Your healthcare practice runs on your team’s collective knowledge.
The knowledge they possess, the skills they've honed, and their ability to adapt and find solutions in challenging situations, are what keep your patients healthy, satisfied, and loyal to your practice. But, imagine a scenario where this crucial knowledge is scattered and inaccessible - it's like having a treasure trove you can't tap into. This disarray can bring your operations to a standstill, or worse, it could severely hamper the quality of care your patients receive.
To navigate these potential hurdles and to ensure a smooth flow of knowledge, your practice needs a structured approach to managing this valuable asset - enter the realm of strategic knowledge management.
Our team has delved into this subject, blending our own understanding and research with valuable insights from Dr. Cynthia J. Young, the founder and CEO of CJ Young Consulting, a firm that specializes in knowledge management consulting. Using our combined knowledge, we'll demystify how strategic knowledge management can not only keep your medical practice running smoothly but also enhance the overall effectiveness and efficiency of your healthcare services.
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management, often abbreviated as KM, is essentially a strategic approach that a company employs to make the most out of its knowledge resources. It's a bit like a well-organized library. But instead of books, it organizes and coordinates the knowledge possessed by its employees, the technological resources available, the internal work methods, and even the overall structure of the organization.
The ultimate aim is to make the company more valuable and innovative. How does it do that? By encouraging people to create, share, and use their knowledge effectively. It's also about learning from past experiences, integrating best practices into the system, and keeping these valuable lessons alive in the organization's memory for continuous learning and improvement.
For example, in the healthcare industry, making use of knowledge management strategies could involve a system for sharing new medical research findings among doctors, or a process for nurses to exchange effective caregiving techniques. It also could involve saving lessons learned from past cases into a knowledge bank, allowing for continuous learning and improvement in patient care.
An excellent example of strategic knowledge management in action can be seen in the World Health Organization's (WHO) TRACK initiative. Launched in 2023, this initiative leverages a digital platform to share knowledge and build capacity in the management of advanced HIV disease (AHD). AHD, a major health concern particularly in high HIV burden countries, was responsible for approximately 650,000 deaths in 2021.
The TRACK initiative not only aims to share knowledge about AHD but also establishes a community of practice across regions to promote intra-regional collaboration. It includes webinars and virtual communities of practice to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices, demonstrating how knowledge management can significantly contribute to tackling global health challenges.
Much like this, your healthcare practice can utilize strategic knowledge management to create an efficient flow of information and insights, bringing together various stakeholders for collaborative problem-solving and continuous learning. This not only keeps your practice running smoothly but can also enhance the overall quality of your healthcare services.
With that said, let's now delve deeper into how knowledge management plays a vital role in a healthcare setting and how your practice can harness its power to reap tangible benefits.
The Role of Knowledge Management in a Healthcare Setting
Strategic knowledge management is critical to providing top-notch healthcare to your patients — and to ensuring your practice runs as smoothly as possible.
Let’s talk about where, when, and how it comes into play.
Clinical Decision Making
Clinical healthcare providers make hundreds of decisions every day — many of which are critical to their patients’ health.
In order to make the right decision each and every time under high-pressure circumstances, providers need to have immediate and open access to all relevant information, such as:
- Patient records and medical histories
- Current medical journals, reports, and studies
- Practice treatment plans and patient policies
Strategic knowledge management allows providers to easily consider all of the factors involved in caring for their individual patients. As we’ll discuss, this makes for more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans as time goes on.
Patient Care Coordination
Knowledge management is also crucial for coordinating the various processes involved in patient care, from initial intake to post-appointment check-ins.
For example, scheduling patient appointments typically involves knowing…
- Which specialist(s) the patient needs to see
- When and where both parties are available
- What the patient needs to know and/or do prior to the appointment
Effective knowledge management, then, ensures that patient representatives have all the info they need to coordinate appointments — and that they can easily pass along critical information to patients and providers as necessary.
Overall, KM makes for more streamlined experiences for everyone involved.
Telehealth and Self-Service Operations
This ties into the above, with a bit of a digital twist.
Again, knowledge management is key to both coordinating and providing top-level healthcare — be it in-person or online. With perhaps even more data flowing (and flowing more quickly) between parties during online exchanges, keeping systematic track of it all should always be a top priority.
