Knowledge is no longer a long-term asset that can be accumulated like cash reserves.
Rather, it's a perishable commodity that should be harvested from the talent within an organization and harnessed by managers always on the lookout for it, says James Fitchett, a partner with the Boston office of Ernst & Young.
In healthcare, the success of a new breed of delivery networks hinges on "knowledge management," allowing new ideas to bubble to the surface and nourish every aspect of operations and strategy, Fitchett says.
It's the antithesis of top-down management, which attempts to implement a single, largely static package of strategies built from the accumulated experience of industry veterans.
Other industries are ahead of healthcare in devising a management framework that elevates the cultivation and application of knowledge to a "core competency" instead of just a good thing to have around.
Fitchett will outline the principles of knowledge management and their application to healthcare delivery in seminars set for 10: 30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 3. He'll be joined by Stephen Ummel, national adviser for integrated delivery systems in Ernst & Young's Chicago office, who will offer hypothetical situations to which the principles can be applied.
"Fundamentally, knowledge is a more important asset than land, labor and capital" and must be managed as such, Fitchett says, "instead of leaving it to chance, which is what we've done."
The industry has scratched the surface of knowledge management potential by seizing on the development of clinical pathways and best-practice guidelines, he says. By adopting just one such guideline, a healthcare organization reaps the combined cutting-edge knowledge of practitioners to eliminate redundancy, "inevitably reducing your cost and raising your quality," Fitchett says.
Ideally, those guidelines also are dynamic -- receptive to change based on new experience and perceptions encouraged from smart people. That's the atmosphere that should pervade the organization and keep the prevailing ways from getting stale, he says.
The framework for exploiting an organization's talent doesn't have to be elaborate. Fitchett recalls a basic directory he compiled 10 years ago while chief information officer at Harvard Medical School. It included not just every name and phone number in the organization but also clinical and research interests.
The directory was "enormously effective" for tapping expertise -- but it also helped identify people who could get excited about exploring a particular subject and generating new knowledge. "In healthcare, what they know now may not be as important as that enthusiasm," he says.
The dean of Harvard Medical School tells graduates that "in five years, half of what you've learned will be either obsolete or downright wrong," Fitchett says. "What we `know' is not as important as it used to be."