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Healthcare Meets Digital Technology

Digital Brain . Ai Concept

Wild tribes join with age-old enemies to fight the night king and his zombie legions. Nomadic hordes swarm across the sea with their dragon queen to enter the fray. Kings in the North set aside family squabbles to defend their fortress in a moment of peril. Is this a model for healthcare transformation through digital technology?

There are messages in George R.R. Martin’s dramatic series to help every aspiring healthcare professional – whether it’s snuffing out ice dragons or battling business tribalism in the digital age.

When forced to choose between Game of Thrones or studying healthcare industry trends, many people might reach for the TV remote. But even if you managed to avoid the pre-pandemic “Thrones” trend, you may still have encountered the following themes:

  1. Blended teams of expertise win the day – inspired by a unified purpose against a common enemy.
  2. Digital technology is more than a tool – it is a fundamental environmental shift that is “upon us”. And healthcare, like every other business sector, must adapt to survive.

This may sound like common sense, but sadly, in my experience with the blended world where healthcare meets digital technology, I have witnessed my fair share of business divisions acting alone, setting their own goals and strategies in silos, fighting each other for recognition, and launching new technology solutions without a common organizational approach.

A Two-Headed Dragon

The two topics introduced above may seem to be separate, weighty, and worthy of their own individual discussion:

  • Organizational Silos in the Workplace
  • Digital Transformation in Healthcare

But upon reflection, some key themes that combine the two are worth consideration.

Silos to Systems

Let’s address the first organizational barrier to healthcare reform – the business silo.

Isolationist fears have a long history in the age of kings and countries, both real and imagined. So, it is no surprise that we bring this sensibility to the world of business.

The team approach also has roots going back to the dawn of early man. We are not the fastest, strongest, or most resilient of animals on the planet – but one thing that propelled us to the top of the food chain is our ability to work collaboratively, drawing on individual talents while maintaining a unified vision and common sense of purpose.

And in healthcare reform, most of us can easily recognize and have witnessed countless examples of ways that the silo mentality has obstructed progress. We’ve watched episodic “illness-care” defeat holistic “well-care”. We’ve struggled with inefficiencies in electronic health record (EMR) delivery that stifle caregiver collaboration, and lack of awareness of the patient’s experience as viewed through the totality of their medical journey.

But there is hope – many healthcare systems have taken steps toward building momentum, even coining a phrase that has gained traction: The Quintuple Aim Movement.

The Five Aims Include:

  1. Improving the patient experience
  2. Delivering better patient outcomes
  3. Improving the provider experience
  4. Advancing health equity
  5. Reducing the per-capita cost of care

The aims draw on cross-functional skills and talents to achieve a common purpose. Think of it as an extreme team approach. And the potential benefits are undeniable. They help direct caregivers and administrators alike to embrace the following, relatively recent approaches to healthcare:

  • Holistic care and recognition of the patient’s full “ecosystem” of mind, body and spirit
  • Well-care management across the continuum of the patient’s journey in treatment (and in life)
  • Collaborative care communication between all the patient’s caregivers (family members, providers, facility staff, etc.)

Redefining Business Strategy through Digital Collaboration

With this approach, we can now deploy a new, but not-so-secret weapon – the digital workplace. In fact it’s happening already, and healthcare must keep pace.

Digital technology has permanently changed the ways people connect, collaborate and communicate.

We find ourselves in a world where healthcare consumers have three accelerating demands:

  1. The need to capture and share knowledge – Patients are putting an increasing amount of pressure on digital systems designed to allow medical professionals to transmit and collaborate on patient care. They want access to their medical records at home, and expect that everyone associated with their care will be appropriately “up to speed”.
  2. The need to manage information – The sheer volume of information sources creates its own issues of curation, and healthcare professionals have a role to play as “gatekeepers” when the patient opens their own online floodgate of sound health advise combined with misinformation.
  3. The need for speed – Patients are becoming increasingly impatient with delays in knowledge transfer, and rightfully so. The healthcare industry must recognize that the patient/consumer can reference a myriad of resources on their smartphones, even while in a hospital room awaiting surgery.

Digital Strategy to the Rescue

So all we need to change is everything – right?

It might not be that daunting. Looking at interviews with executives conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Consulting, some transformational ideas rise to the top:

Transforming operation processes – Digital leaders put a premium on internal collaboration, creating processes and teams that thrive handling varying functions, and develop incentives for sharing knowledge.

Transforming business models – Digital leaders rely on strong executive leadership to clear barriers for team, division, and departmental interaction. Indeed the word “division” itself in many business models could use a refresh to help shift this mentality.

Transforming customer/patient experiences – Business leaders in healthcare are seeing decision-makers place “improving patient experience” at the top of strategic initiatives. Digital technology finds itself right at home in this endeavor by enabling:

  1. The use of analytics to adjust messaging based on consumer behavior
  2. The use of digital resources to predict desired outcomes and shorten the patient’s path to useful healthcare information
  3. The use of digital technology at the bedside or in the clinic exam room allows a provider to instantly access a wide array of topical information and resources in one-on-one discussions with patients

The Promise of Technology

Many healthcare companies investing in digital solutions are drawn in by the promise of greater collaboration and effective communication as a path toward driving revenue, scaling resources and attracting top talent. Unfortunately, I’ve seen several companies preemptively pursue digital initiatives without changing underlying, business-as-usual, practices and processes.

Business strategists across every industry often equate the term “digital transformation” with a shift in technology investment.

Recent research shows that while 88% of companies report digital transformation programs, only 25% have a clear understanding of what that means.

Dungeons and Dragons and the Program Approach

My mission as a digital consultant has become one of advocating and embracing the fundamental changes needed to help healthcare teams work together through digital technology, accelerating knowledge transfer to benefit patients and families.

And, as referenced earlier, my weapon of choice is the program approach, one that echoes and leverages key business practices exhibited by successful companies in and out of the healthcare space. It includes a recognition that collaborative processes lead to greater efficiencies, important insights, and inspired solutions.

This also supports the notion of drawing on in-house talent even if they report to multiple managers across various disciplines and corporate divisions. It allows for flexibility and agility (hence the common use of the term “agile” in project management circles). And it rewards team achievement over individual “one-upmanship”.

If siloed thinking and unproductive digital solutions are threatening your healthcare organization, start by reaching out to leaders in varying teams and departments to share knowledge and experience.

Becoming truly collaborative through digital technology will take time and resources, but there are many examples where similar dragons have been slayed by perseverance and persistence.

Think of it as a quest to lead your organization into the new frontier while staying true to your healthcare mission, vision, and values.

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