This is especially true for practices that offer self-service portals where patients can peruse their appointment histories, treatment plans, and other important info. If this information isn’t organized optimally on the backend, your portal could potentially be rendered useless.
Clinical Research and Development
Effective knowledge management keeps organizational knowledge and data secure and ineffaceable (which, of course, is a core requirement of conducting clinical research).
At the same time, knowledge management ensures this data is accessible to all who need it, whenever they need it, on whichever device they choose to access it on — without the risk of erasing or changing it in any way.
That said, KM also systematizes the process of updating organizational knowledge as time goes on. With things changing almost daily in the medical world, this is essential to continually providing the best possible healthcare to your patients.
Knowledge management plays an important role in the training and development of all members of your healthcare organization — from providers and their assistants to your clerical, custodial, and technical employees.
For one, it gives facilitators everything they need to put together solid training programs and development plans for their employees. In addition to the factual information in focus, this may also include employee performance data and current workflow documentation.
Knowledge management also makes sure learners have access to all the info they need to successfully complete training and reach their developmental goals. Moreover, it allows them to access their development plan and profile over time in order to stay on the right track.
Operations and Process Improvement
Similarly, knowledge management is needed for healthcare teams to effectively improve their overall workflows and processes.
Again, it comes down to having immediate access to the necessary information and knowledge. Here, we’re talking workflow documentation, team performance data, patient survey data — and anything else that can help the team understand what’s working well, and what could be improved upon.
As plans for improvement are developed and put in place, a solid approach to KM is needed to streamline communication and maintain alignment throughout the team.
When it comes to maintaining HIPAA compliance, knowledge management isn’t just a suggestion — it’s a requirement.
Strategic knowledge management is the key to ensuring confidential patient information stays protected and secure. Without a systematic process for handling this data in place, your team will continuously be at risk of violating numerous HIPAA protocols.
In fact, failure to have these systematic processes in place is a violation of HIPAA in itself. Even if you’ve managed to keep your patient data 100% secure, you could still be cited during an audit if you’re unable to show how you do it.
Why Healthcare Organizations Need Knowledge Management
Alright, so we’ve already hinted at some of the main reasons your practice needs to have a strategic knowledge management plan in place.
(And, to be sure, “You legally have to” is likely a good enough reason for anyone reading this.)
Still, let’s take a look at some of the more nitty-gritty benefits of adopting KM in a healthcare setting.
Enhanced Precision in Medical Diagnosis and Treatment
As we said earlier, your healthcare specialists rely on a ton of information to make the right decisions when it comes to diagnoses and treatment plans.
Looking at it another way, introducing knowledge management into your operations can drastically decrease the number and severity of malpractice instances within your organization.
Unfortunately, knowledge-based malpractice lawsuits have long been among the most costly to healthcare organizations. That said, you simply can’t afford not to enable and empower your providers with the knowledge they need to make accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions.
Enhanced Teamwork and Communication
According to a 2018 research report, one of the key teamwork-related challenges healthcare practices face revolves around contextual communication and collaboration.
Incidentally, implementing KM enables both real-time and asynchronous communication by ensuring all involved parties are referring to the same info, data, and documentation. Quite literally, knowledge management keeps everyone on the same page.
This enhanced ability to communicate can have a wide-reaching effect on your operations, impacting processes like:
- Patient intake, handoffs, and referrals
- Treatment team meetings and rounds
- Administrative operations — both internal and patient-facing
Improved Patient Experiences and Outcomes
Adopting effective knowledge management processes means you’ll be able to better serve your patients across the board.
Again, their actual clinical experiences are more likely to be successful when your specialists have access to the information they need. And, because providers can conveniently access this information as needed, patients receive more efficient treatment, too.
The administrative side of receiving medical treatment becomes more efficient and helpful for patients, as well. Whether it’s because your staff is better able to serve them or they’ve been enabled to serve themselves, your strategic approach to knowledge management will enhance the patient experience beyond their highest expectations.
Optimal Business Outcomes — and Fewer Risks
Ultimately, proper knowledge management enables your practice to run like a well-oiled machine — in turn ensuring you experience continued success on the business side of things.
On top of the immediate improvements to productivity and patient experiences, knowledge management also helps practices minimize operational and business-related risks..
