Clinical, Not Technology, Leaders Must Lead Digital Transformation in Healthcare

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digital medical

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Michel Koopman

COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in most industries. Healthcare is no exception: It’s poised to undergo a digital revolution that could virtualize up to $250 billion in healthcare spending, according to McKinsey. But if CIOs, not clinical leaders, hold primary responsibility for implementing digital initiatives, the return on investment could be minimal.

Before COVID-19, regulatory barriers, misaligned economic incentives, and other obstacles often made healthcare technology innovations slow to gain traction. Today, however, care providers are looking to future-proof businesses by ensuring they’re equipped to serve patients in any scenario and wherever their clinical resources are located.

Future-proofing an organization to allow the rendering of clinical services from and to anywhere doesn’t happen overnight. A hospital might invest in a next-generation care delivery platform for critical but limited scenarios first — then gradually add more use cases as it integrates virtual services with on-site teams. Once a digital infrastructure is in place, new services can be added with ease.

The goal is to provide virtual service in conjunction with in-person care already being provided by staff at the bedside. Virtual professionals and local care teams become one team in serving the patients the best they can while gaining both efficiencies and improvements in patient outcomes. Achieving that goal will be paramount to organizations’ survival.

Burnout and widespread physician and nursing shortageshave put an unprecedented strain on the American healthcare system, which COVID-19 amplified. Health concerns and sudden family obligations, for example, have limited nurses’ abilities to care for patients — many of whom have heightened care needs.

Moreover, nursing school graduates cannot get preceptorships because of COVID-19-related training restrictions, widening the talent gap. These and other factors increase the costs of delivering safe care to patients. In the absence of widespread inoculation, the strain won’t subside.

Fortunately, healthcare innovation is advancing, and the industry’s prevailing revenue models are changing, too. Hospitals are moving from volume to value-based care as performance is increasingly judged on metrics like health outcomes, mortality rates, readmissions, and length of stay that are now more financially material with new incentive policies.

These developing trends have substantially accelerated in 2021. It’s now up to leaders in charge of implementing new technologies and aligning services with economic incentives to ensure these investments don’t fizzle out once the pandemic subsides.

The progression toward new care delivery trends in healthcare has turned into a revolution — as COVID-19 turned nice-to-have virtualized services into must-haves. In most cases, professionals leading the charge at health facilities are clinical leaders, not technology leaders.

Doctors and nurses won’t oversee audio-video room installations or mine legacy systems for data. But they should lead strategic discussions about how hospitals can transform service delivery and staffing models with technology. Before any virtualization initiative, administrators must have conversations with clinical leaders — typically the chief nursing officer, as nurses often represent a hospital’s largest clinical resource.

Administrators should seek to understand the steepest challenges staff members face. This is how they’ll identify areas where technology has the greatest opportunity to provide assistance: case management, virtual rounding, admissions, and discharge, for instance.

Starting digitization with a focus on clinical applications, rather than technology specifications, will help administrators make better decisions almost automatically. In fact, the financial ROI will often make such an investment a no-brainer, as the hospital cost structure around an identified nursing challenge is often not optimized.

On the other hand, adapting a problem to fit a certain technology solution is a recipe for failure. Unfortunately, when technology leaders drive digital transformation projects without strategic clinical conversations, legitimate use cases are often an afterthought.

Here’s the reality: Just because a hospital invests in technology doesn’t mean that technology can solve problems. Of course, CIOs remain critical in technology implementation, compliance, security, and more; however, they also remain in service to clinical needs if an investment is going to succeed.

Hospitals must prioritize clinical considerations, then financial considerations, then operational considerations, and then technology, in that order. Hardware and software are commodities that can transform organizations and lives — but only when they’re implemented strategically to amplify and effectuate care across every patient touchpoint. Hospital technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Michel Koopman is chief commercial officer at Banyan Medical Systems, an innovative digital healthcare provider with revolutionary solutions for greater care, better patient outcomes, increased efficiency, and lowered expenses. Michel is a senior operator and entrepreneur with a mix of small business and corporate successes in a global capacity.

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