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By Ellen Joan van Vliet, PhD Friday. May 1, 2020

Supporting adaptive healthcare – people make the difference Featured

In the past few weeks healthcare professionals have been fully focussed caring for enormous numbers of people infected with COVID-19. They did an amazing job. Not in the least because healthcare professionals and leaders have been using continues improvement as part of their accreditation program for many years.

It has become part of their DNA. This has enabled them to change many processes as needed during COVID-19, using a cross-functional problem solving approach in (very) rapid improvement cycles.


And there is an urgency in making progress using the momentum of adaptive change. Until a vaccine has been created for COVID-19, healthcare has to adapt to the new reality. Organisations will have to scale up and down again while maintaining high standards in quality and safety of care. Elective care has to commence while COVID-19 might flair up again. New realities like social distancing and increased use of e-health have to be faced.


While implementing lasting changes is a totally different challenge than realizing quick and unpredictable responses in crisis situations, the underlying key to success in both, during and post COVID-19, is the same: invest in people, in professionals. The required solutions to make our healthcare adaptive are not found in the hardware or software nor in systems, but in the people. Together, professionals make the difference.


In my experience there are three important rules to follow that increase the chance of rapid improvement cycles being successful. They all focus on people.


  • Get everyone around the same table and ready to engage.

Include representatives for all stakeholders that are involved in the particular improvement you are trying to make. In most cases this will be a cross functional group. Key in continues improvement is to understand what you are trying to improve from all angles.


  • Speak the same language.

Choose representatives based not only on their expertise but also on their communication skills. Strong communication is an absolute must when blending teams together to find new solutions and follow-up on them.


  • Designate a facilitator.

Put a small group of professionals around the same table to find a solution that satisfies everyone's requirements and things can get messy quickly. A facilitator can help to keep the discussion on topic, navigate arguments and achieve group goals. On top of that the facilitator can offer an objective point of view when the professionals struggle to look beyond their own ideas.


Rapid improvement cycles and a mature safety and quality culture form a solid safety net and a great support for adaptive healthcare now and in the future. Most importantly however we have to continue investing in our healthcare professionals. From physicians, management and janitors to secretaries and nurses.


Make their passion and skills matter. Empower and support them so they can find and implement the changes needed to deliver the best possible healthcare every day, now and tomorrow.



About the Authors:


Ellen Joan van Vliet, PhD - CEO, NIAZ [Netherlands Institute for Healthcare Accreditation]

Patricia Lahana - Senior Advisor, NIAZ [Netherlands Institute for Healthcare Accreditation] 

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