Cultural change can be the hardest part of digital transformation in healthcare. To successfully drive this change, healthcare leaders need to have clarity of purpose, empower their people through ongoing training and education, and adopt more agile ways of working for continuous improvement.
Here’s a common fallacy I encounter during discussions on digital transformation. Let’s say you have something analog – for example, a paper patient record – and turn it into an electronic format. If you keep doing everything you used to do on paper, but now digitally, that’s not digital transformation. That’s simply digitizing an existing process. True digital transformation goes a step further: it reimagines what the healthcare experience could be for both patients and providers using digital technologies – which may involve entirely new processes and ways of working.
Returning to the paper chart example above, simply digitizing a paper record would miss the opportunity to integrate data from the patient’s electronic health record with other information sources – such as imaging studies, pathology data, genomic analysis, and patient reported data – to generate insights at scale. The impact of integrating information from various digital sources is easily seen at multidisciplinary tumor board meetings, where clinicians can review the longitudinal patient record at a glance. In a study conducted by Philips together with our innovation partner Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, we demonstrated improved clinician experience in discussing complex tumor board cases, while reducing the overall time needed to discuss the materials for each case by 24% . That’s digital transformation – a better experience with reduced operational friction.
Since digital transformation goes beyond simple digitization of current processes, the journey is non-trivial. As I discussed in a previous post, hospitals need secure and interoperable digital platforms to liberate data from silos and make it flow more freely. Yet technology is only part of the solution. Healthcare professionals need the right skills to feel confident and competent using new digital technologies. Different teams need to be on board with new, cross-functional ways of working.
It’s these human and cultural aspects of digital transformation that can make or break its success. Case in point, in a 2020 survey by Bain & Company, only 1% of healthcare executives said their digital investments had fully delivered on their expectations . It led the authors to recommend that leaders make change management as much a priority as the technological aspects of digital transformation. I certainly agree with that! Digital transformation is about people, processes, and platforms – in that order.
So, what can healthcare leaders do to bring their physicians and staff along on this journey? Based on my experience spearheading innovation at various organizations, I see successful digital transformation in healthcare being driven by four cultural tenets.