Project management is important in all industries, but healthcare could benefit the most from a comprehensive strategy. As the healthcare industry continues to suffer from budgetary constraints and a talent drought, a healthcare project manager becomes the light in the dark.
However, there are several healthcare project management challenges that stop managers from getting the most out of their projects. And this goes beyond selecting the best project management software for healthcare (although that’s important). After all, if you start with a poor foundation, it will be difficult for your project to see the light of day.
In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of healthcare project management, why it’s vital, and the benefits of adopting a strategy. We’ll also look at the 7 healthcare project management challenges and the things you can do to prevent them or fix them when they happen.
What is healthcare project management?
Healthcare project management refers to the use of specific techniques and strategies in overseeing projects within the healthcare sector. This specialized discipline combines traditional project management principles with expertise in healthcare. It aims to ensure that all projects run smoothly, meet deadlines, stick to budgets, and achieve set goals.
If we consider a typical healthcare project, there might be several objectives to complete, like patient care improvement or implementing new technologies. Thus, it requires medical knowledge along with managerial skills. Managing resources effectively, streamlining processes, and the people involved are some common characteristics, for example.
Why is project management important in healthcare?
In essence, project management is a cornerstone within the healthcare sector. It is largely responsible for steering projects of varying scales successfully, providing a blueprint for completion within budget and stipulated timeframes.
When it comes to healthcare, efficient project management can significantly improve patient care by minimizing potential errors and inefficiencies. Furthermore, with regulations and technology always evolving, adept project management becomes indispensable. It ensures the smooth adoption of those changes while maintaining regular operations for all stakeholders.
Ultimately, effective project management translates to better medical service delivery. And when a project management strategy is backed by the right cloud-based medical billing software, businesses ensure that the patient experience is positive from beginning to end.
What are the benefits of healthcare project management?
Strong healthcare management helps improve the healthcare industry in multiple ways.
Here are the benefits of healthcare project management:
- Improves quality of care by improving the process that provides said care.
- Improves communication among staff that are caring for patients.
- Drastically improves organizational planning.
- Increases staff productivity and project success rate by 58%.
- Decreases the likelihood a project will go over budget.
- Decreases the chance of a lawsuit thanks to a higher quality of care.
- Improves relationships with insurance providers, government agencies, etc.
To ensure businesses get the most out of these benefits, they have to minimize or eliminate specific healthcare management challenges. If these problems show up while you’re establishing your project management process, they need to be dealt with as soon as possible.
7 Healthcare management challenges and how to solve them
When investing in a strategy, there’s a chance you’ll run into issues, but they don’t have to destroy your business. Here are 7 healthcare management challenges and how to solve them.
1. Funding and optimization
Healthcare costs are rising rapidly, making it hard for some hospitals and clinics to keep up. Based on multiple reports, less money is being funneled into the healthcare industry.
In the 1970s, hospital expenditures outpaced physicians and clinics, and retail prescription drugs. However, the total spending growth for all spending in these sectors was 35%.
Between 2010 to 2021, this cost breakdown had flipped. More spending is going toward retail prescription drugs, and less goes to hospitals. The total spending growth was between 12.7% to 17.8%. The industry seriously needs funding, but there simply isn’t enough to go around.
This poses a problem for the project management side of healthcare. If money is tight, how can businesses find more to support a project management department? And if there aren’t enough staff to optimize projects, how are they supposed to do their job productively and efficiently?
Not a lot can be done to funnel more money into the healthcare sector (besides petitioning for it independently or via elections, but change won’t happen overnight). The solution is to make do with what you have and use the resources at your disposal to stock your departments.
First, you need to convince stakeholders that a project management department is worth the cost. We recommend using the points in our benefits section to send that point home.
Next, adopt high-quality healthcare project management software. Even if you have the resources to run projects manually, it’s a good idea to use the software as it’s correlated with high-performing projects. 77% of companies use project management software. You should also prioritize hiring a project manager, as 80% of high-performing projects have one.
The most popular project management software include Asana, Trello, Microsoft Project, Jira, and Smartsheet. All could be used to address healthcare project management challenges.
When considering a project management software, ask yourself these questions:
- Will it allow your staff to stay up to date on tasks?
- Will it create timelines for projects automatically?
- Can it track project budgets and assist in resource management?
- Does the software complement your methodology?
- What are the licensing costs? Are they affordable?
Finally, make sure that the software can locate areas where money can be saved. With these analytics, you can prove to stakeholders that your solution is still benefiting your practice.
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2. High discipline diversity
It takes more than one department to run a healthcare business, but when a communication breakdown happens, it’s impossible for project managers to optimize healthcare projects.
If you consider the large number of disciplines involved in the healthcare industry, from social work to surgery, it’s easy to see where and why communication breakdowns occur. Not only do most departments speak their own language (causing misunderstandings, even when using the exact same words), but you have to pass the same message through a long chain of command.