For one, KM enhances your ability to maintain regulatory compliance. This again is due to the introduction of systematic processes for handling company knowledge, patient information, and other sensitive data.
And, since you’ll be capturing and storing employee and team knowledge over time, you’ll rarely be the victim of knowledge loss should a veteran provider or employee leave without notice. Once the knowledge has been captured — be it explicit or tacit — your team will maintain control of it regardless of what happens in the future.
Implementing Knowledge Management in a Healthcare Setting
Implementing strategic knowledge management practices in your healthcare organization is an intensive and time-consuming process.
But, as discussed above, it’s all but necessary to empower your clinical and assistive staff members, to provide high-level service to your patients, and to remain regulatory compliance throughout your practice.
As crucial as knowledge management is to the success of your practice, you need to make sure you’re doing it right.
1. Get the Whole Team Onboard
Your first order of business is to get your practice as a whole to buy into your knowledge management initiative.
The best way to get started is to communicate the benefits of KM to the various members of your practice. Make sure all parties understand how KM will make their job-related duties easier and more streamlined — and how it will empower them to do even more for the team as a whole.
As knowledge management expert Dr. Cynthia J. Young notes, a key part of this is introducing the concept of a Community of Practice (CoP).
"A CoP is a group of people who gather together to solve not only immediate problems but also to proactively address risk mitigation, process improvement, or bridging knowledge gaps in a common area of interest. Most CoPs start because a need is identified. People may be gathered to solve a problem, but this is just a working group. A CoP works to become proactive in their efforts. Continuity of group meetings and knowledge sharing results in pride in solutions and boosts interest in, and ownership of, the program. In essence, a CoP is an excellent method to use as part of a KM program because it provides opportunities for people to collaborate towards a joint-vested solution for a common problem."
From there, discuss with your team members what introducing knowledge management might “look like” within your practice. Start generating feedback from your team regarding any questions or concerns they have — and tackle any resistance to change that arises.
Beyond this initial introduction to knowledge management, make sure your employee onboarding processes involve KM to some degree.
“Incorporate knowledge mapping during onboarding so the new hire will meet other teammates or peers as early as Day 1, and will know who to turn to when they need help. This helps to open communication lines and encourage teamwork.” - Dr. Cynthia J. Young
2. Define the KM Program's Value Proposition
Part of getting the entire team onboard entails the critical step of clarifying the value healthcare knowledge management to the organization. This involves more than just articulating the cool factor or potential resume highlights, but rather demonstrating concrete benefits that the KM program can deliver.
According to Dr. Cynthia J. Young:
"The value proposition of a KM program should answer the question, 'So what?'. The KM program shouldn't merely be a buzzword or a line item in the company's initiatives. Its worth should be evident - how it will help the company grow, retain personnel, secure more business, and improve the flow of knowledge within the organization.
Conversations with a sponsor or peers can shed light on the potential of the KM program to benefit their respective departments or projects. Showcasing a direct return on investment can be a powerful way to present the KM program to the C-suite, securing their backing for the initiative. It is vital that the KM program aligns with the company's objectives and delivers real, measurable benefits."
3. Define Stakeholders, Leaders, and Other Roles
Next, determine who will be responsible for your various KM-related tasks within each department in your practice.
Some roles to consider assigning include:
- Knowledge Managers, responsible for determining what knowledge content to create or update — and for keeping knowledge content organized and accessible.
- Knowledge Creators, responsible for adding new or updating existing knowledge content based on new learnings and findings.
- Knowledge Analysts, responsible for analyzing the quality of your existing knowledge content, and/or analyzing how this content is used by your team members.
After assigning roles like Knowledge Managers, Knowledge Creators, and Knowledge Analysts, it's essential not to overlook the critical role of a program sponsor. As. Dr. Cynthia J. Young notes, “sponsors, who are typically influential individuals within the organization, provide much-needed support and can facilitate buy-in from the top-level management or C-suite. Although they don't necessarily need in-depth knowledge about KM, they should be kept informed about program efforts, proposed budgets, and strategies for promoting the program. This involvement will enable them to champion the benefits of the KM program throughout the organization effectively.”
Remember, a sponsor can also assist in breaking down inter-departmental silos and fostering a more collaborative environment.
