10 hospital execs define 'digital transformation'

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"Digital transformation" is a term used often in healthcare, though its meaning differs from organization to organization. Here, 10 executives from health systems across the country define what the term means to them.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief innovation officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): At Geisinger, digital transformation leverages technology to fundamentally improve patient experience and care delivery. Technology is an enabler, not the strategy. We design the transformation initiative prior to selecting the technology solution. This approach ensures that we are not "digitalizing" our current state. Instead, we are striving to make health and healthcare easier, better and more efficient.

John Lock. Chief digital transformation officer at MedStar Health (Columbia, Md.): Digital transformation is not about just implementing digital products, but about becoming a digital-first organization — what some might label "being digital." Many legacy organizations were "analog- first," not "digital-first." Put another way, to compete with or act/react more like a digital-first organization, you have to transform the organization along with the adoption of technologies, focusing on areas like understanding patient, clinician and caregiver journeys, points of intersection and collision and culture. The organization must be willing to reexamine its processes, always looking for opportunities to simplify and optimize as digital technology is put in place. At least based upon my experience, the transformation is 75 percent organizational change management and 25 percent technology.

Gail Keyser, BSN, RN. Co-interim CIO at Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison, N.J.): Digital transformation within the healthcare industry has enabled our patients, caregivers and community members to change the interactions within healthcare. Transitioning from in-person encounters, digital technologies enable healthcare providers to provide personalized services, access to research, connect supportive community services and enable access to your local care provider from anywhere in the world. Digital technologies have evolved to allow our providers to remotely monitor and manage patients’ healthcare needs in a way that fits seamlessly into their lifestyles, keeping the patient and their personalized care needs in focus.    

Myra Davis. Chief information innovation officer at Texas Children's Hospital (Houston): Digital transformation is the ability to successfully enable technology solutions that will provide measurable results as they pertain to optimizing operating models, instilling digital competency in the use of the technology and improved outcomes for patients and families. 

Tom Barnett. Chief information and digital officer of Baptist Memorial Health Care (Memphis, Tenn.): With respect to healthcare, I see digital transformation as a formula:  simplified patient journey + streamlined employee workflow = a memorable experience. The ability to distill the patient touch points down to only what is necessary, make the behind-the-scenes workflow less cumbersome (reducing silos and friction points) and accelerate the entire throughput with carefully selected and complementary technology is the essence of digital transformation. Process is always upstream from technology, and any digital effort should take that into consideration.

Jon Manis. CIO of Christus Health (Irving, Texas): For most, "digital" has become synonymous with immediate access to services via smartphones or other mobile devices.  Digital transformation, then, is much less about technology and much more about enabling access to personalized services when, where and how it is most convenient for the consumer of services, not the provider of services. The effort and investment required to provide immediate access to prioritized, personalized and preferentialized health and wellness services are really what defines our industry’s digital transformation.

Andy Lehman. CIO at Kettering (Ohio) Health: Transformation implies an order of magnitude improvement in performance, as opposed to incremental improvement. Digital infers the convergence of technologies in which the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Thus, digital transformation unlocks breakthrough or innovative business performance through the synergistic use of technology.  Said another way, digital transformation is what turns the lead into gold.

Sunil Dadlani. CIO at Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J.): Digital transformation is centered on the consumer. Essentially, it really refers to how an organization redefines its business model to meet the shifts in consumer needs, leveraging digital technologies, processes and people to reimagine how it delivers value with its products or services.

At Atlantic Health System, we’ve pursued digital transformation across multiple streams — clinical, operational, financial and patient experience and engagement. A great example is the digital vaccine card and health pass we implemented earlier this year, a tool which continues to gain importance in consumers' lives, from going to event venues to simply eating out, in some places. Other examples lie in making the experience of accessing healthcare easier — two-way patient messaging for appointment reminders, bill pay, omnichannel touch points. On the operational and financial side, we've implemented cloud-based enterprise resource planning and financial systems, and state-of-the-art cloud-based enterprise data and analytical platforms. These systems allow us to not only nimbly act based on consumer-driven data, but to make predictive decisions based on trends.

Mark Kandrysawtz. Chief innovation officer at WellSpan Health (York, Pa.): Digital transformation is the ongoing effort to reinvent ourselves for the digital economy. We’re focused on business and clinical transformation — both to rise to meet changing consumer expectations and to gain efficiency, reliability and scale. At WellSpan, we think about digital transformation as a continuum that moves us from digitization to automation and beyond.

Kathy Azeez-Narain. Chief digital officer at Hoag Hospital (Newport Beach, Calif.): I believe digital transformation occurs when technology, humans, data, user experience and solving a key problem through digital products meet. Not only do they meet, but they integrate into your organization in a way that changes how it functions. You see operations, culture, processes, patient feedback and experience change. You also see a talent shift since the majority of that transformation is not even about the technology but also about new skill sets that are brought into the company. 

Many believe that by buying the software or integrating systems we are moving into the digital age, but for transformation to take place, it goes beyond that. You need to see the new processes, tools, systems and people that are being used to drive new experiences and solve problems that exist in the organization through digital experiences. These experiences become a core part of the business versus just a project.

There are four areas I would look to when trying to bring digital transformation to life. The first: What is the business strategy? It can’t be "we need this tool" but has to focus on the strategic evolution of the organization, such as "how do we bring digital access to care to life that is as strong as the physical locations we have?" The second is that consultants are great, but to really drive the change needed, you have to have internal stakeholders that understand how the business currently functions and what changes will need to be made to be part of the story.

The third is including customers in your definition of what digital transformation will look like for your organization and making those outcomes part of what defines success. It cannot only be based on what internal stakeholders think. Lastly, focus on change management and process changes that includes both helping employees get on board with the changes that are coming and operating with the processes that digital will require, such as agile decision-making, product thinking and user experience. While there is no easy path to driving digital transformation, being realistic about what that journey requires and will take is really important for organizations to succeed at it. 

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