07/21/2013 06:30 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2013

How to Get Hospitals to Take Their Meds -- The Critical Last Step to Effecting Change

Hospitals seeking to contribute to healthier patient populations and reduced re-admissions often struggle at the last stage of the care process: getting discharged patients to take their meds. The patients are no longer under the watchful eye of the hospital staff and need to be encouraged and motivated to take charge of their own health.

In many ways healthcare organizations are in a similar situation. They are in pain resulting from drastic changes in the market, skyrocketing costs, fewer beds filled and the need to prepare for dramatic shifts in how they will be sustainable for the future.

Like a patient, most healthcare organizations have sought treatment, been diagnosed, and are coming to grips with deficiencies they need to work on: patient-centered care, re-engineering departments and processes to be more efficient and consolidation to create greater scale to confront new market realities.

The hospitals have even been given a set of remedies for their ills. They have adopted new programs and initiatives to address the challenges they have identified. They see the need to focus on patient satisfaction, quality of care, employee engagement, better team collaboration among physicians, nurses and non-clinical leaders.

But just like the caregiver watching the patient walk out of the hospital loaded with prescriptions to fill and courses of treatment to follow, how confident are healthcare leaders that their organization will be willing and able to actually do the work needed to make them better?

Change is hard. But equipping healthcare employees with the tools and the imperatives to change won't be enough if they won't actually take the meds. Healthcare leaders are going to need to change their mindset if they are going to implement the prescribed changes their organizations need.

Think small. Once the strategies have been adopted and the plan put in place, leaders need to stop and change their focal point. They need to think less about how to deploy a program or initiative from the top down and they need to think more about how to engage each employee from the bottom up. What will motivate individuals, not employee populations? What would it take for a leader as an individual to take the first step?

Here are three areas for leaders to focus on in order to encourage employees to buy in to the course of treatment the hospital needs:

Confront the fear:

At the heart of any resistance to change are fears. People are nervous if not frightened. Longstanding assumptions are being challenged. Do only doctors know what's best? Are other caregivers afraid to challenge established norms? Leaders need to help employees acknowledge those fears and get them out into the open. Nothing engages employees more than if you are talking about something they are emotionally feeling.


Slogans aren't enough. Leaders need to assure employees that the values they hold dear are needed and cherished by the organization. Healthcare employees joined the field because they embody deeply held values of caring and teamwork. Leaders need to show them how those values are critical to the success of the organization's efforts by discussing how it is possible to serve patients and be financially sustainable.

Give employees a voice:

The adage of a long journey starting with a single step is not completely accurate for organizations. The journey starts with as many single steps as there are employees. And each employee is starting from their unique place, their own perspective of what is right or wrong and important to serve the patient. The organization has to acknowledge where everyone is and then help them build their unique path so that they feel a part of the process. Leaders need to ask caregivers what they need instead of telling them what they think they need to know. Employees that know the patients the best can also be the best resources for developing a systems-based approach that is truly patient-centered.

The hardest part and the most expensive part of the treatment is in the diagnosis and in the tools selected and acquired to cure the problem. But all the effort is for naught if the patient cannot be convinced to take the meds. Healthcare leaders that are successfully leading their organizations through radical change are closing that gap by ensuring that everyone is on board and contributing to the process.