"Get at least one person from each department to be the person who reaches out and problem-solves with other departments to eliminate organizational silos. This also encourages learning more about each department as well as building communities of practice." - Dr. Cynthia J. Young
Ensure to engage your IT department in these KM plans, as their role is vital to digital operations and efforts. By creating these teams across all knowledge domains and departments within your practice, and fostering inter-team engagement, you can facilitate an effective and comprehensive KM program.
4. Assess Current Knowledge (and Knowledge-Related Processes)
Everyone involved in your new KM initiative will already be coming to the table with a ton of knowledge in their possession.
And, even if you’ve yet to systematize your KM processes, much of this knowledge may already be documented somewhere, somehow.
Your next step, then, will be to assess your team’s knowledge in each department/domain within your practice — and to do the same with any knowledge documentation you already possess. It may help to create a basic rubric in order to rate the quality and depth of your current knowledge, as this will allow you to focus on specific knowledge gaps and other areas in need of improvement.
You’ll also want to identify the sources of your team’s knowledge — especially when it comes from a third-party entity. Assess these sources for accuracy and comprehensiveness and, if necessary, begin looking for other reputable sources to collect the needed info from.
Ultimately, the goal at this stage is to understand where your knowledge management efforts currently stand — and how you can improve upon them from the start of your new initiative.
5. Introduce the Necessary Technology
Modern knowledge management typically relies on a wide variety of digital tools.
Generally speaking, the most important knowledge management software you’ll want to adopt are as follows:
- Knowledge Base Software: Tools like Helpjuice make it easy to create both internal and patient-facing knowledge bases for your practice.
- Document Management Software: Document management systems are essential for storing patient records and other frequently-accessed documentation.
- Decision Support Systems: A decision support system can help your team analyze, visualize, and assess data as needed to make informed decisions regarding internal operations.
- Tools for Communication and Collaboration: Ideally, the tools you already use for communication and collaboration sync with your knowledge base, et. al. If not, finding tools that do should be a top priority.
- Learning Management Software: An LMS will go hand-in-hand with your efforts to fill knowledge gaps on an individual and practice-wide level.
6. Develop a Systematic Knowledge Management Process
At this point, you’ll be ready to develop standardized operating procedures to follow when capturing, creating, sharing, and using your organizational knowledge.
While the details will vary from practice to practice, the overarching process of synthesizing knowledge should include:
- Data Collection: Raw data is collected from all appropriate sources, with irrelevant data being filtered out automatically.
- Data Organization: Data is sorted based on specified characteristics and organized for easy access and analysis.
- Data Synthesis: Data is analyzed and transformed into useful knowledge — which is then developed into accessible knowledge content.
- Data Processing and Usage: Knowledge content is put to use in real-world situations within the practice.
7. Adjust and Improve Your Knowledge Management Efforts
Integrating knowledge management into your practice’s existing processes won’t happen overnight.
(And you won’t have it perfected for a while, either.)
That said, it’s important to continually analyze, assess, and make improvements to your approach to KM as time goes on.
Key areas to focus on here include:
- Educating and training team members to become more involved in your knowledge management initiatives
- Optimizing KM tasks to better enable specialists and assistive staff members and free up critical resources
- Introducing new technology to address your practice’s specific KM-related needs
Incidentally, keeping knowledge management in focus will reinforce the value it brings to your practice — which, ideally, will lead your team members to buy even further into the initiative. In time, strategic knowledge management will become a core part of your practice’s routine operations.
Using Helpjuice in Your Healthcare Organization
Let's take a journey to Urbana, Illinois, home of Carle, a leading healthcare provider with over 10,000 employees. Each month, their HR contact team was inundated with between 800 and 1000 email inquiries, many of them related to employee benefits and insurance usage. The volume was immense, and the information too extensive to browse easily. They needed a solution that could streamline this process, ensuring their employees got the answers they needed quickly and efficiently.
Now, imagine if your healthcare organization could experience a similar transformation.
Helpjuice’s knowledge base software has proven to be essential to dozens of healthcare organizations as they’ve gotten their knowledge management initiatives off the ground. Our comprehensive software allows practices to create, share, and store important knowledge and information — keeping it safe and secure while doing so. We also provide personalized support as you get started to ensure everything goes as planned (and, again, that your practice’s data remains secure).
Best of all?
You can experience this transformation for free: Sign up for a free 14-day trial of Helpjuice today!