When most people think about digital transformation, the first word that comes to mind might be “innovative” or “exciting.”
For Sameer Badlani, MD, however, it’s completely the opposite.
“I’m a big proponent of boring projects related to automation,” he said during a recent panel discussion. “There are so many things we do behind the scenes that are repetitive, that are very labor-intensive, and that lead to inconsistencies because of the way they’ve been designed.” As a result, they lend themselves to digital transformation.
During the webinar, Badlani (Chief Digital Officer and EVP for Technology Services, Fairview Health Services) and Omer Awan (Chief Data and Digital Officer, Atrium Health) shared their thoughts on the trends they believe will be the most impactful, and the keys to prioritizing initiatives when everything is urgent.
The Amazon & Uber Effect
One of those trends, according to Badlani, is the “Amazon-ification and Uber-ization” of healthcare, which entails creating a “frictionless experience that is driven by digital and data to take over the market share of our patients.”
And that means looking beyond the condition that brought the patient to the clinic or hospital, and addressing other challenges he or she might be facing. It’s a dramatic shift from the past, where the focus was almost entirely on episodic care. For example, if a patient presented with knee pain, the goal was to schedule an appointment, treat the condition, and obtain a favorable patient satisfaction score.
Now, the game has changed completely. “A retailer with an Amazon-ification or Uber-ization mindset would never think like that,” Badlani added. “First they’d try to figure out whether the patient even needs to be brought in. Then they’d think, what else can I do for this patient? If I go in for foot pain, it should never just be about foot pain.” In addition to scheduling any labs or follow-up appointments, providers should ensure patients are up-to-date with screenings, he said.
“What IT leaders have to understand is how to take digital assets and compliment the face-to-face visits with more touch points so that you can upsell, cross-sell, and, most importantly, close more of the clinical and quality gaps.” In doing so, healthcare organizations “earn the right to continue being the primary care provider.”
Awan agreed, noting that as patient expectations continue to rise, both in terms of efficiency and transparency, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide a personalized experience — even if it’s a virtual encounter. “We need to make them feel that we know them.”
Of course, creating a better experience — which, in many cases, has meant enabling telehealth — isn’t possible without the right backbone in place, Awan said. Not only does that require a culture change, but it also entails working with operational leaders and becoming “copilots of the organizational business strategy,” he noted. At Atrium, “we work really tightly with our virtual healthcare leadership to make sure we have processes that are aligned in support of what we do.”
The strategy proved crucial, as about 44 percent of urgent care visits and 35 percent of office visits were replaced with virtual visits. “That wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have supporting processes behind the scene.”
Bandwidth for innovation
Another critical piece is prioritization, which has become increasingly difficult since the height of Covid-19, said Badlani. “We’ve had so many curve balls and fastballs thrown at us over the last few years.” The good news is that it has forced his team to reimagine the governance process, which had traditionally included an entry point, an analysis phase, and the decision-making stage.
Now, the strategy falls into a few primary buckets. “As a technology leader, I have to make sure there is infrastructure resiliency and cyber resiliency,” he said, and make sure the “basic needs around operations and network are being met to keep the system going.”
- The first is leapfrogging. Along with life cycle maintenance, his team looks for leapfrogging opportunities, meaning that if a project was delayed by two years, the organization should replace it not with what was needed then, but what will be needed in the future.
- Secondly, it’s critical to maintain a steady level of investment, Badlani said. “We’re not Google where we can throw a billion dollars on an idea and have no worries whether it sticks or not. We have to be very thoughtful, frugal and purposeful with where we put in our dollars.”
- Next is the business lens — how is this project going to improve customer acquisition or improve the share of care I have with a particular customer? It comes back to the concept of earning an individual’s business, he said. “You come to me for your diabetic care, can I earn your business for primary care? Or, you come for me for primary care. Can I earn your business for your rheumatology work as well?”
- The fourth bucket is around platform thinking and leveraging automation to get more out of investments.
It requires a level of change management that must permeate across the ecosystem, Badlani noted, and a balance between projects that are “absolutely necessary” with those focused on business growth and clinical targets. And of course, some bandwidth must be left for innovative initiatives.
It’s a challenge, but one that can be managed if IT and digital leaders maintain a strong relationship with the service lines, including clinical areas, supply chain, and back-office, said Awan. “We want to make sure that when needs arise in those areas, we can take those projects to our governance team and determine the value to the organization and the ROI.”
What’s most important, he said, is ensuring that any initiative — digital or not — is rooted in solving a particular problem, and not in purchasing shiny objects.
Lastly, as more focus is placed on preparing for the future (and rightly so), the panelists urged leaders to look back, something healthcare has failed to do. “We just move onto the next idea and really don’t think about why we did what we did, and what we learned,” said Badlani. “We need to have the patience to do a look back on all the projects we’ve done. It’s a big cultural change, and one that needs to happen.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Future State: Industry Leaders Discuss Today’s Priorities & Tomorrow’s Challenges — please click here.
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