Note: This is the second article in a series on “AI in healthcare”. It is written as guidance for healthcare leaders. If you find this article insightful, why not discuss it with your leadership team? Ask: How can you apply this guidance to your organization to improve your long term financial sustainability and serve your patients better?

My first article on AI in Healthcare (“What’s a Leader to Do?”) covered the various elements of AI, provided some definitions (and “AIxplenations”) and provided guidance for healthcare leaders on the good news, the reality check, and the fine print.

In this week’s article my aim is to provider leaders with a set of pragmatic considerations and guidance to prepare for the impending tsunami of AI-enabled digital health technologies — the rAIvolution.

Here three pragmatic ways to prepare:

Innovation is not a Zero-Sum Game.

It is an investment in your future.

Given the slow pace of innovation adoption in healthcare, investment in innovation can feel like a luxury; that it is discretionary spending. The problem may be that by the time leaders realize it is not an optional investment, the underpinnings of their health center’s, clinic’s, or health system’s business model may no longer work to attract sufficient patients and clinicians and keep your organization financially afloat. You missed the (innovation) boat.

Of course, the past 30 years are littered with innovation that (initially) did not go anywhere and proved to be a waste of time and money. So I agree that it’s prudent to be cautionary and focused. But to avoid innovation altogether (the “head in the sand” approach) until it is “mature and proven” enough will not work.

At the fast pace of innovation we are now experiencing, what works will be used for a few years or even months and then replaced by something new, even better — which again brings some risk of failure.

It’s like trying to time the stock market which we’ve been told is impossible to do consistently. You cannot time innovation investment — but you can be smart and educated about it.

As the adage goes: The best time to invest in innovation was 10 years ago. The second best time is now.

Many healthcare leaders, it seems like, approach investments into innovation as a Zero Sum Game: we spend (“lose”) our money and the innovators get all our money (“win”).

But a wise and proper investment in innovation is to see and design the investment as a win-win-win-win. The patients win, the clinicians win, the organization wins – and yes, the innovators win, too.

After the mandatory mindset shift that investment in innovation can generate value beyond the investment (a positive ROI), the first step is to build yourself — without relying on a vendor — a solid investment case: a solid business case (how is this investment going to generate sustainable value?), a solid clinical case (is this good clinical science?), and a solid strategic case (how does this help us achieve our goals?).

Invest in the Right Digital Health Solutions

Because they will accelerate achieving your strategic goals.

Digital Health Solutions, including the ones containing AI, are not a panacea by any means, but if selected wisely and judiciously, should be selected for their proven ability to move the needle into the right direction for your organization’s key objectives.

One of the secrets is to invest in digital health solutions that are “bowling balls” — interventions that knock down multiple strategic objective pins.

How about a solution that improves productivity, improves satisfaction, reduces burnout, increases patient engagement, improves clinical outcomes, and makes it easier to recruit new clinicians. Why would you NOT invest in such a solution?

Maybe you’ve grown cynical because based on past bad experiences (e.g., painfully botched EHR implementations or EHR upgrades)? Maybe all you look at is cutting costs as a means to balance the books and eke out a meager profit? Or look for ways to directly increase revenue?

What’s needed is a mindset shift toward a systems perspective to assess the value of a solution. What is the direct value? What is the indirect value? How does this innovation help us upstream or what value does it generate downstream?

By the way, the solution I was thinking about is in the Behavioral Health Space using ambient listening and AI to automatically generate notes from the counseling sessions. No counselor chose the profession to spend hours documenting (to date a necessary evil of the job). Enter AI and innovation. Now the clinical notes are auto-generated, a friendly suggestion as to what was discussed open to light or heavy editing, additions or deletions.

Now that’s one big bowling ball that achieves all of the six benefits listed above.

Position IT as a Value Creation Center

…not as a Cost Center.

For too long the IT team has been treated like Cinderella, the begrudgingly adopted stepchild of healthcare.

