What Healthcare IT Leaders Need to Know about Digital Transformation
Understanding the challenges of digital transformation, and how to avoid mistakes, can drive improved productivity, satisfaction, quality of care, and reimbursement.
- By Mona Abutaleb
- August 30, 2021
Digital transformation in healthcare -- the integration of digital technology into all areas of a healthcare practice -- has a significant impact on how these organizations operate and deliver value to patients. It’s also not a simple task. Cybersecurity has become a critical challenge to digital transformation success, with 70 percent of healthcare organizations experiencing a significant security incident last year according to the HIMSS 2020 Cybersecurity Survey. Telehealth and remote work requirements accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic have posed additional challenges.
For many healthcare organizations, technology can feel more like a burden than a benefit. Their focus is caring for patients, and technology simply needs to serve that purpose. Here are a few key areas where digital transformation can be the solution -- if it’s done right.
Moving to the Cloud is Just the First Step
It’s easy to confuse the real work of digital transformation with simply moving to the cloud, but that’s the relatively easy part. Real digital transformation requires cultural change throughout the organization. This is one of the reasons the healthcare market has lagged behind other industries in digital adoption.
Cultural change means sometimes walking away from long-standing patient workflows and processes in favor of new practices that improve workflows and systems integration for better practice and patient outcomes. An example is using technology to build on the telehealth initiatives that the pandemic motivated. These changes can help providers meet patients’ desires for more convenient and personalized care, letting them securely and digitally share information with providers regarding their conditions, results, and progress.
In 2020, healthcare providers quickly implemented what were, in many instances, suboptimal telehealth solutions to get through the remote environments required by the pandemic. Many of these procedures were incomplete or lacked the level of security required to protect patient data. Now is the time to step back, assess what was done, and define new processes that best suit the needs of your practice’s processes and that can improve the patient experience -- all with the backdrop of ensuring security around personal health information.
Go Beyond Telemedicine
Telehealth is more than telemedicine. Digital transformation supports a wide range of telehealth and remote services, including videoconferencing, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and landline and wireless communications. Healthcare IT teams have a remarkable opportunity to incorporate what they learned during the pandemic and act on well-planned digital transformation initiatives that respond to patients’ new expectations for convenient, quality telehealth services.
Although the ability to visit a doctor virtually is a step forward, there are many advances that practices can incorporate into their day-to-day work to improve patient care. Examples include electronic pill bottles to monitor and ensure adherence to medications, specialist consultations with primary care doctors in near real-time, and, of course, better integration of these technologies with electronic health records (EHR) systems. This kind of digital transformation reduces the labor involved with entering patient information and helps support population health initiatives, particularly in developing communities with limited access to healthcare.
Connect Technology to Quality of Care
Healthcare providers may see IT and patient care as separate issues, but digital transformation has a significant impact on how healthcare organizations deliver and are reimbursed for better patient outcomes.
Value-based care is a fundamental change to the way care has traditionally been delivered. As with many things in the technology space, it centers around the ability to capture and report on data. Organizations need to demonstrate that the quality of care and the way they delivered care at a lower cost was better for the individual, and better for the population.
For healthcare IT professionals, the challenge is how to systematically deliver information rather than just data because data alone can’t improve outcomes. We have to build systems that allow for data correlation to demonstrate that the organization has improved the quality, rather than the quantity, of care to patients and populations.
As part of this change, healthcare organizations also need to implement systems that help them integrate and correlate patient data such as demographics, psychographics, social media activity, behavioral patterns, clinical history, office interactions, etc. This expanded information set lets organizations generate 360-degree views of their patients and populations, along with the insight to deliver value-based care that is truly patient-centric.
Think Security First
Finally -- and perhaps most important -- security is the basis for the trust between provider and patient, so it’s an absolutely crucial foundation for any digital transformation discussion. The healthcare industry continues to be one of the most-targeted industries by cyberattackers who are identifying opportunities to breach and exploit providers’ health IT systems.
As IT leaders research the move to the cloud, they need to dig deeply into the security foundation of their cloud provider and ensure they understand the unique importance and requirements for healthcare hosting. HITRUST CSF certification is the gold standard for compliance to HIPAA, as well as more than 400 other global security standards, and is one of the first things to look for, as well as ongoing, updated security detection, protection, and response protocols. Healthcare organizations should look for a cloud provider that offers a fully managed network operations and security operations center to ensure their digital transformation foundation meets performance, security, and compliance requirements.
Look for a Partner
When you’re ready to dig into digital transformation, explore your options with a knowledgeable IT services partner who can help you get to the cloud and meet your providers’ and patients’ technology requirements. Taking a holistic and long-term view that incorporates the lessons mentioned here will help you avoid unwanted surprises and find savings by combining initiatives and services.
Digital transformation in healthcare isn’t a simple task. However, the results in terms of improved productivity and practice workflows; reduced frustration for patients, providers, and staff; and the peace of mind of knowing that data is secure and the business is protected make it well worth the effort.
Mona Abutaleb is CEO at Med Tech Solutions (MTS). In her career, Abutaleb has served as CEO of mindSHIFT Technologies, a managed IT and cloud services provider. After guiding mindSHIFT through its acquisition by Ricoh, she served as the executive vice president and general manager of Ricoh Global Services. Since joining MTS in 2019, Abutaleb has led the company to become a top-ranked IT services firm for healthcare organizations, enabling its clients to focus on delivering the best possible healthcare outcomes for their patients and customers. You can reach the author via email or LinkedIn.