The healthcare industry is going through unprecedented change. The supply chain has been a powerful force, and at times a leader, in driving this transformation. During the past decade, the focus on automating supply-chain processes has allowed the industry to significantly reduce waste and save billions annually. Despite this progress, the amount of work to be done for the supply chain to contribute to a sustainable healthcare ecosystem remains significant.
Technology has played an important role in driving positive change, lowering costs and creating better data for decision making. But underpinning these solutions is where the real opportunity lies. It is establishing a culture of innovation in healthcare.
Healthcare has a long-standing reputation for being insular, relying on its own institutional experts to solve critical problems. But innovation thrives in diverse environments — and the data is there to back up this claim. According to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 85 percent of CEOs whose organizations have a diversity and inclusion strategy say it has enhanced performance.
What healthcare needs today is “diversity of thought,” to stimulate the strategic thinking and creativity required to facilitate a culture of innovation. With costs rising, reimbursements declining and an aging population, the time is right for the industry to move beyond its traditional solutions and embrace bold, new approaches.
Progress Relies on Diversity
Fundamentally, the definition of progress is to find faster, smarter and more effective ways to solve problems. One of the greatest impediments to progress is the natural tendency to follow a familiar path, especially when it has delivered quantifiable results in the past. More often than not, most of us tend to operate with an unconscious bias regarding our jobs. We make quick decisions and assessments based on what we think we know. And for teams of people, it’s fairly common to unknowingly succumb to “group think.” Without realizing it, we gradually shift from thinking outside the box to thinking, like everyone else, inside the box.
So how do we ensure our organizations avoid conformity, and instead focus on breaking barriers to increase competitiveness and improve performance?
Recent research from Harvard and Yale demonstrates the power of diversity to fuel organizational performance. Moreover, a 2009 study found that firms with more racial or gender diversity had more sales revenue, more customers and greater profits. Diversity benefits organizations because it brings together people of different skills, experiences, industry backgrounds and personalities, and puts them into an inclusive culture where they can thrive. Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. And those natural biases about how we think the organization can or should run? A more diverse team will help to keep members’ biases in check, and make them question their assumptions.
Despite this, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review found that regardless of the documented benefits of diverse teams, and organizations’ efforts to recruit a wide range of talent, success has been limited. The barrier is often another natural bias: homogenous teams feel more effective. But a study featured in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that while heterogeneous teams may have to work harder to get to the answer, the outcomes are always better.
The Challenges Facing Healthcare
Consider how important diversity of thought is as we think about the future of the healthcare supply chain. Supply chain’s influence reaches beyond simply picking the right vendor or product and delivering it to the right location at the right time. The supply chain will play a critical role as the industry continues to move to value-based healthcare, and care settings extend beyond hospital walls to the community. Now is the appropriate time to determine whether our teams are designed to ask the right questions, question old assumptions, identify existing and new problems, and devise creative innovative solutions.
Many of the challenges faced by healthcare today require changing how we approach the fundamental tasks of the supply chain. For example, care is moving out of the hospital and into the community and patients’ homes. Supply-chain teams are working to serve these locations, which take them closer to patients and the neighborhoods in which they live and work. Understanding who patients are (beyond just their medical conditions) requires a new way of thinking and embracing differences.
The nature of contracting is also changing, as we move to a healthcare system that rewards value and outcomes. Risk-based contracting requires new metrics and the ability to share data among parties to the contract in a secure manner. Respect for diversity of thought can help us build the levels of trust needed to navigate the new levels of complexity that risk-based contracting demands.
Sourcing, too, is changing, with more integration with the clinical world to select the products that deliver the best value for different types of patient populations. It’s no longer as simple as finding the best price or satisfying a physician’s preference. Now it’s a combined approach to find the product that delivers the best value in terms of outcomes and affordability.
A Path Forward
What steps can supply chain leaders take to build diverse work environments?
- Identify the skills important for success. Think about the existing skills and perspectives within the team, as well as the operational and performance objectives for the next one to five years. Determine and thoughtfully outline the skills, experience, and perspectives that will help the team achieve greater success. These may include innovation, strategy, curiosity, risk tolerance, or subject-matter experts or who have navigated similar challenges in other industries. Don’t assume that you will fill that need with only healthcare industry veterans.
- Use groups to weed out bias. Bring together a group of people for hiring and promoting that, with intention, could help weed out bias. If I have to justify a decision, a group helps you catch the bias.
- Practice inclusive leadership. Team leaders must create space for every team member to be heard. Facilitate conversations, and avoid a culture where only the loudest or most senior voice is heard.
Healthcare’s transformation is far from over. For the industry to thrive, we must embrace new thinking and approaches. As supply-chain leaders, it’s incumbent on us to create an environment that invites a diversity of opinions and thoughts. Without it, we will fall prey to unconscious bias that will impede our industry’s and our organization’s ability to innovate to the fullest.
Count on it: Diversity will be a strategic and competitive advantage for the healthcare industry during the next decade.
Tina Vatanka Murphy is chief revenue officer of GHX.