Strategies for Closing the Digital Transformation Gap in Healthcare

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Read more about author Sridhar Yerramreddy.

There’s no need to sugarcoat it – in the U.S., a widening digital gap is carving up the healthcare industry. AVIA Research recently found that only 10-40% of health systems are actively making a direct financial impact in areas where digital transformation can make a difference.

In practice, the disparity looks like this: Non-traditional high-tech players like Amazon are wooing patients and revenue streams with their smart devices, patient-friendly telemedicine options, and advanced digital health solutions. Many traditional providers struggle to catch up, despite their new investments in telehealth and online scheduling technologies. Not to mention, there are those who aren’t even part of the conversation, bringing up the rear with their overuse of manual fax machines and inefficient paperwork. 

As a tech innovator selling AI to medical groups and hospitals, my company’s team supports healthcare organizations intending to drive their digital growth, and we educate them about how technology can alleviate their challenges. We often see resentment of change, as well as doubts about how digital transformation can work for health organizations, not against them. This means that as technology vendors and innovators, we must not act as sales people, but as advisors and collaborators to create a more equitable digital transformation for all providers.

Why the Digital Divide in Healthcare Is Widening

Communicating with them daily, we encounter many organizations that are still heavily burdened with manual tasks. Prescription refills, patient calls, and lab result transfers are often handled manually. In addition, many organizations still rely on printing documents, and tedious processes like manual signaturing lurk in the corners of even the most connected providers.

These scenarios starkly contrast with the opportunities that digital transformation offers. For one, many technologies and online customer engagement tools help medical facilities bring in more money by reaching more patients and delivering their services faster. Fewer physician visits and hospitalizations, along with lower patient retention and care delivery costs, are another critical selling point for many early adopters. 

Why Isn’t Everyone Jumping on the Digital Transformation Bandwagon?

During initial meetings, our representatives often ask, “What is the status of your digitization? What’s stopping you from achieving 70% more productivity through automation and freeing up your workforce?” Often, the responses reflect two scenarios: 

  1. Insufficient knowledge and understanding of how AI-driven tools work. While leaders acknowledge that technology can help, they lack clarity about what technologies they need and what immediate and long-term benefits they can expect.
  2. A feeling of being overwhelmed with change. What if the use of new IT makes practice management even more complex? The press and medical literature are full of reports of IT-related burnout among clinicians. In addition, there is a shortage of qualified IT personnel in the healthcare sector.

If we want to reduce the digital health disparity, we need to focus on bringing education, advocacy, and support to those having a harder time implementing digital transformation.

Disseminating Public Knowledge on Digital Transformation

Patient demands are changing rapidly, and conservative customers are being replaced by a highly digitized generation ready to innovate. But as promising new tools are popping up like mushrooms, it is difficult for busy leaders to stay on top of it all and make the right investment decisions. This is where innovators must act as AI advocates and consultants.

New market studies, patient surveys, and health tech research must reach the broader discourse. For example, that the majority of patients book an appointment online rather over the phone is a well-known fact – but what exactly differentiates a well-designed system from others in the eyes of patients? And what actions in communication or during the patient journey can help prevent readmissions? These are essential insights that can help organizations make better investment decisions.

As innovators within the AI software niche, we sit on massive amounts of valuable data. Our goal should be to democratize this data. So, let’s disseminate our data insights. For example, we could do so via thought leadership articles on platforms like LinkedIn, website blogs, or live discussions during networking events. Understanding new patient behaviors, digital transformation trends, and market insights empowers practices to make better decisions and move forward more quickly with transformation.

Why Advice During the Buying Process Is Key

Being a technology and decision-making consultant means not just promoting a product – it also means stepping up as an honest consultant. If an innovator talks about an organization that has clung to manual processes, they should resist the urge to push their entire technology stack across in the first meeting. Initial conversations must be about assessing and understanding the specific needs, goals, and challenges of the organization or person they are connecting with. This can be done by asking questions, conducting informational interviews, and gathering information on the state of the organization’s digital transformation, the tools they already use, their challenges, and so on.

In the second step, as consultants, we need to be able to evaluate different technology options and recommend the most appropriate tools based on the client’s needs, existing IT infrastructure, and available budget. Further, we shouldn’t be afraid to include product experts in these conversations or to offer customized workshops for an organization’s employees. The more we step in as a consultant, the easier it will be to gain executive buy-in or find technology advocates across the healthcare organization who are key to pushing digital transformation forward organically.

Additional Support During Implementation and Utilization

Open dialogue dispels stereotypes about IT tools. The key is not just to kick off the digital transformation but to see it through to success. Here, customer support, onboarding, and resources for employees and managers are critical.

It is common practice for us to organize several training programs for employees and provide digital manuals and self-learning resources. We also offer a 24/7 helpdesk that can solve technical issues, which greatly relieves our customers.

Finally, showing additional support is not just about technical use. As digital transformation partners, we must help clients collect, analyze, and transform their new-won data insights. After all, what’s the point of collecting all this data on patient engagement, marketing, reviews, etc., if you don’t know how to optimize your processes later on? Tools can be used incorrectly or inadequately without support, data can be lost, and frustration with technology can snowball quickly. 

Customer success managers don’t just have to consider whether everything is going well. They also need to be brave enough to ask the right questions about how the tools work, what data the company finds, and what role it plays in strategic goal planning. Monthly check-in points and quarterly assessments between healthcare clients and the customer success team are an integral part of not just managing but also taking advantage of digital transformation.

As an industry, we need to work on the biases and associated frustrations and fears decision-makers have towards AI and automation. Rather than being a sales rep offering a new tool, our job is to ethically drive digital transformation forward. Our goal should not be to sell as much as possible but to offer the data and innovation insights we can access. Our customers aren’t mere customers. They are partners, and our mission is to help them serve their patients better.