3 Pitfalls To Avoid During A Digital Transformation

Featured in Becker’s Health IT

COVID-19 sped up digital transformation by several years, a McKinsey & Company analysis found. Now, as healthcare organizations determine their digital path forward, leaders must consider: “What are the right areas for digital investment—and how can we drive value?” 

Healthcare is ripe for digital transformation, from new modes of care to the use of artificial intelligence to strengthen operational efficiency. But even before the pandemic, leaders often found they weren’t getting the desired return from their investments. Now, as COVID-19 tightens hospital margins, leaders face intense pressure to ensure the digital investments they make strengthen health outcomes, efficiency and their competitive position.  

In our experience, there are three common pitfalls that can derail efforts to drive value from digital transformation.

Pitfall No. 1: Losing sight of long-term strategy. COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way in which consumers access care and engage with providers, with an emphasis on digital communications and self-service. It also accelerated the move toward a remote work environment for front office and back-end staff. Some of the trends we’re seeing are likely to “stick” long past the pandemic. That’s why healthcare leaders must develop their digital strategy with the long view in mind. To do so, they must take a hard look at the digital factors for success that will not only get them through the COVID-19 crisis, but also position their organizations to continue to evolve in a post-pandemic future.

For example, before the pandemic hit, Texas Health Resources set a big-vision goal of creating a completely connected consumer experience by 2026. It’s an initiative that would empower the health system to anticipate consumers’ needs and create a more seamless patient experience—two value differentiators in today’s market and for the future. To achieve this vision, Texas Health Resources created a single patient ID for each of its 7 million patients across 27 hospitals and more than 250 clinics. It then used predictive analytics to look for patterns in consumer behavior that could identify consumers’ preferences and predict their health needs.

Taking a forward-looking view to digital investment superpowered Texas Health Resources’ response to COVID-19. Data scientists apply predictive analytics to the data gathered from all of the health system’s information platforms to forecast when the system will experience a COVID-19 surge, which facilities patients will go to, and how to adjust staffing and supply chain to meet consumer demand. Data analytics also gives leaders an edge in winning back customer business by pinpointing where consumers’ journeys were interrupted during the pandemic and how to bring them back for care.

Pitfall No. 2: Implementing siloed technology. Just as COVID-19 ignited collaboration in care, with hospitals, public health agencies and government sharing data to hone their response, it also fueled efforts to break down internal information silos in healthcare organizations. But while a McKinsey analysis projects that healthcare could create more than $300 billion in value each year by leveraging data to improve quality of care and reduce healthcare expenditures, most electronic health records weren’t built with data sharing in mind. When hospitals struggle to tap into internal and external information systems, they miss critical opportunities to use data to improve care for at-risk populations and meet their community’s needs. 

Consider the speed with which health systems cobbled together telehealth platforms during the pandemic. Today, some platforms still are not well integrated with existing data systems, such as the EHR. This limits the ability of healthcare stakeholders to aggregate and centralize patient data. It also raises the potential for breakdowns in patient safety and care.

To drive value from digital investments, hospitals must develop a thoughtful plan for integrating digital investments with existing IT systems. They must make it easier for providers to access actionable insight from digital technologies as well as legacy systems at the point of care. They also must examine what digital integration should look like in physical facilities, especially when provision of care is less dependent on the four walls of a hospital or clinic. A more modern viewpoint: integrating digital technologies into hospital services, operations and processes, according to Deloitte’s Digital Hospital of the Future report.

Pitfall No. 3: Providing staff with a partial view. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we still don’t have a complete picture of the demographic factors that make some populations more susceptible to infection. That’s due in large part to breakdowns in data capture, from demographic data to absence of medical data that can alert staff to a patient’s existing conditions at the point of care. Duplicate records also remain a major challenge: A Pew Trust analysis estimates up to half of patient records exchanged between hospitals and other care facilities are not correctly linked. Even in facilities where an individual has previously received treatment, one in five records may not be accurately matched.

As digital transformation ramps up, ensuring that staff have a 360-degree view of patients at the point of care, when minutes count, will be critical to achieving digital care’s value proposition. At Northwell Health, a two-year journey to improve data integrity in patient medical records gives clinicians a better line of sight into patients’ conditions. It also significantly reduces the risk of claim denials that resulted from inaccurate data capture. Prior to this initiative, 17% of patient records at this 23-hospital system were incorrectly linked. Another 700 potential duplicate records were created daily. Northwell Health:

  • Used data algorithms to reduce potential duplicates by more than half
  • Invested resources to resolve existing duplicate records
  • Augmented its master person index with a referential matching solution that fills in demographic data gaps, such as missing addresses or phone numbers, from a verified data source

The impact: Northwell Health eliminated duplicate records at the point of registration and successfully addressed its backlog of duplicate claims. In doing so, the health system removed the clinical impact of duplicate records. Northwell Health also resolved 87% of claim denials that resulted from mismatched records, improving cash flow.

Making Digital Transformation a Value-Add for All

COVID-19 prompted a wave of digital innovation across the industry. The digital advancements seen in the past year hold strong promise for improved care, more efficient processes and a more seamless patient experience. However, prospering in this new normal requires not just a road map for digital innovation, but also a careful eye toward avoiding the pitfalls that can derail digital value. Making sure digital investments strategically position organizations for the future, fit seamlessly with existing systems and empower clinicians to deliver the right care at the right time are three great places to start.