During my more than 30 years in healthcare administration, I was often frustrated by the solutions that well-intended IT staff provided. Many times the new solution changed patient care systems but did not improve them.
I discovered the power of soft skills when I collaborated with an IT consultant who worked to understand the details of my healthcare system. The consultant listened and made insightful inquiries into relevant details to understand our needs and goals, then offered practical, easily implemented solutions that improved the process.
I found myself imagining the possibilities if comprehensive collaboration between IT and healthcare providers were the norm and not the exception.
What if everyone around the table spoke the same language and worked cooperatively toward the same goal? How could we use these skills to bridge the divide or, even possibly, eliminate the divide? And how do we prepare health IT students now so they have these skills to implement them in the workplace?
Soft skills are interpersonal skills, whereas hard skills are developed through education and training.
These skills include your communication style, ability to listen and empathize, how well you work with others, etc.—and are increasingly critical in navigating any work environment.
In today’s digitized, complex and extensive healthcare industry, these skills are key to the healthcare professional’s workplace effectiveness and personal well-being.
Today, as an adjunct professor, I’m seeing health IT academic program curriculums respond to this workplace need by making more courses related to interpersonal skills. Health IT graduates develop practical skills for working in interdisciplinary teams such as knowing their role in an effective team, and how to articulate feedback and feedforward to track success and assess change.
Another skill developed in graduates is customer service in a healthcare environment. Unlike other industries, in healthcare there are layers of clients, from direct supervisors to the treating physician and patients. Teaching these skills in health IT programs enables graduates to understand the dynamics of addressing the competing needs and interests of the multitude of healthcare clients.
Interpersonal skills specific to the healthcare domain include understanding and appreciating the delineated roles, rapidly paced environment, challenging realities and dimensions of the patient experience and the essentials of every form of effective communication. Critical thinking and problem solving in healthcare require a substantial combination of hard skills with a solid repertoire of soft skills.
Thinking back to my unsuccessful collaborations with IT teams, I had included them in strategic meetings and provided extensive orientations on what we needed in a solution. But despite these efforts, the team did not quite understand the crevasses or fractures between their proposals and the day-to-day challenges of the clinical teams in providing patient care, coordinating treatment processes and promoting positive patient experiences.
Knowing what I know now, much of the disconnect between IT staff and healthcare staff was due to the complex culture that exists in most healthcare environments. There is a professional hierarchy in the medical profession that may be confusing or seem irrelevant to non-medical personnel. IT professionals may not fully comprehend the host of demands and thus may design systems that are impractical at best, and at worst, violate regulations and laws.
What needed to be done in addition to including them in meetings and orientations was to provide soft skills training to IT and other staff. As more health IT program graduates with this training enter the workplace, we’ll continue to see these skills used to bridge the healthcare divide.
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