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Digital transformation—the shift to technology and cloud-based service models— promises to increase clinic efficiencies, improve patient care, and support value-based reimbursement models. But when digital transformation efforts go awry, they can leave organizations in a muddle of half-completed initiatives, duplication of efforts, and security vulnerabilities, leading to frustration, unexpected costs, and increased risk.
The stakes are high to get this right. With changes in reimbursement models, compliance regulations, and patient expectations, digital transformation is no longer an option. To get it right, there are some clear do’s and don’ts for healthcare CIOs.
Don’t: Expect that moving from paper to digital is the goal
Healthcare organizations often confuse the real work of digital transformation with simply moving from paper to computer screens. Don’t be fooled. Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of your practice to fundamentally change how your providers and staff operate and how they deliver value to your patients. If all you do is replicate inefficient paper-based systems, you’ll simply frustrate staff, providers, and patients. Not surprisingly, the costs will outweigh the benefits.
Do: Look for cultural change opportunities
Digital transformation is actually a cultural transformation. That transformation sometimes means walking away from long-standing processes in favor of new practices that are still being defined. What capabilities could your practice add that technology can support? Where are the inefficiencies that Post-It notes and binders can’t solve? What additional services does your patient population need? Those might include telehealth capabilities to make healthcare more convenient and efficient, remote monitoring to help patients manage chronic conditions, easy-to-use analytics dashboards to support population health goals, or patient engagement platforms to reduce no-shows and improve care compliance.
Don’t: Underestimate the value of the cloud
While on-premise servers have been a reasonable approach for many healthcare organizations’ IT foundations, that time has mostly passed. Hardware expenses, software patching, IT resources, and security challenges are just the tip of on-prem challenges.
The cloud provides reliable, high-performance, always-updated and secure access to all your critical clinical and business systems, allowing staff and providers to use technology to serve patients and maintain clinic business functions from anywhere, at any time. Cloud-based systems also support today’s most sophisticated analytics tools to help you better serve patients and optimize revenue.
Do: Think security first
Security is the basis for the trust between provider and patient, so it’s a critical foundation for any technology discussion. That’s becoming clearer every day, as the healthcare industry continues to be one of the most-targeted industries by cyber-attackers.
As you research your move to the cloud, dig deeply into the security foundation of your cloud provider. Make sure they understand the unique importance and requirements for healthcare hosting. Cloud environments designed specifically for healthcare offer HITRUST certification that is based on NIST and more than 40 other global security standards, and encompass more than 400 controls and implementation requirements. This eases HIPAA compliance and ensures the highest levels of security and protection for personal health information and clinic data. Your cloud provider should also offer a fully managed network operations and security operations center to protect both your patients and your business.
Don’t: Put technology and patient needs in separate silos
Healthcare providers may see IT and patient care as separate issues, but digital transformation can have significant impacts on how you deliver—and are reimbursed for—better patient outcomes. Consider patient needs as well as provider and staff workflows. Then look at how technology can integrate into those workflows to make them more efficient and satisfying.
For instance, think about how an intuitive visual dashboard of the day’s patients, based on sophisticated analytics of their complete history, could improve provider huddles at the start of the day. Similarly, consider how analytics could help you ensure that you’re receiving all the reimbursements your practice is entitled to.
Do: Connect technology to quality of care
Value-based care is a fundamental change to the way care has traditionally been delivered. Like many things in the technology space, it centers around the ability to capture and report on data. You need to demonstrate that the quality of care continues to show three key outcomes: how you delivered care that was better for the individual, better for the population, and at a lower cost. The ability to deliver that information systematically can be challenging.
Digital transformation delivers the underlying technology to gather that data. More importantly, the technology supports the business processes to collect, store, analyze, and produce the data so you can receive payments based on the quality, rather than the quantity, of care delivered to your patients.
Don’t: Leave patients out of the equation
The services your practice offers are deeply personal, and healthcare consumers expect their providers to understand their individual wants and needs. Personalization is essential to patient engagement: if you don’t know the personal attributes of your patients, your engagement strategy is going to be basic and ineffective.
For many healthcare organizations, the only patient aspect of digital transformation is the patient portal, but just installing one isn’t enough. Do your patients use the portal the way it was intended? Is it helpful? Is it more successful for some demographics than others? How could it be improved?
Do: Use digital technologies to engage patients
Increasing patient knowledge and understanding encourages them to become actively engaged in their own well-being and to make choices that lead to better health. Patient engagement also delivers financial benefits as it reduces no-shows, increases provider revenue, and improves the provider-patient relationship.
Digital transformation lets you collect, organize, and analyze patient data such as demographics, psychographics, social media activity, behavioral patterns, clinical history, office interactions, etc. This data lets you generate 360-degree views of patients and populations, giving you the insight you need to deploy patient engagement efforts effectively, and deliver value-based care that is truly patient-centric.
Don’t: Stop at remote work
In 2020, healthcare providers quickly implemented what was, in many instances, suboptimal solutions to get through the remote environments required by the Covid-19 pandemic. But it’s important to remember that telehealth is more than video calls.
One positive outcome from the pandemic is the recognition that remote work and remote interaction can be much more successful than previously assumed. Now think bigger.
Do: Think beyond telemedicine
Digital transformation supports a wide range of telehealth and remote services, including videoconferencing, store-and-forward imaging, research, remote patient monitoring and education, warm handoffs to care facilities, and more. This is a remarkable opportunity for providers to consider how they can incorporate what they learned during the pandemic and act on it with well-planned digital transformation initiatives that respond to patients’ new expectations for convenient, quality telehealth services.
When you’re ready, explore your options
Digital transformation in healthcare isn’t a simple task. Taking a holistic and long-term view will help you avoid unwanted surprises and find savings by combining initiatives and services. The results in terms of improved productivity and practice workflows; reduced frustration for patients, providers, and staff; and the peace of mind of knowing that data is secure and the business is protected should make it well worthwhile.
Photo: Marko Babii, Getty Images
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