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Why digital transformation for healthcare isn’t about technology

Digital transformation in healthcare is the integration of digital technology into all aspects of how a healthcare business interacts with patients, healthcare providers, and regulators. The results are frequently radical, disrupting long-standing practices within a healthcare organization with new processes that are continually evolving.

But what any digital transformation consultancy will tell you is that a successful digital transformation strategy isn’t just about the technology. Indeed, as digital strategist Niall McKeown observes, many digital transformation initiatives fail because they solely focus on technology.

Read on to understand common digital transformation roadblocks  - and how the healthcare industry can rapidly embrace digital health without losing sight of what matters most - delivering human-centric healthcare experiences.

Why healthcare providers shouldn’t focus on technology alone

As Tom Sullivan points out quoting Michael Monteith, CEO of Thoughtwire, in Healthcare IT News, “Digital transformation is fundamentally about improving patient experience.” So all healthcare organizations have to do is implement these technologies and transform not only their business but the quality of patient care and delivery of services, right?

Of course, if it were that simple, all you’d have to do is call the software programmers and hardware installers. It’s not that simple, or easy. But, as Sullivan notes, “There are project and change management principles that can be applied” to attain a successful digital transformation. The first thing to remember is that it isn’t actually about technology, even if adopting including emerging technologies seems the basis of many digital initiatives.

Accomplishing your healthcare organization’s goals with digital transformation

The healthcare industry is undergoing a state of growth. Given the pandemic’s rapid acceleration of digital transformation initiatives, healthcare organizations are quickly testing and implementing new ways of offering patient care. 68% of healthcare industry experts believe digital healthcare solutions are now “highly relevant”.

But how do you undergo a digital transformation? And where should your focus be when it comes to digital technologies? Read on for ideas on how to initiate your digital transformation efforts.

Establish your goals first - then work out how technology can help

Technology doesn’t define what you’re doing. What you’re doing (or how you need to be doing it) defines what you want the technology to do for you. You need to have a big picture of what your healthcare organization seeks to accomplish, then look at how various processes can or should work together collectively to realize those goals.

Getting the big picture on how you want to transform and what experience you want to provide to patients can help you narrow down how digital technology can be best put to use.

Here are examples of key questions that help you sketch out that picture:

  • How well are we satisfying our mission in providing patient care and support and in what ways can we improve?
  • What can we do to better serve our patients and service providers?
  • How do we ensure our employees are placed in the right jobs that match their skills sets and interests?
  • What skill sets do we need our employees to develop?
  • How can we make our processes more efficient to ensure the highest quality care?
  • What new expectations do our patients have that we aren’t meeting?

Don’t just focus on transitioning to electronic health records - think about how entire healthcare systems can change

When it comes to digital technology, many healthcare organizations focus on the basics and how it can improve patient access. An electronic health record is useful, but patients are already coming to expect more from their interactions with healthcare providers and their digital services.

By using the “big picture” questions posed above, you can begin to narrow down which digital transformation initiatives will best serve your patients, service providers, and other employees.

  • Use digital technologies to make patient care easier

Your employees can utilize digital tools to provide better health care with insights gleaned through the analysis of health data. Sophisticated technology using automation and artificial intelligence can improve health outcomes while making healthcare professionals’ clinical care delivery easier at the same time.

What’s more, digital tools and sophisticated technology will soon become the norm in the healthcare industry. A recent survey by BDO found that 78% of health care organizations have already incorporated cloud computing into operations, with another 20% planning on cloud investment in the future. Not undergoing a digital transformation means your organization will get left behind.

  • Provide digital services to expand your health care reach

Your patients are likely somewhat familiar with technology-enabled medical devices and electronic health records, but there’s more you can offer to extend your healthcare provision further.

From digital bill payment services and appointment scheduling to patient remote monitoring, patients are looking for healthcare providers who can go the extra mile. Mckinsey has found consumers are increasingly open to the use of digital solutions in healthcare - so take advantage and expand your reach.

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Don’t Overlook the Importance of Cultural Transformation in Advancing Digital Transformation

It’s critical to note that an effective healthcare digital transformation demands a cultural shift that encompasses implementing new operating models, encouraging new and different ways of thinking about care delivery, and, perhaps most importantly, effectively communicating what you intend to do with patients, providers, and regulators.

