A Lesson in Change for Research Professionals

Karen Olson
March 6th, 2013

Change is an interesting thing. As human beings, we are constantly striving to make things better, but yet we are resistant to change. The reality is that unless things change, they likely will not get better!

I was thinking about how this is so ironic in research. Researchers strive to make things better all the time through a process of change. I mean, after all, research is a change process. Yet, as research professionals in health care, we are as resistant to change as anyone! We hesitate to go paperless because we are concerned that we will “lose” something or that we may have to look for it in a different place. We prefer to maintain the same process with each patient even when the protocol asks for tasks to be done in a different order. Even when faced with strong evidence for more efficiency, we easily fall into the old, comfortable way of doing things and resist implementing new methods.

It has been said that there are three guarantees about change:

  • It is here to stay
  • It will not be trouble free
  • Every person is accountable for it

People, information, and technology all drive change and the pace of change today is the slowest that change will ever occur. This means that another change could be coming before the current change is fully mastered. I recently attended a lecture about change and received some good advice about the best way to perceive it. I learned that taking personal responsibility is the most effective approach to change.

Let’s consider the following situation about our employability. We tend to think about “job security” as a vital aspect of our careers. However, we need to consider that “employment security” may be a better goal. The more we can personally adapt to change, the more employable we are.  In the job security model, mastering a task is the goal. With employment security, the goal should be mastering change – being flexible.

This approach to change can also be applied in the clinical research industry. We must be willing to adapt to new technologies (like electronic data capture and clinical trial management systems) if we wish to become more efficient in conducting studies, keeping in mind that the current way of conducting trials may no longer be the best option. This need for adopting change will be constant, as new technologies will continue to emerge. What worked a year ago may not be efficient now. And, what works now, may not be applicable a few years down the road. Research professionals should be open to the idea of consistently evaluating and implementing new technologies and processes that will better meet their needs, while advancing the conduct of medical research.

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