The Three Essential Steps for Digital Transformation in Healthcare

Updated on May 27, 2023
Businessman using mobile smartphone. Application icons interface on screen. Social media concept

Digital health innovations have significantly grown over the past decade, with the pandemic further accelerating demand for digital healthcare. Even with these gains, however, the healthcare industry continues to lag behind other industries, such as retail and hospitality, when it comes to providing a more consumer-centered digital experience.

In order to compete with new industry entrants that effectively leverage digital technologies, existing healthcare organizations must transform their current digital experiences to provide real value to patients and members. How can healthcare organizations, often entrenched in inefficient processes and bureaucratic decision-making, move fast enough to meet new consumer-driven expectations?

Meeting the Digital Strategy Challenge

To understand what it really takes for healthcare organizations to transform digitally, let’s take a look at the example of “Gary,” a senior digital executive at a regional health plan. Gary had just made a strong case to his company’s leadership team about quickly expanding the health plan’s digital capabilities, but was met with resistance. Rather than pursuing Gary’s recommended measures for a more positive and equitable digital experience for the health plan’s members, the leadership team thought that updating the company’s web site would be sufficient. They also wanted an analysis of the projected return on investment and fixed deliverable commitments over the next five years. 

As Gary quickly found, shifting an organization’s traditional mindset is not easy. Gary knew his health plan’s members would value improved digital tools and access in the near-future, not years down the road, but he needed a better way than a traditional business case to gain leadership buy-in. Gary needed to instead showcase the value that a digital mindset and tools would bring to the health plan’s members. Here are the three key steps Gary took.

The Three Big Steps for Digital Transformation

1. Emphasize delivering incremental value via OKRs

Gary began by grounding his digital team in a framework that clearly articulated their goals and enabled better measurement of results. Using the goal-setting framework of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which focuses on value delivery, Gary and his team successfully shifted to reporting their digital results as OKRs rather than unyielding “milestones.” 

Example: Traditional milestone reporting vs value-based objectives:

BEFORE: Milestone ReportingAFTER: Objectives & Key Results
Implement telehealth platform enhancement by end of yearObjective: Improve members’ ability to access appropriate channel of care to increase preventative care for rural members
Measurable Result: Increase telehealth encounters by X%

The OKRs meant moving away from traditional development and delivery models centered on what “widget” is being delivered at a certain point in time. Instead, OKRs focus on “why” something is needed from a consumer’s perspective. For example, instead of asking what telehealth platform upgrade to implement, the question should be, “What would make it easier for a member to conveniently access the appropriate level of care?” 

2. Socialize & educate beyond the digital organization

Others in the organization began noting Gary’s OKR-based digital strategies. He soon found his team booked solid with requests from other parts of the organization to run digital pilots. 

Knowing that digital work touches all points of the healthcare experience, Gary’s team regularly partnered with departments across the organization including IT, finance, marketing, sales, and health plan administration. The team knew that to expand buy-in, a value-driven culture had to broaden across the rest of organization.

Armed with data and insights from successful digital pilots, Gary presented his model to leaders across the organization. He reinforced his message by consistently tailoring his language around consumer-centric value, as shown in the example below.

Example: value-oriented language that supports OKRs:

BEFORE: Traditional Deliverable-Focused StatementAFTER: Consumer-Focused Impact Statement
Update landing page navigation with link to schedule a telehealth appointmentMake it easier for members to access care through improved landing page navigation to scheduling features

3. Establish data foundations and data hygiene to articulate value 

As the health plan’s internal push for more digital capabilities grew, Gary found his team increasingly mired in the administrative minutiae of putting together presentations and dashboards. The data needed was not easily pulled together—it involved reaching out to different departments and hours of manual spreadsheet analyses to get to the metrics needed.

Accurate, up-to-date data and processes are critical to measuring the impacts of digital work in order to demonstrate value creation. Without ongoing collective responsibility for disciplined data practices, the ability to articulate value quickly falls apart. However, manually pulling together dashboards every month wasn’t sustainable for Gary’s team. Gary needed to establish foundational, efficient practices to collect data on the development, delivery and impacts of digital features. 

Gary assembled a small, dedicated team to build the appropriate data foundations. Their tasks included:

  • Establishing accurate data hygiene to ensure up-to-date sources of truth
  • Training staff to develop accurate data collection habits
  • Reinforcing consistent discipline and process to maintain these practices
  • Building leadership reporting dashboards to reinforce reliance on primary data sources

With consistent data-driven practices in place, Gary was able to leverage data and information to drive decision-making intelligence. This was vital to achieving actionable insights, which ultimately served to further value creation. 

Evolve as the Organization Learns

Gary’s story is not unique in healthcare. Moving a healthcare organization to fully embrace a digital, consumer-oriented mindset and delivery model is challenging. As illustrated in the example with Gary, the following will help advance an organization’s digital maturation:

  • Provide meaningful updates anchored on value-based objectives with measurable results 
  • Promote an organizational culture shift toward a narrative of value delivery, and socialize and educate even as the organization matures
  • Maintain foundational data hygiene practices, as this is essential to communicating value creation

With the digital experience now touching all points of healthcare, it is vital to continue to instill a culture of value-creation across the organization.

Diane Louie is a Consultant of Freed Associates
Diane Louie

Diane Louie is a Consultant of Freed Associates.