By Laura Hieb RN, BSN, MBA, NE-BC, Bellin Health

As a Registered Nurse (RN) for 32 years, I’ve expected to see the healthcare industry change. As a Senior Vice President for Bellin Health, and Chief Nursing Officer, I’ve understood the need for our organization to continually evolve and improve. And three years ago, I finally understood how I, as an organizational leader, could use specific tools and understanding to help drive my healthcare system toward a preferred future. This is a brief recap of my efforts to apply my training in Foresight Analysis (provided by Garry Golden via Envision, then called BACC) and the modest but important results we’ve already been able to achieve at Bellin Health.

As I began Foresight Analysis training on the St. Norbert College campus in 2018, my focus was on the impact of technology in healthcare.  Over six months I picked up tools I’d never considered before, and the result is that we now think strategically at Bellin in a whole new way.  For example, I now ask about technology signals inside the healthcare industry – but also outside our industry – because I realize that such external signals might apply to healthcare delivery or our interaction with customers and patients. 

You might expect that such thinking is standard to our work, but the purposeful application of thought around how others are using technology to solve problems and how it could apply to us was not always top of mind. Healthcare can be very industry-centric. Now I understand how a tool like artificial intelligence could make a huge difference for healthcare. It could help us predict who will be hospitalized in the future, or which patient’s health is most likely to deteriorate, whose health goals need to be reviewed now. This constellation of different technologies that enable machines to sense, comprehend, act, and learn with human-like levels of intelligence could significantly impact how we engage with patients, or where we place clinics or hospitals or other resources needed to help patients be successful.  Foresight Analysis training taught me how to look beyond my own industry for signals and solutions to traditional healthcare challenges. 

As my confidence grew, I chose to apply my new knowledge to the launch of a digital strategy at Bellin.   Soon it was pushing us forward on the use of such technologies as virtual visits with healthcare providers and expanding high-end solutions that allow patients to remain safely in their homes while their care team monitors them remotely. 

Next, I taught a group of team members how to join me in following such signals. The result was a small “futuring” team focused on the digital space of healthcare. This small group of engaged staff had a passion for the possible; learning about technology and its applications to healthcare energized them. Soon we began working with leaders throughout the organization to build out a roadmap of technologies that could be brought into Bellin Health over time (i.e., driving toward a preferred future).

Understanding that my new learning would need reinforcement in order to “stick,” I actually incorporated the demonstration of this knowledge into how I, personally, would be evaluated and compensated as a leader.  Now I had no choice but to use the knowledge and reinforce the skills I had learned. And it couldn’t have been more timely. Just as I committed to moving that team toward the roadmap for our future, the pandemic struck, forcing acceleration of healthcare technology forever!   

I was already on the right track.  Scanning for signals, engaging in Twitter, watching the news from a different perspective, asking teams how we can get a jump on redesigning for the future based on what we viewed across the globe – we were already in the driver’s seat at Bellin. Because we had been following external signals, we had already considered such novel uses of robots as delivering medications, cleaning rooms, and handling supplies. These technologies, used in other industries, clearly have applications in healthcare.  

The longer-term outcome for me has been moving from learning to application and now to sustainability. I believe the skillset I acquired can benefit many leaders and teams throughout our community and region.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities that might surface as more individuals gain this knowledge of strategic foresight and practice it in various industries and applications.

Today I continue to scan for signals, and I use the “four futures” approach I was taught to help our teams think differently.  Exciting others about how to modify their standard thinking and incorporate the skillset of foresight has been highly rewarding. I always encourage individuals that I mentor and lead to consider learning more about foresight analysis as a skill for their competency portfolio.