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To ensure digital transformation success, prepare for the long haul

Digital transformation is not a marathon but a series of sprints that have different objectives and measures of success.
By admin
Mar 22, 2022, 9:00 AM

If any industry knows that going digital can take time, it’s healthcare. For many health systems, the implementation of on-premises electronic medical record systems was a multi-year affair.

Digital transformation is similarly a long-term effort. No health system can simply flip a switch and “be” digital. But while an EMR install could be described as a single long race, healthcare leaders should think of digital transformation as a relay made up of a series of sprints, each with differing objectives and success metrics. 

This piece, the third in a series on digital transformation, will cover how to set goals and measure progress for digital initiatives. Part one looks at common digital transformation pitfalls, while part two considers the impact on the clinical and patient experience.

Most organizations recognize that their “ideal digital state” is years away, according to Deloitte. In a survey of healthcare technology leaders, 52% said that the ideal state is at least three years away, while another 20% are still in the planning stages. Only 60% said their organizations had a well-defined digital transformation strategy.

Related story: Part 1 – Overcoming 3 common digital transformation pitfalls

The biggest barriers, these technology leaders said, are talent, budget, and identifying the right key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure return on investment. Determining ROI is critical; even though 2 in 3 leaders said budgets for digital transformation are on the rise, their initiatives must compete with other capital projects for increasingly scarce funds. 

Mature digital transformation efforts see both the forest and the trees. McKinsey cites the example of UCLA Health, which set long-term goals for its digital initiatives but focused initially on three use cases deemed likely to bring high value for a low cost with quick execution: Reducing payment denials, improving depression screening rates, and optimizing blood utilization. 

Early success that can be easily measured helps to pave the way for broader initiatives – particularly those that span the care continuum and would otherwise be constrained by the limited budgets of individual departments. This also frames digital transformation not as a grandiose implementation with a drop-dead deadline but, rather, as many smaller projects defined by interim goals that target a minimum viable product. In this context, digital transformation can be viewed as a series of sprints – which are less likely to require executive supervision and approval than big-bang efforts.

Another important consideration is to look beyond point-of-care initiatives such as clinical decision support or medical image analysis. While these efforts are valuable, Harvard Business Review points out that addressing operational decision-making capabilities can also improve care quality and efficiency – and show that the benefits of digital transformation extend throughout the organization. Examples of operational initiatives include streamlining patient flow (admissions, discharges, and transfers), predicting and proactively addressing staffing shortages, optimizing schedules in high-demand units such as surgery, imaging, or the ICU, and improving supply chain management. 


Brian Eastwood is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience covering healthcare IT and healthcare delivery. He also writes about enterprise IT, consumer technology, and corporate leadership.

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