort in our familiar routine and daily workflow.

We are seeing this emotional tug-of-war more and more as healthcare companies introduce new technology. As a healthcare leader, the question becomes how can you set the standard when new systems and applications impact your team? Let’s start with understanding your team’s reaction to new technology.

As you can see here, medical staff typically fall into one of three categories when dealing with technology change:

  • The “deny-till-you-die” crowd drags their feet until they’re finally forced to use the technology and adjust to the new process.
  • The “cautious plodders” come along reluctantly, but they’re not super excited.
  • The “leading-the-charge” group is enthusiastic and engaged.

Clearly, the first two groups will need more nurturing. Let’s look at the emotional rollercoaster they board before finally embracing technology change. There are 7 Stages you will need to address:

  1. Losing focus

All it takes for some medical staff to lose focus is to hear that new technology will change their routine. They will funnel a lot of mental energy into this uncertainty and start to question their real value or commitment to your organization. 

  1. Denial

Medical staff in denial may say or think things like, “this change isn’t really going to happen” or “it will be months before this happens – I don’t have to think about it now.” How long they stay in denial will depend on each staff member’s perception of how disruptive the change will be on their daily routine.

  1. The pit

When it becomes clear the technology change is happening, some people may slip into a pit of despair – a time of peak frustration or even anger. They may call in sick, act grumpy, and/or become less cooperative at meetings. They may even isolate themselves as they try to put off the inevitable.

  1. Letting go of the past

The good news is that at some point, most everyone gets tired of being sick and tired. Whether you’re dealing with physicians or nurses, they’ll gradually let go of being angry and fearful. It may be a lackluster embrace, but they will begin adapting to the new technology and processes. You will know they’ve gotten to this stage when they start asking more substantive questions and making more constructive suggestions.

  1. Testing the limits

Some medical staff adopt a never-say-die attitude. They will simultaneously adapt to the change while continuing to push back against full adoption. The most resistant will find ways to continue their old processes in tandem with the new system. Be patient. If the behavior doesn’t compromise patient care or data quality, ignore the “bad” behavior and praise them every time you observe them using the technology effectively. Remember, this is a normal stage of human beings adapting to change. It doesn’t mean the person is stubborn or uncommitted. Keep articulating the vision and celebrating progress.

  1. Searching for meaning

In order to adapt, providers and staff will find ways to give meaning to the new reality. In the absence of clear statements about the purpose and goals of the technology change from leadership, staff will make up an interpretation that helps them cope. For instance, older staff may interpret the change as the signal that it’s time to retire. Others may see the decision to adopt new technology as a “business” move and accept it as a “necessary evil” with which they must cope. And some portion of the team will view the capabilities of the new technology as a way to provide better patient care. As a leader, you can help staff through this stage by continuing to articulate the purpose of the technology and using metrics to show the connection between staff members’ use of the technology and the business and clinical impacts on the organization and patient outcomes. 

  1. Integrating

Ultimately, most team members will embrace this time as an opportunity to integrate the new technology into their routines and get familiar with the new process. Until they reach this point, you should be patient and communicate effectively to guide them and keep them moving forward to this stage.

Whether trying to reduce paperwork or automate systems, remember that change is a process, not an event. The best way to minimize the emotional impact and streamline technology buy-in is to take the right steps and always be communicating. Learn more about overcoming these hurdles with our webcast, “Why is Technology Change So Hard?” In this presentation, Julie Rennecker, PhD, BSN discusses the difficulties of change and identifies strategies for leading your team through the seven stages in the change journey.

Managing your team can be a hefty chore, soaking up time, resources, and your budget. Our suite of web-based provider management solutions delivers an easy and effective way to manage the lifecycle of your providers from initial appointment to privileging and provider enrollment, peer review, and incident reporting. To learn more, contact the experts at symplr today.

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Julie Rennecker

About the Author
Julie Rennecker

Julie Rennecker, PhD, BSN, is the founder of The Management Doc, LLC, an Austin-based research and consulting firm committed to making technology work for healthcare. Through her work, she improves the design and implementation of new technologies and the overall technology adoption process. She started her career as a nurse in ICU, ER, cardiac, and outpatient units. This provided a great knowledge base for her to move into a consultancy position working on internal process improvement for Seton Medical Center. She earned a PhD in Organization Behavior from MIT’s Sloan School of Management where she studied the impacts of technology change. Following this, she served on the Information Systems faculty at Case Western Reserve University for before returning to Austin and the healthcare industry in 2006. Her research has been published in management and technology journals, books, and conference proceedings, and her Texas clients include hospitals, physician practices, and technology vendors.

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