Granted (in the past) managing and supporting has not been and should not have been the core competency of many healthcare delivery organizations except maybe those of academic medical centers supporting innovative research.

But now, the mastery of technology, of digital health innovation is becoming a game changer.

In the 1920, the brothers Mayo, esteemed surgeons and founders (with their father) of the Mayo Clinic, were reaching the limits of their ability to perform the surgeries the way they wanted. They did not have the tools.

So they hired local machinists to design and manufacture the special surgical tools they needed in order to perform surgeries that led to successful outcomes.

They also invented the first integrated medical record (in paper form) and invested in (and maintained) a pneumatic tube system to quickly share the full medical record between specialties.

They did not say “oh, we focus only on care delivery; we are no machinists or pneumatic tube system experts”.

No, they saw this as an integral part of their job to find the tools they needed to deliver extraordinary care.

One CIO in another industry once made the statement that “The closer something is to your core competency, the less likely you should outsource it.” I posit that in our time, the mastery of digital health technologies, especially those made powerful by AI, is crucial to maintain a competitive edge to offer the best possible care at the lowest cost.

From a leadership perspective, it all starts with accountability.

When your “Digital Health Support Center” led by your Chief Medical Digital Health Officer and their non-clinical counterpart (Chief Digital Health Officer) is designed as a Value Creation Center, it needs to demonstrate on an ongoing basis that its investments, the cost of implementation, and the cost of support need to create a positive ROI in terms of tangible (e.g., revenue), intangible (e.g., satisfaction) and indirect (e.g., reduced burnout) benefits.

Telehealth is your Dress Rehearsal

…for getting great at implementing Digital Health Solutions.

The secret to a successfully implemented digital health solutions (especially those that impact the delivery of care, i.e., that support diagnosis, care, and healing) is that the technology is empowered to fully deliver on its value proposition through proper workflows, proper policies, proper training, proper support, and — ultimately — proper change management.

The same principles apply to telehealth. You need to enroll and engage clinicians, nurses, patients, coders, patient support representatives in the change. You need to define all the proper workflows, provide dedicated support, prepare patients for their experience, provide adequate training for staff and clinicians, and much more.

With most telehealth technologies not being very capital intensive to implement, this is your perfect opportunity to hone those skills of putting digital health technologies into the hands of clinicians and patients.

As an organization you need to invest in getting better at the implementation of digital health solutions.

And Telehealth is your chance to practice, your dress rehearsal.

Preparing for the rAIvolution

In my opinion AI is still very far away from really disrupting or even upending our lives.

But the beauty and the “downside” of AI is that it will greatly accelerate the pace of innovation. If we have had a hard time catching up with the $110B worth of Digital Health innovation over the past 10 years, how can we keep up with a 5x, 10x increase in innovation speed?

To quote another adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.”

I.e., to master the adoption of digital health innovation an AI-enabled solutions, you take it one innovation at a time (starting, for example, with video visits, RPM, and chat bots). Hone your skills, Perfect your time. Hire experts (like us 😉 who know how to do this well — and invest in your staff to learn those skills through training and by working with outside experts (like us ;-).

1. Look at the Innovation as an investment in a win-win-win-win.

2. Invest in the Digital Health Solutions that are Bowling Balls.

3. Create a Digital Health Support team as a Value Creation Center.

4. Double-Down on perfecting your Telehealth Services to get prepared.

With these four mindset shifts you have the best chance to reap the highest benefits from the rAIvolution.

Want to discuss positioning IT as a Value Creation Center? Finding your Digital Health Bowling Balls? Perfect your Telehealth Implementation approach? Then set up a call with Christian for a chat. As value-based consultants, we are committed to achieving a positive ROI in return for your investment in our expertise.

To receive articles like these in your Inbox every week, you can subscribe to Christian’s Telehealth Tuesday Newsletter.

Subscribe to Telehealth Tuesday

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.