Virtual learning for health care managers
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The health industry in Canada, as well as in other industrial countries, has been in the process of reform for many years. While such reform has been attributed to fiscal necessity due to increased health costs, the underlying causes are far more complex. Demographic changes, new technologies, expanded health care procedures and medications, increased demand and the globalization of health services have all contributed to the change and complexity of the industry. Health reform varies from country to country. In Canada, with a publicly funded health industry, the main reform method has been regionalization. This decentralized reform method arranges health services under a regional corporate management structure. The primary objective of this study was to assess the effects of health reform on the educational development of health-care managers in British Columbia, a western province of Canada. The study had a two-fold approach; to ascertain how health reform had changed the skill needs of health-care managers, and whether e-learning could benefit health management education. The key research questions that guided the study were: How might recent changes in the health industry have affected the learning needs and priorities of health-care managers? What factors might hinder attempts to meet any learning needs and priorities of health-care managers? and What benefits might e-learning provide in overcoming hindrances to effective health management education?A combination of quantitative (survey closed questions) and qualitative (survey open-ended questions, interviews and stakeholder feedback) methods was employed in this study. Overall, this study is described as productive social theory research, in that it addressed a recognized change in learning needs for health-care managers following a period of health reform, a socially significant phenomenon in the health industry. Relying on such tools as a survey, interviews, and stakeholder discussions, data was collected from over five hundred health-care managers. The data collected in this study provided valuable insight into the paradigm shift occurring in the educational needs of these managers. The study found that health reform had expanded the management responsibilities of healthcare managers and increased the complexity of service delivery. Restructuring of the health industry decreased the number of managers, support systems, and career opportunities for managers and increased the manager’s workload, communication problems and the need for new knowledge and skills. In addressing the learning needs of health-care managers, the study found there were limitations in health management educational opportunities available to health-care managers. The findings also show that current health management education was focused on senior managers leaving the majority of industry leaders with limited learning opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and skills at a time of great organizational change.In addition, a classroom format dominated the learning delivery options for many managers. A list of fourteen management skills was used in the survey instrument to ascertain what new skills were needed by health-care managers following thirteen years of health reform. The findings show that of the fourteen skills, twenty-nine percent of health-care managers had no training and fifty-seven percent received their training through in-service, workshops and seminars. Irrespective of gender, age, working location and education the data showed that healthcare managers were mainly receiving training in change and complexity and people skills with less training occurring in planning and finances. Using the same fourteen skills, health-care managers priorized their immediate learning needs, listing the top three, as: evidence-based management, change and complexity and financial analysis. While evidence-based management and financial analysis could be attributed to the introduction of a corporate management structure in the health industry, change and complexity was an anomaly as managers were already receiving training in this skill. Health industry stakeholders believed this anomaly was due to continued uncertainties with ongoing health reform and/or a need for increased social interaction during a time of organizational change. In addressing the many learning needs of health-care managers a new health management education strategy was proposed for the province which included the need for an e-learning strategy.The e-learning approach being proposed in this study is an integration of skill training and knowledge sharing directly blended into the workflow of the managers, using a variety of learning technologies. To support this idea, the study found that the majority of health-care managers were not only familiar with e-learning, they also felt they had the computer and Internet skills for more learning delivered in this manner. While a strong need for face-to-face learning still remained, a blended e-learning strategy was proposed for skill training, one that would accommodate the learning needs of managers in rural and remote areas of the province. Knowledge sharing technologies were also proposed to improve the flow of information and learning in small units to both newcomers and experts in the industry. Since this would be a new strategy for the province, attention to quality and costs were identified as essential in the planning. The study found that after years of health reform a new health management educational strategy was needed for the health industry of British Columbia, one that would incorporate a number of learning technologies. Such a change in educational direction is needed if the health industry wishes to provide their leaders with a responsive learning environment to adapt to ongoing organizational change.
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