And when a message is misunderstood, it causes harm to patients. The misdiagnosis rate is 10% to 15%, and even when the diagnosis is right, physicians still have to fight with patient memory. About 40% to 80% of medical information is forgotten immediately after it’s told.
According to HIPAA, miscommunication failures are the main cause of patient death, directly or indirectly. Patients may die on the operating table because a nurse failed to mention their low blood count, or they may experience long delays because information got lost in translation.
It can be hard to address communication issues when it comes to common terms, as many medical professionals see the correction as irrelevant. However, project managers can start this conversation by assuming that different departments don’t understand each other.
Project managers can ask obvious questions to establish a common language. For example, they can ask for clarification on a term. If the term is different from how another department uses it, explain how you’ll be using the term from now on. Create a glossary or a term packet that goes in-depth about how each term will be used so that everyone is on the same page.
Healthcare professionals should also commit to using specific communication strategies in healthcare. These include following the STICC Protocol, Related Model, and BATHE Protocol.
Make sure that you update any outdated communication systems and include HIPAA-compliant text messaging and video platforms. Along with that, be sure to check out professionally-made appointment reminder text samples and video scripts to make sure your correspondence is respectful and appropriate.
Use specific communication channels to relay information. This ensures that everyone has access to the exact same healthcare information.
3. Quality and efficiency
When it comes to healthcare project management challenges, improving the quality and efficiency of projects is paramount. Why? Because literal lives are at risk if you don’t.
In the Funding and Optimization section, we stressed how important optimization is. If projects go over budget, it makes it harder for stakeholders to see the value in project management.
Unfortunately, 91.5% of projects go over schedule, over budget, or both. Only 1% of projects are completed on time and on schedule. If we translate these numbers to the medical industry, this proves dire for patients who rely on doctors and medicines every single day.
There are multiple reasons why projects go over budget:
- Inaccurate estimates
- Scope creep
- Communication breakdowns
- Poor resource planning
- Lack of contingency planning
All project strategies need to avoid these problems, or it will spell disaster for patients.
Like so many problems in the healthcare industry, budgetary constraints will affect the quality and efficiency of projects. For this reason, your main focus should be on quality control.
Quality control is a major part of project management. There needs to be a project manager at the helm that keeps a firm grasp on what’s going on at all times.
For example, if they can’t move on from one step to the next because deliverables are missing, they need to put measures in place to speed up the process. They also have to review the project and adjust for next time.
While project management software will help with quality management, managers should always try to keep their budget and functional goals in mind when creating a project.
Do your best to find a balance between efficiency and quality when it comes to projects. That isn’t going to be easy. Our advice is to focus on areas that need the most improvement. For example, if it takes too long to get X-rays to patients, find a strategy that speeds up this process.
Project management is an ongoing process, and no project will finish on time without a strong leader at the helm. This leads to the next problem often plaguing project management.
4. A lack of skilled managers
Healthcare project managers do everything from constructing hospital wings to renovating physiotherapy clinics, but none of these projects will get off the ground without skilled people.
Most doctors have little to no management training, making project managers an incredibly integral addition to any team. However, skill shortages are prevalent in the healthcare industry.
Not only does healthcare have to contend with an aging workforce, but they’re also dealing with an aging population that’s seeking healthcare. This industry will also see a massive shortage of staff over the next decade. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that healthcare professionals are routinely reported to be burnout, stressed out, and overwhelmed.
While hiring more healthcare professionals will solve this problem, there isn’t enough money in the system to do so. This puts the healthcare industry between a rock and a hard place.
If money is available, the focus should be placed on hiring a manager with the necessary skills and experiences, including healthcare industry expertise. Leadership, problem-solving, adaptability, and interpersonal communication are skills all project managers should possess.
Healthcare providers should also work to improve their recruiting and onboarding strategy. According to Zippia, 45% of workers would stay at a company longer if they invested in learning and development. 92% of employees say training has a positive effect on engagement, and companies that have a comprehensive training program have a 24% higher profit margin.
Clearly, adequate training pays for itself, but to recruit appropriately, you need to:
- Craft clear and attractive job ads;
- Build a talent pipeline;
- Boost candidate sourcing;
- Evaluate candidates effectively and;
- Improve recruitment efficiency.
And if you can’t bring on another manager to the team, use the Four R model (Recruit, Retain, Reskill, and Redesign) to train other staff members to move into a project management role. If you go this route, make sure to provide proper training off-site to ensure the manager is prepared. They may need project management certification, job shadowing, or a mentor.
Manage your next healthcare project like a pro.
5. Regulatory requirements
Staying up on regulatory requirements in the healthcare industry is both the easiest and hardest part of project management. This oxymoron makes it hard for managers to perform their duties.
The healthcare industry faces heavy regulatory requirements that project managers have to follow. These include but aren’t limited to HIPAA, EMTALA, The HITECH Act, Anti-Kickback and Stark Laws, PSQIA, and Fraud and Abuse laws. While these laws are important for patient safety, they can get in the way of project management and slow down the process.
