Digital Health is the use of Digital Technologies to improve the Efficiency and Efficacy of Care Decisions, Care Delivery, and Ancillary Healthcare Processes.
As we find ourselves on the eve of 2022, every healthcare organization should have by now a digital health strategy. To simplify, a strategy is merely a consciously defined approach to responding to existing or anticipated threats or seizing opportunities.
With Venture Capital having flown into digital health to the tune of $70 billion dollars over the past decade, it is time for all healthcare organizations to wholeheartedly embrace digital health, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 health crisis that opened the door to video visits and remote care.
Yet in their definition of a Digital Health Strategy, many teams fall into the trap of one or more of the following common follies.
Digital Health is No Magic Bullet
Faced with numerous challenging problems, some healthcare leaders in response turn to newfangled technologies, to shiny objects that seemingly will solve multiple of those challenges easily. “If everyone is talking about it, everyone must be using digital health, and thus so must we” the reasoning goes.
While magic bullet solutions rarely exist to begin with, digital health is definitely not one of them. Technology by itself is rarely the answer to the complex problems we are facing in healthcare, such as lack of patient engagement, decreasing payments, clinician shortages, growing chronic disease epidemics, just to name a few.
In a workflow-driven, service-oriented industry such as healthcare, success with digital solutions hinges almost always on successfully and lastingly changing the behaviors and attitudes of patients, doctors’, nurses’ staff and leadership.
Because oftentimes the technology is merely the catalyst. You still need to provide the other ingredients (namely people & processes) to cause a positive reaction.
Don’t Put the Horse Behind the Cart
Along the same lines of a magic bullet, healthcare leaders are often tempted to seek out or get inspired by “a proven technical solution” in a family of technologies. The aftermath of Healthcare Technology trade shows are a prime example for that.
In a more recent example, a group of five large health systems approached us to help them identify the most valuable, most efficacious and proven digital health apps that their clinicians should be able to prescribe.
While I laud the effort of integrating tools like digital therapeutics into the care model, searching for a solution first is like putting the horse behind the cart — i.e., to first buy the horse (the technology) and then figuring out what cart (problem) the horse is supposed to pull (solve).
In response we recommended to use the approach of first identifying the most urgent, costly, and pervasive care challenges and then derive from that the expectations and needs of a technology solution to help solve the problem. Then, and only then, should one scour the marketplace to find digital health solutions that can meet the requirements.
Thus what is called for in the selection of digital health solutions is to first identify an existing problem, develop the requirements, and then to seek out for the best fitting solution — not the other way around.
What Works Over There Won’t Work Over Here
Another favorite shortcut is to look for the approaches and solutions of other organizations in the hopes that their approach or solution will also work at their organization.
But different healthcare organizations differ from each other as different species. A solution that may work in one healthcare organization, no matter how similar, will most likely not yield the same results in your organization.
There are a multitude of aspects that make each organization and even different locations within one organization unique. There first is the variation in the imminent patient population – their demographics, their epidemiology. Next there is the culture of the organization – the leadership style, the collaboration (or lack thereof) between physicians, nurses and administrators, the socio-economic and demographic factors of the workforce. A third area is the financial and regulatory environment – your payor mix, your state regulation, etc.
While looking to others for inspiration, it’d be foolish to assume that what worked for them will work for you.
Great Technology Necessary, But Not Sufficient
Oftentimes the emphasis in digital health technology selection seems to hinge (and then solely rely on) finding a superb technology.
While it is necessary to have a user-friendly, reliable, secure technology that seamlessly evolves, it is by far not sufficient.
What we have observed is that the quality of the technology only contributes 10-15% to the overall success. To ensure success, it is far more important for an integration of a new digital health solution to focus on a proper definition of the lack of workflows and processes and by the culture, namely the resistance to change. It’s the proper intersection of Culture, Process, and Technology.
The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” — John C. Maxwell
One of the biggest oversights in a digital health strategy is to overlook the importance of effectively addressing and managing the inevitable change.
First of, as alluded to in the points above, it is crucial to address the rollout of a new digital health solution as an organizational change management project, vs. a technology acquisition and deployment project.
Secondly, the digital health solutions themselves are continuously changing and the rate of change of improvements and of the breadth of applications is only going to increase exponentially over the next decade.
A digital health strategy must therefore also recognize the need to build the internal capability to evaluate, select, validate and adopt digital health innovation at an ever increasing speed.
Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.
A great digital health strategy is also brutally honest about the need to overcome the change resistance inherent in the healthcare culture.
Don’t get me wrong – it is truly a remarkable hallmark of our healthcare system that we are not changing treatments and care approaches willy-nilly overnight. After all, each decision a clinician makes will have an impact on patients’ lives, on their family, and on their future.
Yet we can also no longer afford to wait the reportedly average of 17 years for 50% of clinicians to adopt new care or treatment approaches proven in landmark clinical trials.
Thus a sound digital health strategy must take this reality into account and prescribe proven strategies to overcome those known challenges.
Have you fallen for any of those follies? Or did you discover others? Let me know.
Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.
Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.
Christian Milaster optimizes Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices as the interim Telehealth Program Director. He serves as a Digital Health & Telehealth Advisor to startups and established Health IT firms.
Christian is a Master Builder of Digital Health and Telehealth Programs and the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors, a boutique consultancy focused on enabling the effective delivery of extraordinary care through workflow optimization and the judicious use of technology.
Born, raised, and educated as an Engineer in Germany, Christian started his career at IBM Global Services before joining the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he worked for 12 years in various roles before launching Ingenium in 2012.