Operations and Other Technology

‘History favors the bold’: The digital transformation mandate for the healthcare industry

January 22, 2021 12:48 am
  • Digital transformation holds the potential for hospitals to shift from reactive, sick-care medicine to monitoring patients and consumers for health problems that have not yet manifested, according to a presentation at HFMA’s Digital Annual Conference.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and other societal trends make digital transformation an imperative.
  • Hospital leaders can set the stage for success with a digital strategy by employing best practices in communication and change management.

For hospitals and health systems, undertaking a digital transformation is necessary, daunting and exciting. Finance leaders play a pivotal role in the effort, Jason Lineen, senior vice president of consulting services with AVIA, said during a presentation Friday.

“Almost every strategic plan that I see these days coming out of a health system has a big pillar about digital innovation,” said Lineen, whose company partners with hospitals and health systems on digital-transformation initiatives. “Are you sufficiently budgeting to achieve the results and to achieve the impact? It’s not just dollars — it’s also human capital.”

In “Accelerating Your Organization’s Digital Transformation,” the closing session of HFMA’s 2020 Digital Annual Conference, Lineen discussed the opportunity at hand for providers.

Jason Lineen, AVIA

The potential of digital transformations

The definition of digital is a source of confusion to many in healthcare. Lineen used the analogy of a car’s “check engine” light, which is triggered based on feedback from hundreds of sensors. Healthcare needs to figure out how to incorporate a “check engine” light for the human body.

“The prediction of where we’re going in the industry for the next 10, 20 years is [that] all of this technology and data is going to be able to be harnessed so that we can make a quantum jump in our industry and go from a reactive kind of approach — sick-care medicine — to more of a proactive approach where we’ll be monitoring  members, consumers, patients [for whom] we’re responsible for maintaining their health,” Lineen said.

“Every system of the body will have that ‘check engine’ light,” he added, based on thousands of available vital signs and measures and AI algorithms that augment human diagnostics.

The forces driving the digital imperative

In a study, 50% of patients said they would leave their current physician for a better digital experience. Lineen acknowledged that rate likely is exaggerated in the cases of complex, high-acuity patients, but “if you think about building the funnel and growing your patient base, it starts with low-acuity care, and you want to be able to attract and retain those consumers with a very easily accessible digital front door.”

The digital imperative has only become more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the ability to offer digitally enabled consumer journeys amounts to “table stakes,” according to Lineen’s presentation. A virtual-first approach is becoming the default mode for outpatient, encounter-based care.

Aside from the pandemic, the digital mandate is driven by societal trends, Lineen said, including:

  • The 2020s will be the decade of disintermediation.
  • Digital is differentiating winners from losers in all industries.
  • The pace of digital transformation is accelerating.
  • History favors the bold.

Lineen spoke of “the opportunity to see almost once-in-a-generation types of market-share shifts in the coming six to 12 months.” In some markets this year, AVIA has seen unprecedented shifts of up to 5% or 6%.

Emerging responses to the digital imperative

Health systems need to “develop rigorous plans to capitalize on this opportunity, and a big part of it starts with making access to your system and your providers seamless, easy and frictionless,” Lineen said.

As an example of a forward-thinking organization, Lineen cited Louisiana-based Ochsner Health, which had a progressive telehealth platform long before COVID-19. Through a partnership with a vendor, the platform is augmented with devices such as otoscopes and stethoscopes, allowing patients’ vital signs to be taken during a virtual visit.

Ochsner also has a dedicated team to explore ways to deliver digitally connected care in various service lines, Lineen said. An example is a hypertension monitoring platform for patients with diabetes. Features include:

  • Devices given to patients for monitoring their blood pressure at home
  • Medication management by a pharmacist or clinician specializing in hypertension and diabetes
  • A personal coach who helps patients incorporate manageable lifestyle changes

Of patients in the digital medicine program, 79% achieved their hypertension goal after six months, compared with 26% in a control group.

Mobilizing digital transformation efforts

Becoming a true digital organization is more involved than stakeholders may think. It goes beyond just digitizing electronic health records, Lineen said, to entail:

  • Infusing digital in every enterprise-level endeavor
  • Investing meaningfully in digital even when experiencing financial challenges
  • Fundamentally rethinking how care is delivered

Specific best practices to implement a digital transformation include:

  • Develop a compelling case for change.
  • Focus on the value to be achieved rather than on “cool technology” — establish a prioritized digital roadmap and a supporting business case.
  • Ensure alignment of the digital initiatives with the strategic imperatives of the organization and the KPIs that are targeted for improvement.
  • Communicate the vision across the organization and develop influential “evangelists” to support the vision and implementation.
  • Highlight early successes to inspire the organization.

Communication breakdowns and inadequate change management approaches are the biggest obstacles to digital initiatives, Lineen said.

“This work is all about culture change from day one,” he noted.


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