Here’s how healthcare organizations evolve culture to support a successful digital transformation that makes the technology work for people, rather than making people work around the technology.

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Why should you change the status quo for healthcare providers?

It’s easy to get comfortable doing things the way things have always been done. Digital transformation requires getting comfortable with constant change and doing the uncomfortable. As Dion Hinchcliffe writes, “Almost daily, the industry witnesses data points in the tech media that show us that we are currently at a high watermark for technological innovation. In this hyper-competitive yet nearly flat operating environment that organizations face today...the pressure to keep pace and deliver a wider range of digital capabilities has never been greater.”

To get comfortable with being uncomfortable, an organization needs to:

  • Determine the organization’s current state of readiness, how open to change is the existing management team, front line, clinicians, and community.
  • Encourage a culture that promotes experimentation and constant questioning of the status quo.
  • Learn from mistakes. Punishing failure, rather than treating it as a necessary by-product of constant experimentation, isn’t learning.
  • Identify the skills and tools people need to advance digital transformation goals.

Optimizing your healthcare digital transformation

+    Measure your current state

Assess the current state of your healthcare organization, the engagement of your employees, the expectations of your patients, and the perception of your brand in your community. Patients and staff are often more than happy to provide the feedback you need. The key is to make it easy for them to provide it through whatever channel they feel most comfortable with - whether that be through emails, apps, or online. By taking the temperature of your organization, you will be able to identify where to start.

+    Analyze insights and act on what you learn

Gathering big data is a great starting point - but you need to extract insights that are actionable to gain the buy-in and enthusiasm required to drive meaningful innovation and change.

That’s where analytics and artificial intelligence come in. Your technology strategy should enable your organization to democratize and analyze the data so insights on trends and patterns can easily be shared with staff. Your digital transformation journey will be made easier by identifying specific areas that need improvement and engaging the right people in your organization to course-correct along the way.

As your program matures, the integration of operational data with patient and employee feedback analysis can provide critical context, valuable insights, and pull forward program improvement or enhancement opportunities most likely to deliver the highest return.

+    Commit to ongoing tracking, measurement, and optimization

Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. Measuring the impact of actions taken is critical to keep initiatives on course and to enable agile adjustments if roadblocks are encountered.

Use real-time feedback to help manage implementation from the patient side, and arm staff with insight into what works and where modifications are needed internally to steer the course.

+    Encourage cross-functional collaboration and communication

Get people out of their backyards. Employees need to understand how what they are doing contributes to the larger business objectives such as continued business growth or improved healthcare experience and outcomes. While the achievement of individual and departmental is important to overall success,  equally critical is how each group interacts with other teams as well as patients.

To make turf issues disappear, healthcare organizations need to promote the idea that everyone, regardless of individual position, is playing on the same field. Greater transparency and knowledge sharing formed as part of an integrated, cross-functional healthcare strategy will help accelerate progress toward the desired end state.

Digital transformation in healthcare should empower employees and accelerate change

As Sabine Riedel points out, “Digital transformation is a change process, and change processes only succeed when everyone is on board, and that means employees and management.”  Using continuous feedback to measure the impact of change, and sharing those results will support the appropriate application of digital solutions. In addition, the right digital transformation partner will help design and implement the innovative technologies that make the changes for more human-centric health care services and experiences a reality.

As InfoWorld contributor Carlos Melendez notes, “True digital transformation comes from a new way of thinking that fully embraces technology, not for technology’s sake, but rather as drivers to improve customer experience and business growth.”

Want to learn more about how to improve the patient experience?

Healthcare involves complex data management and confidential patient records, but it also involves emotive discussions and often difficult situations. By understanding your patients’ and employees' digital experiences and expectations, your organization can lighten the burden on its staff, improve communication, and ultimately elevate the quality of care.

Reach out to the Qualtrics healthcare team for more insights on our experience management work in the healthcare and patient experience space. We work with hundreds of organizations from hospitals to pharmaceutical companies to enable human-centric healthcare experiences that foster trust and relationships with patients, staff clinicians, and the communities they serve.

Digital transformation in healthcare is here - the question is what will you do to remain at the forefront of your industry?

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