What is change management and why is it important in healthcare?

Staff running public health supply chains need to be supported via change management programmes to adapt to the constant environmental and project changes.

May 11, 2021
Jolanda Pretorius & Anita Jordaan

Why is change management important in public healthcare? Public healthcare in Africa is constantly evolving as governments, civil society, donors, and the private sector work to improve the availability of medicines and accessibility of healthcare. The work that is being done to find different ways to refine and improve healthcare in Africa means that there are high volumes of change that healthcare workers and other key stakeholders are exposed to.

The Africa Resource Centre (ARC) is involved in many different initiatives to transform and develop robust and effective public health supply chains in Africa. These initiatives necessitate changes in approach, methods, and even entire systems. It is therefore important for people who work across the healthcare landscape to understand and adapt to these changes to ensure effective delivery.

As much as new initiatives aim to produce positive outcomes for patients, without cooperation from the stakeholders required to implement them, these efforts will not progress or realise their intended goals. This is why it is essential to include change management to help key stakeholders adapt to the requirements and take ownership of initiatives. Having a well-developed understanding of the role and need for change management can have a significant impact on the successful implementation of healthcare transformation initiatives.


Change management is both a science and a discipline. It helps people work through their instinctively negative responses to change and overcome them in order to find a way to positively implement new approaches. Change management understands the human component of delivering solutions by acknowledging that without bringing people along on the journey, the goals of a change will not be achieved.

The need for support during change is well documented in the fields of psychology and business science. Although it is often misunderstood to be the same thing as project management, change management is a unique component of any project that supplements and works alongside project management.

Whilst the goal of project management is to implement a solution according to the timelines, quality and budget of a project’s design. On the other hand, the goal of change management is to ensure that the project is adopted, that people do not revert to the old ways, and that return on investment and targeted benefits are achieved. Although these two disciplines work closely together, there are some key differences in terms of how they are executed.


Whenever a person experiences change, their response follows a particular cycle of responses. One component of this is a dip in productivity. If change is not managed effectively, then that productivity dip expands to become very low and very steep, and gets to the point where people disengage. This can result in absenteeism, presenteeism, active-passive resistance, or just a lack of adoption, and the benefits of whatever change is being implemented will not be realised. Change curves need to be managed to be as shallow and as short as possible to bring people back to their original level of productivity and realise the benefits that the changes have been designed to achieve.

Change management is a methodology that should be structured into supply chain strengthening initiatives. This is because supply chain systems are always changing to adapt to specific and arising needs. Therefore staff running these supply chains need to be supported via change management programmes to adapt to the constant environmental and project changes. Change management cannot be ad hoc, and there is much more to it than just communication about what needs to be done. When it’s done well, change management will equip people with practical tools to deal with change in multiple contexts, including in future workplace changes and in their personal lives.


Jolanda Pretorius has more than 25 years’ extensive exposure and solid experience across all the functional areas of the supply chain management field. She is currently working with ARC to support the National Department of Health in South Africa with change management as they transform their public health supply chain.

Anita Jordaan is a specialist in assisting and guiding organisations, governments, community-based groups in making qualified decisions that will lead to quality results, optimisation of opportunities, and complete resolve of challenges, and success. She is working alongside Jolanda Pretorius to support the National Department of Health in South Africa.