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.

1 Recognize the value and urgency of digitalization within healthcare

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.

2 Focus on the true meaning of a digital transformation journey for health systems

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.

Myth 1: “If you understand technology, you’ll understand digital transformation.”

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.

Myth 2: “The guys in IT can handle digital transformation. They’ve done this before.”

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.

Myth 3: “We can bring this home in six months if we get everybody involved.”

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.

Myth 4: “We need to go big and go wide; bigger is always better.”

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.

3 Offer input into the digital transformation journey road map

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.

Assessment of the current health system’s digital journey

  • What are the short- and long-term goals of the health system’s digital transformation journey?
  • How does digital transformation align with our organization’s strategic imperatives, mission, vision and values?
  • What digital initiatives does the health system already have in place?
  • How is the current journey going? What barriers and roadblocks exist?

Healthcare industry competitors

  • What industry benchmarking has our organization done?
  • How have competing healthcare organizations moved forward on digital transformation?
  • What are the most notable transformation achievements within other industries? What can we learn from them, and what mistakes can we avoid?

Setting priorities

  • What elements or categories of digital transformation should we prioritize?
  • What organizational challenges are low-hanging fruit: high priority, easy to target and likely to generate measurable improvements?

Planning the digital transformation journey

  • What type of plan and process will facilitate digital transformation?
  • How should the plan track and measure the outcomes of digital initiatives?
  • What financial, human and material resources does the plan require for full implementation?

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.

4 Creating a sustainable, aligned and impactful digital transformation journey

As the organization executes its strategy, consider sustainability, alignment and impact, and the questions to consider within each area.


  • Is the digital transformation strategy designed to endure over time?
  • Will the strategy achieve its promised business and clinical results over the next three to five years? What about the next ten?


  • Does the digital transformation strategy align with your hospital’s or health system’s strategic imperatives?
  • Is the strategy likely to achieve accurate and measurable clinical, operational and financial results? What areas of the business will it enhance?
  • Will it boost the organization’s agility, productivity, resilience or other essential traits?


  • Does the digital transformation journey touch every area of the organization?
  • How will it affect patients, operations, care delivery and payment?
  • How will it reshape safety and quality?
  • What are the impacts on finance and the revenue cycle?
  • How will digital transformation change and enhance relationships with providers, payers, government agencies, suppliers and communities?

5 Transition to an enterprise-wide data-driven culture

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:


  • Does your digital transformation strategy include clear, concrete goals and objectives?


  • Is your leadership team fully committed to digital transformation?
  • How are you keeping your managers and front-line staff informed, involved and engaged with the digital transformation journey?


  • Will your health system cope with digital transformation by upskilling or reskilling employees? Will it be looking for new talent or redeploying existing talent?
  • How will you support employee development? Do you have the training resources and budget necessary to drive change?


  • Has the board adopted a framework and mindset to strengthen and accelerate digital transformation?
  • What mechanisms and metrics will the board use to track clinical, operational and financial outcomes?


  • What process will your hospital or health system use to select technologies and digital platforms?


Enabling people and organizations to exceed potential & transform tomorrow's healthcare ecosystem.

The healthcare board can — and should —lead the digital transformation journey

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.

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