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The Challenge of Shiny Object Syndrome: Digital Health Innovation

Healthcare professionals are deeply personally committed to better experiences, journeys, and outcomes for their patients, members, and consumers. Physicians at the forefront of their domains, with access and input to life-changing discoveries, are keen to put new tools to work today, not tomorrow. The same is true of nurses, engineers, data scientists, and myriad talented employees an organization has at its disposal.

The problem this creates for a digital-first organization is what could be considered “cultural schizophrenia.” Here are two examples of what this could look like.


An individual physician comes across an amazing start-up with a solution for managing Type 2 diabetes. The physician gets a green light to lead a pilot for the system. Meantime, two genetics researchers identify a promising thread in cell therapy utilizing a new analytics vendor. As their respective funding requests are being considered, two critical modules of ‘XYZ EMR’ are identified as behind schedule. Diabetes and cell therapy drop below the cut line and are on the shelf for this year. Repeat this scenario and multiply the negative presumptions made in the absence of a clearly articulated digital health strategy.


A member experience team explores a promising AI-based tool for curating member eligibility questions that could significantly reduce call center volumes while providing better, more accurate information to the member. The team begins implementation and continues to identify new wins as they work toward launch. Meanwhile, an information systems leader with a personal interest in a specific therapeutic area identifies a medication dosimetry tool that could be married with the company’s virtual visit offering to great effect. Unknown to both teams, a merger is imminent, and along with it a substantial overhaul of technology platforms. It’s critical work, but projects will be on hold for at least a year.

This is not to say that technology portfolio management, or merger-based synergy, are necessarily the enemy of innovation. Rather, culturally, most organizations do not have clearly established models for such scenarios that communicate the following:

  • A deep value placed on experimental mindsets, but at the same time
  • A value placed in, and a recognized need for, careful coordination of technology investments

The Diagnosis

Maintaining an optimal mix of disruptive innovation initiatives with sustaining innovation of established platforms can be culturally divisive.

Course of Therapy

Healthcare organizations need to design inclusive and transparent forums for digital health experimentation and prioritization – and communicate clear prioritization criteria.

The goal of innovation is meaningful change, and meaningful change causes disruption. There can be a happy medium, where employees and leaders alike use disruption positively and plan for and mitigate common productivity or operational impacts.

Learn how to overcome digital health transformation challenges and drive positive organizational change, innovation, and insight by downloading this free guide here.

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David Allen

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