A strategic approach to digital transformation: 3 lessons learned | Joshua Titus

Hospitals and health systems can develop digital and mobile strategies that meet their unique needs.

Now that the immediate crush of COVID-19 has passed and the dash to implement and roll-out digital offerings has eased, healthcare leaders are beginning to do some soul-searching around their digital strategy.

Top of mind: “What are the digital capabilities that are most important to us—and how can we refine these capabilities for better patient experiences?”

COVID-19 underscored deficiencies in some health systems’ digital approach. For instance, in the rush to mobilize a digital presence, such as for virtual care, most health systems invested in at least three platforms; in fact, 20% of academic medical systems host eight platforms or more, one survey found.

Now, “platform sprawl” presents an obstacle to seamless digital experiences. It’s one reason why 77% of healthcare leaders say their goal is to move toward a single, fully integrated platform.

Taking a new look at digital investments and capabilities from the lens of what is working—and what isn’t—is vital to a truly transformational approach.

Here are three lessons learned in developing a digital and mobile strategy that best meets an organization’s unique needs.

Avoid a disjointed experience.

This occurs when lots of digital components are stitched together, but they don’t complement one another, resulting in a disjointed experience.

A thoughtful approach takes into account each aspect of the patient journey to consider: “How could we provide an end-to-end ‘digital companion’ for patients throughout their care experience?” It looks at the larger framework of a digital health platform along with the critical role of mobile engagement.

From there, teams can map out the services that a consumer might find most beneficial, from the ability to schedule services online or view wait times at urgent care clinics to wayfinding assistance beyond the hospital lobby, access to discharge instructions following a patient visit, communication with a nurse when questions arise, and online bill pay. This creates a cohesive experience that consumers crave, boosting engagement and digital retention rates.

At Piedmont Health in Atlanta, where the health system’s mobile platform is integrated with its Epic EHR, the ability to both integrate MyChart and add customized features resulted in a highly agile platform. This positioned Piedmont to respond quickly to changing needs during the pandemic. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, the health system used push notifications to alert consumers and enabled online registration as well as wayfinding assistance to vaccination sites. This gave consumers the information they needed at the touch of their smartphone while relieving pressure on customer call center staff.

Eliminate barriers to digital entry.

If a consumer wanted to use your organization’s mobile platform for wayfinding assistance, would that person need to remember their patient portal login?

It’s one thing to protect access to patient records and other sensitive information. It’s another to require users to authenticate their identity before checking wait times for the emergency department, searching for a physician, or seeking information about a particular service, such as the health system’s maternal health services.

Look for ways to ease access to digital information and services where it makes sense. Remember: Not everyone who accesses your mobile platform will be a patient with a portal username and password. The mobile platform should serve as a digital front door for everyone in your community.

When patients must enter a username and password, make it worth the effort. At University Health in San Antonio, patients can schedule appointments and access their medical records via the mobile platform, in addition to accessing a chatbot to answer questions when they arise or wayfinding assistance from their home to the point of care.

Bring the right people to the table for digital design.

One of the downsides to innovation during the height of the pandemic was the speed with which transformation needed to take place. For health systems that had not yet explored mobile platforms, this made it difficult to gather large-scale input on the features that would drive installs and keep consumers coming back.

Now, healthcare leaders have an important opportunity to involve multiple stakeholders—from marketing to patient access to employee and consumer focus groups—to help answer the question: “What mobile experience do consumers most want?”

They also can leverage employees to help promote use of the mobile platform by teaching consumers what they could gain by using the app, such as the ability to more effectively monitor their chronic condition or request a medication refill from their doctor.

At WakeMed Health & Hospitals in Raleigh, N.C., leaders held a “launch party” for their mobile platform where employees could try out the health system’s new digital platform and offer feedback. They also hung posters throughout facilities and in the parking garage and created TV commercials heralding the arrival of the app and included messaging in employee and physician newsletters about what to expect.

Today, WakeMed employees often serve as “mobile ambassadors,” showing patients how to use the app and all the features they can access. Even if your organization has rolled out its mobile solution, now might be the time for a “relaunch party” to underscore its value.

By taking a fresh look at digital investments from the viewpoint of the user experience and the impact for operations, health systems can more effectively adjust their approach for long-term engagement and value.

Joshua Titus is CEO and founder, Gozio Health.