‘Digital transformation for healthcare’. This decade’s phrase du jour for medical organizations.
A huge uptick in phone and video appointments for patients, online staff meetings, complete digitization of health records – all of this would have been unimaginable pre-pandemic.
Telehealth accounted for less than 1% of all healthcare provision pre-pandemic, according to the AMA. Over half of physicians used telehealth solutions for the first time in the first few months of the pandemic, and more than 70% were motivated to continue their use in the long term.
Meg Barron, the AMA's vice president of digital health innovations, sees this as a significant watershed moment for how healthcare professionals use digitally enabled healthcare services:
“It's not whether telehealth will be offered, but how best to offer telehealth services as we move toward what we're terming digitally-enabled care—which is not just hybrid care, but more so fully integrated in-person and virtual care based on clinical appropriateness.”
With many organizations looking to make these changes permanent and build a truly integrated approach to digital healthcare, being able to compete in the digital landscape has never been more important.
But what does that mean, exactly? What does successful digital transformation for healthcare look like, why should you make a strategic priority and where should you start?
Digital transformation for healthcare is a huge topic, so it’s all too easy to feel at sea. If so, don’t panic. This article covers the basics, so you know exactly where you stand.
What is digital transformation?
Let’s start at the top.
“The integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers.”
Right now, every industry is undergoing some sort of digital transformation. You might have noticed a shift towards app-based banking, for example, or taken a virtual tour of a property whilst looking for a new home.
Whilst healthcare has been a little slower on the uptake due to concerns over patient privacy and data security, the COVID-19 pandemic more or less forced providers into extending digital service provision and moving key business processes online.
And – with the right HIPAA-compliant security measures in place – organizations found that this transformation helped deliver care efficiently, reduce time lost to low-level administrative tasks, and free up valuable funds to invest elsewhere in the business.
Here’s what digital transformation might look like in your organization right now:
- Using telemedicine to see more patients and screen for in-person care
- Using electronic health records (EHR) to streamline key processes
- Using AI-enabled medical devices to improve patient care
- Employee apps, intranet platforms and other collaboration tools to facilitate care and make internal communication easier
What are the benefits of digital transformation?
Digital transformation doesn’t just happen overnight. Successful digital transformation for healthcare involves sustained, long-term effort and an amount of short-term disruption.
So, what do you get for the effort you put in?
In general, digital transformation supports:
- Stronger resource management: condensing spend in one business area using digital tools frees up more resources for strategically important areas
- Data-driven decision-making processes: digital systems hold a huge amount of data, which can be analyzed for valuable strategic insights to inform key decisions.
- Stronger customer experiences: some of these insights can be used to identify important customer needs and take action to meet them. This creates a better experience for customers, who are more likely to stick around and spend more.
- Improved productivity: workflow automation reduces admin, whilst collaboration tools make it significantly easier to work across teams, departments and providers.
- Improved employee engagement: internal comms tools like employee apps make it easier to involve frontline teams in key decision-making processes, and encourage them to see how important their work is to the wider organization.
Digital transformation with a focus on customer experience can generate a 20-30% increase in customer satisfaction and economic gains of 20-50%, according to research by McKinsey.
We know what you’re thinking. Happier customers plus reduced costs plus productive, engaged staff ultimately means ‘more profit’. And, if you’re managing that whilst achieving better satisfaction across the board, what’s not to love?
What are the benefits of digital transformation for healthcare?
But what about in a healthcare setting?
As well as the financial benefits we’ve just discussed, digital transformation offers some strong healthcare-based benefits too. According to the AMA, 85% of physicians found that telehealth increased timeliness of care, whilst 75% found telehealth allowed them to deliver high-quality care.
Here’s where digital transformation for healthcare can make all the difference for your practice.
Digital transformation helps improve clinical outcomes
Digitizing your processes helps maintain consistency across services, reduce clinical errors, and improve documentation. All of this contributes to increased patient safety and better clinical outcomes.
Digital transformation makes access to key services easier
If patients can see a healthcare provider faster, or access medical records and test results immediately, they feel more involved in their healthcare and are more likely to comply with treatment pathways.
Digital transformation increases knowledge flow across your practice
Your frontline teams hold a wealth of information about your patients and service users. Ensuring this information doesn’t get siloed in frontline teams and giving your staff an opportunity to shape the organization’s approach to patient care increases employee engagement.
How to build a digital transformation strategy
Each organization works differently, so your digital strategy will be unique. Equally, there are a few, broader pillars that should always be in place to maximize your chances of success.
Here’s where to start:
1. Make sure you’re all on the same page
Assess where you are right now digitally, and where you want to go. Define your objectives for change, and agree on an organization-wide list of priorities.
2. Build a budget
It might be useful to do this in stages. How much will you allocate for each phase of your transformation? Add at least a 10% buffer to absorb any overruns (it happens, let’s be honest).
3. Start looking into the specifics
How, specifically, are you not meeting your goals? Identify any process-based, behavioral, or technical issues that are holding you back and explore solutions to overcome them.
4. Create a digital transformation roadmap
What’s being implemented when? Build a roadmap to plan your digital transformation out with the information gathered in the previous step to keep you on track.
5. Gather feedback and optimize
Feedback is essential! Always look to improve how you roll out new solutions and implement new workflows. Give your teams a little while to get used to new ways of working and then use employee feedback tools to figure out what to adjust, and what to do differently next time round.
It’s worth noting that employee resistance is the most common reason for digital transformation failure. Embed your frontline teams in the digital transformation process so that new tech isn’t an intrusion from above but a process that they can fully participate in.
Digital transformation example: the NHS’ long term plan
Digital transformation for healthcare is such a far-reaching topic that it can be a little tricky to conceptualize, particularly if you’re at the start of your journey.
A look at the NHS’ Long Term Plan is one of the best digital transformation examples to look at for an idea of what a solid long-term strategy should include. In their own words:
“We’re using technology to help health and care professionals communicate better and enable people to access the care they need quickly and easily, when it suits them.”
Take a look at the website to see how they’ve planned out specific actions to support these goals.
A few final thoughts
Digital transformation for healthcare isn’t a ‘nice to have’ add on. It’s fast becoming an intrinsic part of how you interact with patients, manage your employees and run your organization.
What does that mean?
Ultimately, it means you’re on your way to happier patients, more engaged staff and wider profit margins – and that’s something to celebrate!
On a practical level, it means you need to start planning now to ensure that your digital transformation is efficient, effective and supports your teams in achieving great outcomes for patients.
Before you panic, you’re probably on your way there already. You’d be hard pressed to find a healthcare organization that hasn’t had to move some of their operations online over the chaos of the past two years, after all.
What you need to consider now is how to expand your digital services to open up wider areas for improvement. Patient e-consultations are just the start, and whilst digital transformation will take sustained determination and effort, the sky’s the limit.