The barriers to digital transformation in healthcare

As hospitals and health systems continue to accelerate digital transformation throughout their organizations, many do not consider the required changes needed — people, technology, culture and processes — for digital projects to be successful, Kathy Narain, chief digital officer of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Hoag Hospital, told Becker's.

Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting group, in 2020 found that successful digital transformations are rare and that across all industries, only about 30 percent of digital transformation efforts are deemed successful. 

"The stat does not surprise me in terms of the percentage that finds success," Ms. Narain said. "That said, the remaining 70 percent face many barriers that are not easy to overcome. When an organization decides to digitally transform, it's not just about forming a team to focus on digital projects. To be successful, it requires changes to people, technology, culture and processes."

Ms. Narain said the challenges of digital transformation can be daunting but that the largest barriers center around leadership, legacy systems and financial impact. 

"Without buy-in from the executive team, who play important roles in other functions of the organization and a clear vision for how technology can improve outcomes and place us meeting future needs of the customer, transformation initiatives suffer," she said.  

Cost is also a huge barrier to digital transformation efforts; health systems may be reluctant to invest in new technology, as it can be expensive. This is more prominent as the economy continues to falter and as hospitals are dealing with negative margins

"It is costly to transform and it takes time. so that investment feels very much like you are spending and not fully seeing the changes take effect as fast as you might have imagined," Ms. Narain said. "The ability to stick to the plan and still have the financial backing to do the changes needed is hard for many companies."

In the healthcare industry, many hospitals and health systems are still relying on complex legacy systems. Investing in digital transformation means changing the way workflows or processes work and there can be resistance and challenges to that. 

"Trying to unify, modernize and centralize technology systems and data is a multiyear investment fraught with moments of frustration," Ms. Narain said. "You have to be able to work through that and maintain the backing of the executive team to continue forward as it also means changes to the processes happening today."

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