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Building digital KPIs in healthcare

What’s the secret to success in any healthcare digital project? Hint: It’s not a snazzy design or lots of bells and whistles. No matter the project, there’s a key step that separates success from failure. And that key is within your grasp.

The key? Before you dive into your project, define what success will be. Set your key performance indicators (KPIs).

I’ve seen it happen over and over. A health system launches a website or app or other digital project. It follows all the best practices. And yet at launch leaders throughout the health system declare the project a failure. They had a different idea in mind of what the project should accomplish. Or they were looking to other organizations with larger budgets or staff resources and expecting more.

Success is subjective. That’s why we need KPIs.

The first key to a successful project is to define success. To get key stakeholders together to clearly identify what your project can and should accomplish. Then, once determined, to communicate those goals and KPIs throughout the organization.

The other key, of course, is to understand your audience. And once you know both your internal stakeholder needs and your audience expectations, you marry the two to create your digital strategy. Your successful project will land right at that the sweet spot where the two meet. To understand audience needs, you’ll need to build healthcare personas and healthcare journey maps. But for now, let’s discuss step one: defining KPIs.

Who defines healthcare digital KPIs?

If it’s not for you and your team alone to define success, then who should be included? There’s no one single answer to that, but generally it should include the leaders in your system most impacted by the digital project.

Consider a healthcare website. One major goal is always patient acquisition. That relates to hospital revenue and overall financial health. So involving the CEO or CFO may be worthwhile to ensure they are part of any discussion around ROI. Patient engagement may be key. In that case, include leaders engaged in patient engagement initiatives.

Also involve the leaders in your organization who are most vocal about the website (or other digital project). They always have an opinion, and they’ll have one about this project, too. Have them join the KPI discussion, so that their opinions are heard and addressed early on in your project.

How are healthcare digital KPIs developed?

I’ve found the best way to define healthcare digital KPIs is to hold a KPI workshop. Find the 10 or so leaders (as discussed above) who should be part of the process. Get them in a room with an unbiased moderator (I play that role often), and hold a workshop.

In the KPI workshop, I like to start with the larger corporate strategy or vision. If you want your digital project to be taken seriously by the leaders in the organization, it’s important that it support your larger health system goals. We review the strategy or vision statement and start to pull out the parts that the new digital project can support.

Next step is to brainstorm. Consider the digital goals that map to the larger strategic goals. Write them all down. Then decide which 3-5 are the most important.

Leadership versus diagnostic KPIs

One reason there’s often a disconnect between digital teams and health system leadership is that they’re speaking different languages. Leadership is focused on outcomes – What are the metrics that support our system structures and finances? Digital teams are focused on their digital product – What are metrics that show our product is doing really well? Both are important. But the workshop is designed to focus on the outcome goals – what I call the leadership KPIs.

Sure, go ahead and make note of the diagnostic KPIs, too. Your digital team will want those, and you can report out within your group on how you’re meeting those KPIs. But for the rest of your organization – keep the focus on the leadership KPIs.

We have our healthcare digital KPIs, now what?

Congratulations! After a 2-hour session, you now have agreement on the major goals and KPIs for your new digital project. But don’t stop there. Next step is to develop your communications plan.

First and foremost, make sure every team member involved in the development of your new digital project understands those KPIs. Whenever there is a crossroads and a decision needs to be made about which direction to go – team members should base their decision on which option best supports the KPIs (and, of course, audience expectations).

But these leadership KPIs are now also your talking points. Based on your overall project timeline and size of the project, consider at what points you’ll want to loop in internal groups within your health system. You’ll probably want a mix of roadshows and written communications (notices on the intranet, newsletters, etc.).

Finally, measure and report your digital KPIs!

A few weeks after launch, take your first reading. Are you already starting to see progress toward those KPIs? If so, fantastic! If not (or perhaps not at the pace you expected), then consider what can be done to get closer to those KPIs. Adjust as needed. And after the first quarter, be ready to report out on those KPIs.

Take the first step – build healthcare digital KPIs

Do you have a large digital project coming up? Make sure you take the time to work with leadership to develop your KPIs first. Months later, when your project finally launches – and is greeted as a tremendous success – you’ll be glad you did!

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Linda Watts

Linda is a healthcare digital strategy leader with 20 years of progressive experience in guiding diverse health system teams to develop and execute digital experiences and infrastructures. She is passionate about improving healthcare consumer experience, while also ensuring business ROI, to help health systems expand on their broader missions to improve their communities' health and well-being.

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