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How Digital Transformation is Impacting Health Care 

Published on 2/14/2018

Digital disruption is changing the health care industry. Electronic health records have led to big data, and a shift in consumer behavior patterns means that patients want and expect easy, convenient access to their health data. Health care organizations must continually evolve at the rapid pace of technological advancement to provide high-quality, patient-centered care.  

At this stage, digital disruption is about shifting the way we think about technology and reshaping the way we provide the health care experience. Traditionally, from a hospital physician perspective, you expect the patient to come to you. Now, the patient and consumers expect the medical service to be provided to them when it’s convenient. Consumers have retail experience, and most health care organizations are trying to satisfy that requirement. That’s a big shift.  

As health care providers, we must figure out how we ingest types of data and create a customized experience. How I view the digital world that we live in: It’s creating a new type of experience that models what we encounter daily from a retail perspective.  

Strategies for navigating disruptive technologies 

When we talk about adapting to digital transformation, people sometimes think that means they must buy the latest and shiniest technology. We don’t have to do that to qualify as transformation.  

Transformation can be very simple, even occurring internally with our employees. Just like I want to create a retail-like experience with health care consumers, I want to do the same thing with my clinicians and physicians. For example: How easy is it for clinicians to get a hold someone at the IT help desk when there’s an issue? Is there a mobile app that they can use to communicate with IT support?  

At Children’s Mercy, what we’ve done is put together a platform that allows basic help desk functionality from a service perspective. Where a clinician would traditionally have to call the IT help desk and talk to a live operator, now they go through our mobile app or a computer for self-service functionality. To create more awareness and empower a one-to-many conversation, we’re also using social platforms from an enterprise standpoint, such as Yammer for Microsoft.  

We’re using all these different tool sets to create a different experience. When we think about that cultural shift – which is a transformation – it didn’t take a big purchase. It took rethinking how we operate, which ultimately created a different experience for the end user.  

Here’s another, external example: Children’s Mercy is a pediatric specialty hospital, and most of our patients are kids. Often, the parents might be millennials who have a different set of expectations when it comes to consumer experiences – even in a health care setting. They don’t want to talk to people to schedule an appointment or a basic consultation.  

To satisfy that need and meet those expectations, we rolled out a telemedicine platform that empowers patients and their guardians to consult with clinicians remotely via a secure messaging portal or through video conferencing. Additionally, a few years ago, we developed a cloud-based platform for remote patient monitoring. We give kids a tablet, and the parents can transmit data back to us all through cloud technology, so we’re better able to monitor behaviors for a child with cardiac issues. We’ve seen great benefits to that, including decreases in mortality rate.  

Those are just some examples of how we’re trying to do to create a better digital experience at Children’s Mercy. When I think about digital transformation, I think it’s important to realize that it’s about changing the culture first, and then understanding how to create the best experience using the technology that is reasonably available.  

Trends in digital disruption  

The health care industry is constantly evolving, and some of the technology that caused buzz in the past is now standard practice – or at least, it’s getting there. A few years ago, telemedicine would have been considered cutting edge. As consumer expectations shift, I believe health care organizations will find that telemedicine platforms are more of a prerequisite – a must-have to stay relevant.  

Right now, one of the greatest focuses is on consumer-driven health care – and for me, the most interesting part of that trend is where it intersects with the Internet of Things (IoT). The number of health care asks around IoT have grown exponentially recently, though we’re still in the early adoption phase.  

One key component at the crux of the consumerization of health care and IoT is data. As a whole, our industry will need leverage data to create a unique customer experience for clinicians and patients alike.  

We’re in the middle of a data explosion right now, but it’s important to recognize that it’s not about ingesting data – it’s about filtering out the relevant data.  

There are a couple buzzwords – cognitive computers, artificial intelligence (AI) – that are frequently referenced when we talk about health care trends. These are notable concepts, but we’re easily three to five years out from seeing AI applications adopted in a meaningful way across the industry. At Children’s Mercy, we’ve implemented intelligent documentation and are using machine learning – both branches of AI – but those elements are not ingrained across the enterprise. We’re still working through those health care processes and figuring out how to adapt to the workflow. Likewise, there are a lot of steps for the industry: We have to think through adapting these impressive new technologies to the EHR.  

Perhaps one of the most misused buzzwords is “digital transformation.” I’m not convinced that transformation must be this disruptive, foundation-shaking experience. Rather, I believe it should be an opportunity – one that can be interpreted in different ways at different organizations, but one that should ultimately lead us to a path that puts the health care consumer first.  

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