What health systems must do to accelerate digital transformation

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In a recent study based on focus group discussions with 40 health system CIO’s who are members of CHIME, we found that most CIO’s defined “digital” as a reimagining of business processes and patient experiences. Healthcare consumerism and the emergence of non-traditional players is a particularly important trend that requires health systems to reimagine the way care is delivered.

As Aaron Martin, Chief Digital Officer at Providence Health, says, “Our mission is to convert our patients from an offline to an online relationship.”

Based on research by Damo Consulting, there are four current models for digital maturity among health systems:

Digital Transformation Models

Cleveland Clinic, one of the top health systems in the country, is a model 4 entity that has invested in developing an enterprise digital roadmap (See Webinar — Digital Transformation Strategy and Roadmaps: The Cleveland Clinic Experience).

Health systems must look at the following strategies to accelerate their digital transformation and avoid disruption to their businesses.

Ensure organizational readiness and senior management sponsorship

Our study with CHIME CIOs indicates that the single most significant factor impacting digital strategy execution is organizational readiness. This can mean everything from Board-level buy-in to funding challenges. Regardless, digital transformation has to be a CEO-level priority before your enterprise can make progress. As non-traditional players like Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS make a bid for the primary care and urgent care experiences through user-friendly “digital front doors,” traditional healthcare enterprises have to step up and offer more choices to healthcare consumers.

Develop an enterprise digital roadmap – involve everyone

Digital transformation is not just about patient apps or virtual visit platforms. It goes across the entire enterprise and necessarily includes caregiver enablement and improved efficiencies in administrative functions. Digital leaders must have a structured process to gather internal feedback and inputs (“Voice of Customer”) to build a roadmap for the future. If you are an enterprise CIO leading digital transformation, it is important to ensure that digital is not seen as an “IT initiative.”

Identify key technology partners

Healthcare is a team sport, and digital transformation requires tight collaboration between health systems and their technology partners. A challenge for many health systems is the lack of an organizational appetite to look beyond core EHR systems for enabling digital capabilities. However, EHR systems lack many of the advanced capabilities required to build digital experience platforms. Most of the digital health innovations today are emerging from non-EHR tech firms, including startups. While there isn’t one single “digital platform” out there, a handful of strategic partnerships, augmented by internal and external innovation, may be the path to successful transformation.

There is a feeling among smaller health systems that what works for a large and well-funded health system may not work for them. The issue of technical debt and the allocation of a significant portion of IT budgets to maintaining existing systems also weighs heavily on CIO’s. Health systems of all sizes need to be “bi-modal” and recognize that incremental progress is necessary to achieve digital transformation goals.

Health systems embarking on enterprise digital transformation initiatives also have to be cautious about launching digital health programs just for the sake of digitalizing patient or caregiver experiences. Digital is not a solution to every problem in health care delivery. Digital health interventions may not work for certain disease conditions or populations. As Karen Murphy, EVP and Chief Innovation Officer at Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System, says, “We need to be cautious in the use of technology so that we don’t end up increasing the total costs of care.” That would negate the goals of digital transformation in healthcare.

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