Before project managers can even start their project, they need to check if it can even be done in the first place. They need to ensure that any information they share within their place of work and outside of it is encrypted, protected, and nearly impossible to breach by malicious actors.
This can take a lot of time, especially if they don’t have the resources to check for compliance.
Projects will constantly be competing with regulatory changes, and managers have to track trends to know which ones are impacting their organization. Managers need a reliable way to track regulatory changes and quickly apply them to projects as these regulations come up.
Once again, project management software will help with this, but managers also need healthcare regulatory compliance software that automatically updates regulatory changes.
But software can’t supplement poor management. All healthcare project managers should have an intimate understanding of regulatory compliance to ensure they’re staying lawful.
6. Using the wrong methodology
There are plenty of project management methodologies, but not all of them work for healthcare. Not only that, but the methodology you choose may not necessarily work for your practice.
One of the first decisions a project manager has to make is choosing a project methodology. For this reason, many projects burn out before they start. If you have a poor foundation, it’s difficult to build on top of it. This is true in all industries but can be dire when placed in healthcare.
Let’s use the analogy of a triage nurse, for example. When a patient comes into the hospital, the patient will talk to the nurse, who will assess their injuries.
The patient in this example has a broken bone. If the nurse assesses correctly, the patient will go to the fracture clinic. If it’s assessed poorly, the patient will go home to recover from what they think is a minor injury.
If the patient goes to the clinic, they’ll receive the proper treatment in a timely manner. If they don’t, the patient will come back in a few weeks, likely with worse or unrecovered injuries that will take longer to assess. Project management is a lot like these two scenarios.
To ensure patients are getting the best healthcare possible, project managers must address one of the major healthcare project management challenges: finding the right methodology.
While there are many project management methodologies, the healthcare industry could benefit from using Agile or Waterfall. However, managers must know when to use both to avoid failure.
Here’s a brief explanation of both methodologies:
A step-by-step system in which the current project phase is dependent upon the successful completion of the previous stage.
There are 6 stages to a classic Waterfall project:
Pros of Waterfall: Early scope definition, easier to monitor and control, measurements are well-defined, clear roles and responsibilities
Cons of Waterfall: Inflexible structure, poor management, low customer engagement, not suitable for large projects, infrequent testing, scope creep
An iterative approach that breaks down a project into small development cycles (max of 4 weeks) called splints. Each sprint contains 6 steps that are similar to Waterfall steps. An Agile project remains open until all the sprints are closed or completed.
Pros of Agile: Frequent engagement, faster development, embrace change, reduces overall project risks, improves team-building and empowerment
Cons of Agile: Requires consistent involvement, colocation isn’t always possible, assumes 100% team allocation, assumes high-performance teams
As a rule, select Agile if you have a short-term project and a high-performance team. Choose Waterfall if your team is still getting used to project management or the project will take place over a long period.
We also encourage you to research other methodologies that might be helpful, such as Scrum or Kanban. You could also take a hybrid approach to your projects.
Waterfall or Agile? Nifty supports both. See it in action
7. Deficient Change Methodology
Change is inevitable in any industry, but change happens quickly in healthcare. This is especially true when it comes to technology, but some professionals don’t try to keep up.
There are many good reasons why change comes slowly in healthcare. HIPAA compliance makes it difficult to adopt new technology, and some new tech, methodologies, and medications could hurt patients if they’re utilized too quickly. New tech also costs quite a lot of money.
However, there are many things holding back change, including:
- The fear of change itself
- Growing pains that come with change
- Lack of training on new tech
- Zero transparency between patients and doctors
- The thought that tech is impersonal
Change comes slowly, but it should be implemented to improve patient outcomes. To do this, employers and project managers need to work together to make change more comfortable.
Projects don’t often have a workstream that’s dedicated to preparing organizations for significant change. Change communication is a big reason for this, as a political dichotomy between doctor and administration can create a lack of acceptance, understanding, and, ultimately, change.
In the High Disciplinary Diversity section, we talked about the importance of communication. This is the first step in developing change communication, but project managers must go further.
First, they have to implement a plan of action and share this plan with employees. It’s likely that they’ll face some pushback for the reasons mentioned in ‘The Problem’ part of this section. Managers will need to come up with objections to these statements, as employees will want a reason for these changes. If your employees are onboard, then change will come easier.
Slack’s Future of Work survey showed that 55% of leaders believed they were transparent, but only 18% of employees agreed. Psychological safety is essential for high-performing teams. In fact, employees are more receptive to changes if their employers are honest and transparent.
Managers must ask for feedback during the project and monitor if changes are being implemented appropriately. They also must evaluate the change and adjust if necessary.
These healthcare project management challenges will take a quality project manager to overcome, but it’s entirely possible for your organization to do with our tips. But before you do any of that, make sure you hire the best healthcare project manager for the job.
And when it’s time to pick the right project management software, make sure that it works for your healthcare business’s specific needs.
Always consider how your patients and other employees will respond to this software, as it’s the best way to ensure your team stays productive. It will also go a long way to keep your healthcare business profitable.