Nicholas Domnisch is the CEO & Partner of EES Health, an NYC-based software development agency empowering innovation in digital health.
The healthcare industry is changing. Is your organization ready? The question that many healthcare CIOs should be asking themselves is how to approach digital transformation. It starts with a strategy—one that encourages innovation and enables stakeholder adoption through robust IT infrastructure. In the following sections, I will outline how healthcare organizations should approach this industry-wide revolution.
Creating A Successful Digital Innovation Strategy
Successfully transforming an existing organization into an innovative digital-first healthcare company requires a disruptive strategy, consistent communication and thoughtful implementation. Stakeholders across the organization must be aligned because change at this scale will impact business objectives, healthcare services and IT capabilities.
• Evaluate. Before thinking about the future, seek to understand the present. You will need to identify changing patient needs, cost pressures and market dynamics. A gap analysis can help evaluate your current state. Ask yourself the following questions.
1. What are your IT capabilities?
2. What digital applications are used in your organization?
3. What data do you collect and how do you use it?
Overall, a current state analysis can highlight the necessary changes in the capability model, technical resources and organizational structure to achieve the desired future state.
• Define. During the evaluation stage, you likely found a reliance on EHR-centric applications. These systems may have created data silos and technical debt. Currently, IT investment may not appear to deliver adequate ROI. In order to create lasting change within the organization, your strategy must take these organizational risks into account and align stakeholders around a vision for the future.
To help achieve that level of adoption, a cross-functional team with viewpoints from business, healthcare and IT needs to define your strategy. Encourage this team to consider business growth, asset diversification and value creation in the strategic development process.
A key driver in digital innovation is data. Make sure your strategy prioritizes data creation, storage and usage.
• Communicate. Once defined, the transformation strategy should not be locked away. It should be weaved into every aspect of the organization’s future. Gather key stakeholders and express the case for change, the vision and the objectives that you’ve defined. A deep understanding of the organizational goals can enable stakeholders to implement the new strategy into their decision-making process.
• Monitor. At this point, the job of strategic leadership is still not done. It is never done, really. This is an iterative process. After communicating the strategy, you will need to continuously monitor its implementation and the effects on organizational goals and culture.
Internally, you should monitor progress and follow up with key stakeholders on its impact. Externally, you should keep an eye on disruptive events that might lead you to edit your strategy. The future of the industry is changing rapidly. In order to keep up, your organization will need to be just as nimble.
Digital Health Architecture
In pursuit of digitization, you will need to build additional IT infrastructure. However, your current systems will likely put you in a position of high technical debt. To mitigate this, those systems will need to be repurposed. Let’s take a look at how you can design your organization’s digital health infrastructure investments to reduce the cost of technical debt and make the organization more innovative and nimble to meet changing needs.
• Data. At the foundation of digital health is data. Many EHR-centric healthcare organizations have a problem with data silos creating barriers to innovation. You can break those down by designing your digital strategy around a data layer.
Here, your main objective is interoperability. IT infrastructure can collect data from new and existing applications, standardize it using industry best practices (e.g., FHIR) and provide connectivity throughout your digital health ecosystem. As these data centers grow, opportunities for innovation—like predictive analytics—will appear.
• Components. On top of that data layer, your IT department should build a modular set of software capabilities accompanied by published APIs, allowing applications and their data to be repurposed.
Think of these software capabilities as a library of development resources. Over time, these resources can be used to create and scale new solutions, integrate third-party applications and enable end users to contribute to development in the ecosystem.
• Tools. Your data layer and software components can now be connected to create new digital experiences for patients, providers and other stakeholders across the organization. Think about this final layer in your IT infrastructure as a sandbox to design improved clinical and operational workflows.
The culmination of these three layers should enable your organization to be digital-first, developing novel applications and powerful analytics that support your broader business objectives and improve your health services delivery.
Benefits And Risks Of The Digital Health Approach
With a modern IT infrastructure, you can respond faster to changing consumer demands, business strategies and external industry dynamics. You can see improved ROI on future IT investments with minimal technical debt. Plus, the data you create can be valuable and powerful. It can make your organization future-proof, no longer relying on one or two software components. Further, it can promote interoperability, opening both internal and external opportunities for innovation.
Depending on your company’s situation, the risks can vary. Making a major change like this may not be for everyone. Stakeholders might not want to move away from an EHR-centric infrastructure. They may point to the high cost of change, or they might emphasize regulatory challenges. If you take the leap and secure your future in healthcare, many of these risks can be mitigated with planning, communication and effective resource management.
Understand that this will not be an immediate transformation. It will likely take the industry as a whole up to five to 10 years. Currently, video healthcare consultations have only penetrated the market by 10%. That’s why I believe now is the time to begin the journey toward becoming a digital-first healthcare organization. With a restructured IT infrastructure, you can position your organization to lead the healthcare industry toward digital health.