The Roadblocks to Hospital Digital Transformation
In 2019, healthcare made Forbes’s list of top three industries in dire need of digitization. The inclusion of healthcare in such a ranking may come as something of a surprise. Healthcare is of critical importance, and in areas such as medicine and robotics, it has made incredible progress. But digital transformation involves not only advances in technology. Instead, it signifies using technology to re-imagine the entire organization: its processes and operations, the way it receives and distributes information, and the way it uses data. By this measure, healthcare falls woefully behind, and as of 2023, only 7% of healthcare companies report to have “gone digital,” as opposed to 15% of companies in other industries.
In a complex ecosystem such as a hospital, such a comprehensive transformation might seem impossibly difficult. Yet given the unquestionable benefits of digital transformation, hospitals will surely be looking for ways to rethink operations, improve efficiency, and reduce human error through the use of technology. Being aware of the roadblocks that are specific to the industry may help hospitals to take the first steps towards digital transformation.
Despite its ability to eliminate manual processes and reduce human error, efforts towards hospital digital transformation can sometimes be less than welcome to hospital staff. In such a high-pressure environment, a process that feels familiar may seem more desirable than something new, even if the new process is superior. Additionally, hospitals may lack the right culture for digital transformation – one that is open-minded, eager to learn, and excited about taking things to the next level. Leaders need to start from the top of the organization to ensure that hospital culture is geared towards the acceptance of digital transformation. Effective change management leadership is essential: listening to employees, understanding their concerns, and communicating change clearly can help to set the stage for transformation and work through staff objections.
Prompting reluctant hospital staff to re-think operations with the adoption of digital tools is difficult enough. Getting patients to do the same – especially the elderly, who make up the majority of hospital patients ¬– may seem hopeless. Digital literacy rates are much lower in the older population, and so hospitals will need to keep any patient-facing digital systems as simple and user-friendly as possible.
There are numerous regulations around patient data privacy, which may hamper the ways in which hospitals can share information. Any adoption of technology that sends or receives patient data will need to comply with these standards, and thus hospital leaders will need to ensure that any new tools or processes stay in line with regulations.
Because the stakes are so high for hospitals, there may be less room for experimenting with new technologies or processes. For other industries, a major error may result in the loss of a customer. For hospitals, it could mean the loss of a patient. It is understandable, therefore, that hospitals might feel the need for more caution in making substantial changes to the way they operate. Hospital leaders will need to ensure that new processes are supported by robust technology that will demonstrably improve efficiency.
Where to start?
The idea of digital transformation may leave the impression of fully integrated, comprehensive change that occurs all at once. But as other industries have demonstrated, small steps towards transformation are highly effective. Identifying the biggest pain points – patient safety, staff frustration, and areas of waste, for example – can offer hospital leaders a good idea of where to start. Knowing the roadblocks will ensure that hospitals can effectively prepare for the change. Finally, asking the right questions about new digitized systems and processes can ensure that digital transformation will lead to real improvement.