Healthcare boards: Enabling digital transformation
The role of boards in a digital transformation journey for health systems is critical to ensure strategic alignment across the organization.
June 2, 2022
Healthcare boards: Enabling digital transformation
For health systems, the digital transformation journey is complex. With the goal of helping organizations achieve clinical, financial and operational strategic goals, digital transformation requires organizations to mobilize their technology, resources, processes and talent. It affects every aspect of what health systems and hospitals do, from enhancing the patient, employee and stakeholder experience to making data-driven decisions and automating processes.
Given the stakes and breadth of this journey, the C-suite cannot go it alone. The board must step in to support the organization as it addresses this urgent strategic imperative.
Here are five ways that healthcare boards can enable a digital transformation journey for health systems.
Over the last two years, organizations have realized the power of digital transformation. Digitalization has empowered organizations to overcome the problems of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has enabled organizations to find new sources of revenue, bring the workplace home, create new care models and continue operations.
Although the worst threats of the pandemic may have subsided, there’s no guarantee that we won’t experience future waves. As organizations are still coming to grips with how to operate in an increasingly virtual world, more waves could be devastating, leading to losses in patient volume, revenue, reimbursements and government aid.
Boards must realize that digital transformation can help health systems integrate technology with their human-centered mission, vision and values. Now is the time for boards to revisit existing initiatives and evaluate digital maturity, considering new ways that health systems can meet patients, employees and stakeholders where they are. For example, board leaders might explore opening a digital front door to engage patients at every point in their healthcare journey; automating parts of the revenue cycle or finding new ways to deliver virtual care.
All too often, healthcare leaders are attracted by shiny new objects. Blockchain, virtual reality and wearable monitors may be the technology of the moment, but investing in them isn’t the same as digitalization.
Instead, boards must ensure their organizations avoid the hype. They must build consensus around a shared definition of digital transformation, focusing on the company's ability to enhance clinical, financial and operational performance. To lead here, boards must understand four common myths that can often lead to pitfalls within an organization.
If digital transformation initiatives fail, organizations frequently point to a perceived scarcity of tech knowledge, skill and experience. But this is often not the case. Most digitalization efforts fail because they suffer from poorly aligned leadership, resistance to change or overinvestment in the latest technology.
When digital change is done right, technology is a small part of a larger process focused on people, process and culture. Technology has the power to transform healthcare organizations, but only if the organization takes a thoughtful, people-centered approach. This approach focuses on using technology to advance strategic goals, such as adding services, expanding into new markets, collaborating with partners to build alliances and strengthening patient relationships.
A title that mentions “information” or “technology” isn’t a prerequisite for participating in the digital transformation journey. While the CIO, CTO, CSO, CNIO and CMIO are likely to play key roles, digitalization touches every level and every department in the organization. Successful transformation requires the buy-in and participation of leaders across the C-suite.
Many people believe that digital transformation is a one-and-done initiative. But it’s a journey, not a destination.
It’s a complex, all-encompassing business strategy and a mindset that should guide how the health system approaches decision-making, problem-solving and executing on strategy.
Digital transformation is a massive change. It requires enterprise thinking yet a targeted approach. If you approach this transformation as a wholesale change, disrupting everything all at once, your employees, patients and stakeholders will feel confused and maybe even resentful. This can breed frustration and resistance.
Instead, make sure you spend time learning what stakeholders want and need. Use focus groups and surveys to discover what they hope to experience in the hospital or health systems. Then develop incremental plans that solve operational, clinical and financial challenges while enhancing the stakeholder experience.
As your hospital or health system plans its journey, boards can get involved in many different ways. Here are some questions the board may want to ask senior management in order to prompt action.
Using these questions, consider how you can assist senior management, whether it’s through setting a vision or creating a strategy, plan or budget. Research and review digital transformation systems and technologies and identify how they might facilitate or accelerate the journey. Look for opportunities for enterprise-wide partnership and collaboration. And make sure that the board is tracking the ongoing impact of digital transformation on a business and clinical performance level.
As the organization executes its strategy, consider sustainability, alignment and impact, and the questions to consider within each area.
A digital transformation journey is neither simple nor fast, and it must have the foundation of a strong, data-driven culture.
To develop that culture, you need a change management plan that focuses on your people and processes. Here are some areas to consider:
A well-planned digital transformation increases the value that health systems and hospitals deliver to their patients, employees and other stakeholders. That’s especially true when the board embraces its role in guiding the journey for health systems.
Board members can play a key role in ensuring business and clinical goals align with digital transformation objectives. They can open the door to strategic partnerships and foster innovation. They can put in guardrails to make sure that progress is measurable and sustainable. Perhaps most importantly, they can ensure that the health system keeps people, not technology, at the center of the transformation.
To learn more, refer to the article written by Jena Abernathy and Doug Greenberg, The board's role in digital transformation: Moving past myths and turbocharging the journey.