Digitalizing Healthcare Processes

By Charleeda Redman, VP Strategy Integration, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

When asked to share my professional journey, I frequently state: “Regardless of my title, I am a clinical informaticist who looks for opportunities to apply technology to support the healthcare industry.” Therefore, my approach to solving a business problem will always consider three key questions:

  • What technology, if any, is being utilized?
  • Has the current technology been maximized? and
  • Does the current technology have known gaps?

“Digital Transformation,” “Artificial Intelligence,” “Automation,” and “Digital Health” are all terms that are trending in the healthcare space. But what do these words really mean? Well, it depends on your organization. For consistency, I will use the term “digital transformation” in a global sense, meaning the adoption of digital technology by a company to improve business processes, value for customers, and innovation.

For some organizations, uttering this term can evoke the same reaction as a four-letter expletive. In others, solutions that don’t support digital transformation will not be implemented. I have worked in organizations that fall into both categories. You may ask, what is holding back organizations early in their digital transformation journey? It is multifactorial, and I will explore several of these factors here.

In my view, the factor that has the largest impact is the culture of the organization. The values and leadership expectations of an organization are critical elements of the culture. Most healthcare organizations call out excellence and innovation as values or leadership expectations. To act in accordance with these values and expectations, healthcare leaders must stay current with technology to support their business processes.

If your organization has achieved true digital transformation, I celebrate you! If your organization continues to lag, you are not alone.

One challenge leaders face is determining whose responsibility it is to stay current with the technology. Should it be the responsibility of the operational leader or the information services leader? I believe the responsibility lies with the operational leader. Having knowledge of and implementing technologies to support business operations is an essential performance expectation. How leaders are held accountable for this performance characteristic will impact the organization’s ability to achieve its overall digital transformation goal.

Another factor is the lag in a “consumer-centric” mentality in healthcare. Healthcare organizations, especially hospital and physician providers, continue to think of individuals solely as patients instead of consumers who have a choice of where to seek care. Moreover, the fear of violating one of the many regulatory guidelines governing the use of medical information further complicates the industry’s ability to adopt a consumer-centric approach to innovation. As a result, healthcare continues to fall short in its attempts to meet consumer demands. It is a known fact that, as patient financial liability has increased, so too has the importance of healthcare consumerism.

Generally, healthcare organizations have retrospectively evaluated “patient experience” with the goal of improving the patient’s next experience rather than proactively creating business processes to retain existing and attract new consumers. Because patients have historically been loyal to one organization, resources have been dedicated to reviewing the patient satisfaction scores and forming patient/family experience councils with the goal of improving future scores. Given the growing importance of consumerism, should some resources transition to predict consumer loss following a negative experience?

The last factor I will explore is an organization’s investment of resources to drive digital transformation. This isn’t just about “ponying up the money.” In many organizations, the commitment of funding is the easy part. The challenge lies in implementing efficient business operations as the foundation, requiring dedication of clinical and operational subject matter experts to partner with the technical team.

For example, if an organization has prioritized digital transformation and allocated millions of dollars to support its efforts, but the operational leaders have not identified a viable use case or cannot dedicate subject matter experts, a misalignment exists. Despite allocating funds and purchasing new technologies, digital transformation only occurs when funding, technologies, and allocation of subject matter experts are aligned.

Let’s look at population health, for instance. Most electronic medical record platforms have the functionality to identify an “at-risk” population, assess social determinants of health, create outreach worklists, automate clinical and non-clinical tasks, conduct virtual visits, and engage patients digitally to manage the care of the patient. Organizations that mature in their digital transformation journey had a more seamless transition during the pandemic and are now well-positioned to sustain a more virtual care delivery model.

Looking forward, the dual pandemics of COVID 19 and racism have forced a shift. There is an increasing expectation for digital tools to be a core part of healthcare delivery and for these technologies to be inclusive. It’s no longer acceptable for organizations to have fragmented digital processes like a patient portal that isn’t multilingual, the inability to communicate securely via SMS, lack of price transparency or online bill pay with a combined statement, or remote patient monitoring, to name a few.

Please take a moment to assess your organization’s response to this digital transformation “call to action.” Our industry now has engaged healthcare consumers demanding a change. If your organization has achieved true digital transformation, I celebrate you! If your organization continues to lag, you are not alone. Reflect on the three areas I highlighted as challenges; do any apply to you? If so, is your organization committed to making a change?

The last 20 months have demonstrated that the healthcare industry can no longer ignore the voice of the consumer. It not only has consumer surveys to highlight the importance of digital transformation, but also has a change in consumer behavior. Healthcare consumers (a.k.a. patients) are taking their own actions by migrating toward organizations that meet their digital needs. How will you respond?


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