Digital Transformation in Healthcare
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Digital Transformation in Healthcare, Where are we Going?

Buzzwords abound and none is hotter right now than Digital Transformation in healthcare. When something gains this much traction, it’s time to develop a framework.

Frameworks put our work in context and allow us to look at our work from a different vantage point. This way, we can see if we are doing the right things now to prepare us for a potential future.

The reason Digital Transformation has gotten this much traction is that it is a broad category of concepts, practices, products, and models. It literally refers to everything from rebuilding your website to implementing blockchain. You can change your business model as part of a Digital Transformation initiative, or you can start a disruptive new business.

Let’s consider this a beta version — rather, a pre-beta — of a framework. I’m inviting you into the thought process. Feedback appreciated

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is quite simply the culmination of the process of digitizing healthcare (data, workflows, systems), which leads to new capabilities, products, platforms, and business models at scale.

We’ve been busy. We have implemented EHRs, EDW, PACs, Portals, Big Data, and many other items in the last couple of years. Dr. Halamka from BIDMC captured this in 2016: “No other industry has moved so fast as healthcare in the high-tech era.” While true, we got off to a really slow start, and still lag many industries. We have a great foundation, so what do we do next?

Transformation denotes a dramatic change. To date, most of our projects have been focused on enhancing and supporting the traditional methods of our existing business model. This is the first stage. In the second stage, we dive deep to understand our customer and tweak our business models to attract and retain more consumers of our service. After creating a series of unconnected experiences for our customers, we begin to orchestrate an entire service journey in the third phase. in the final stage, new business models begin to emerge to disrupt the industry.

Healthcare Digital Transformation
Healthcare Digital Transformation

Stage 1: Developing Digital Competence within the Existing Business Model

  • Focus: Quick wins, efficiency, automation
  • Priorities: Digitizing the existing business; introducing new tools and methods to the business; establishing culture to adapt to change
  • Success Metrics: Adoption of the new tools and increasing our competence; improve care outcomes and reduce cost; learning our new set of tools and practices

During this phase, we are laying the groundwork. We implement technologies which digitize processes, capture new data, and give us a new perspective on our existing business. We also stand up cross-functional teams, adopt new methods for innovation and iteration, and learn to leverage the experience and expertise of the collective whole. Foundations are set for a transformation, although results are less than transformative — and in some cases, they are disruptive — at this phase.

With our newfound view of the business and a set of digital tools, we set out on enhancing our existing business. Physicians view schedules and make notes from their personal devices in remote locations. We provide patients with the ability to view their medical record, order prescription refills, make an appointment, and even see a physician from their computer.

In this stage, we are measuring adoption, learning, and our ability to create experiences and operationalize change within the organization.

A few of our bigger mistakes in this phase are not seeing the big picture from a business and technology perspective.

The business that becomes fixated on applying digital tools to existing business practices may miss the opportunity to reimagine service and business models in a digital context. The same holds true in the technology stack.

Myopic thinking causes us to focus on one monolithic technology stack. Establishing a digital core for the business – one that connects the experience across technology stacks, shares the data, and incorporates new advancements like IoT and blockchain rapidly for the good of your organization — is paramount to future phases.

Stage 2: From Patient to Consumer, from Customer to the Person


  • Focus: Turning consumer information and services into desirable experiences
  • Priorities: Know the consumer, connect with the consumer, convert the consumer to a customer
  • Success Metrics: Increase access, touches, and positive brand experiences; become the brand of choice

Many healthcare organizations are kicking off this phase of Digital Transformation with Digital Marketing initiatives. No industry has been more impacted than media and advertising in the digital age. The way we consume information, gather facts, make buying decisions, and even procure those services has been irrevocably changed. Healthcare is adapting to this change.

We run into some interesting questions right away after we hire a digital agency. Who leads the initiative, who is the customer, and what business are we in? The process immediately kicks off the business transformation. Can a traditional hospital system become a digital business? These are all excellent questions and worth the time to explore.

Geisinger CEO, Dr. David Feinberg, has the right idea: “I’d like to eliminate the waiting room and everything it represents. A waiting room means we’re provider-centered — it means the doctor is the most important person and everyone is on their time. We build up inventory for that doctor — that is, the patients sitting in the waiting room.”

Is this kind of thinking what it takes to make a health system a digital-friendly consumer business… or is this just reckless?

This always seems like an easy phase when we first start out. Update the website, add some new tools, launch a few mobile apps, and we are well on our way. Except it is here wher we find out whether we learned the lessons of the first phase and laid the groundwork for this phase.

Many Digital Marketing initiatives get stuck gathering simple information, like a list of the physician locations or building a scheduling app on top of that monolithic application stack. We learned that marketing, IT, and operations will be closely linked in digital transformation.

Stage 3: From TouchPoints to Journeys

  • Focus: Experience orchestration
  • Priorities: Seamlessly-connected experiences that are convenient, frictionless, and satisfying
  • Success Metrics: Reduced friction, wait times, abandon rates, time to resolution, and time to response, among others

Marketers have focused on touchpoints and making them meaningful. Now, it’s time to string these touchpoints and experiences together to create a satisfying customer journey.

Sure, scheduling a primary care appointment online is great. But what if I need to see a specialist and everything kicks into a phone call tree and paper process? Then, the orchestrated experience is shot. If we can take one journey, like a knee replacement or having a child, and orchestrate it from one end to the other, we will truly be differentiated from healthcare today.

We acquire a new set of tools and skills in personas, journey maps, and service design. We now start to see the building blocks and gaps that exist in our digital strategy. Can we actually create these seamless experiences, or do we still have data silos, closed systems, and both operational and cultural challenges?

Stage 4: Business Transformation – Digital Health

  • Focus: New business model
  • Priorities: Recognized value in the market
  • Success Metrics: Business viability and growth

I presented these stages as linear, and in some respects, they are. However, completing the first three steps just means you may have mastered the cultural, organizational, operational, and technical competencies to enable business transformation. You’ve gotten to the jumping-off point.

Many will choose to launch new companies rather than try to change the existing one. Start something new or transform the existing business – either way, the foundation for that business will be digital and the lessons of the first three stages will serve you well.

There are many projects floating around masquerading as business transformation. Keep in mind, though, that the only true test will be, Did it divert spending from an incumbent model? If it can do this at scale, it is then disruptive.

I received an email this week from Human Longevity, out of San Diego.  They would like for me to participate in a pilot. Here is what they say in the email: “These cutting-edge technologies provide you and your physician with personal health insights that may be helpful for early detection, disease prevention and empowering you for a life better lived.”

I don’t know about the efficacy of what they are selling, but I like it nonetheless.  I really don’t want to be a patient. I’d like to avoid having that label attached to me in my lifetime. And that’s a service that I’m willing to pay for.

As I said, comments are more than welcome. It’s the start of a framework for how we may progress through a digital transformation in healthcare. Hope this helps.

Want to discuss this further? You can reach me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.