Hospitals' H1N1 response suggests deeper capacity for change

Generally speaking, I don't give hospital executives much of a break. In fact, I'm the sort of critic that castigates hospitals for their traditional, rigid management style and palpable resistance to change every chance I get. (Guys, I do it because I love you all--you know that, right?) That being said, the industry's response to the H1N1 pandemic offers a refreshing glimpse of the hospital industry's hidden strengths.

Prompted by the threat of the pandemic, which could easily overwhelm overtaxed emergency departments and virtually shut down admitting, more hospitals than I expected are responding quickly to address the threat.

We're talking a range of strategies from the relatively conservative--blocking infection-carrying youngsters from visiting--to models pushing screening out to the curb or even remote locations, instituting new testing programs, redeploying staff in new ways, and more. While some of it is probably from some disaster relief handbook, I still see initiative and willingness to experiment here.

Unfortunately, whether it's hospitals, banks, or the U.S. government, conservative institutions are more likely to mobilize when they're facing a large, well-defined outside threat--it's just human nature. And I know that it's easier to be creative when you're doing something unique (fighting the pandemic) than when you're trying to change deeply ingrained processes within your facility.

Still, I'd argue the response to the H1N1 pandemic has useful lessons to offer for those hoping to change day-to-day operations within hospitals. If nothing else, it suggests that a routine-breaker event can be a good thing, a bracing, energizing reminder of your ability to solve problems fast. It's a shame it takes a pandemic to make the point, but better late than never, right? - Anne