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Digital Health – Is Healthcare Ready? Are You and Your Organization Ready?

We hear the term “digital” used everywhere. In the healthcare sector, we’re told that we must get to digital in 3 years or less or we’ll become irrelevant. So, what is Digital Health and how do we become a Digital Health System?

A Google search for “define digital health” yields 254 billion responses. Toward the top of the list is Wikipedia’s definition, “Digital health is the convergence of digital technologies with health, healthcare, living, and society to enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery and make medicine more personalized and precise.” Good but not great.

When I was struggling to define clinical transformation which I believe is the goal of Digital Health, a Board member at a former employer provided the best definition – “Hardwiring STEEEP” – where “hardwiring” meant changing the culture and “STEEEP” is an acronym for the IOM’s 6 Aims: safe, timely, efficient, effective, equitable, and patient centered care.

At the foundation of Digital Health is the generation, capture, and appropriate use of what Ginni Rometty, the current chair, president, and CEO of IBM, said is our new and greatest natural resource – data. And she reminded us that like all natural resources, it must be refined to be useful.

Digital health requires harnessing the energy from the data tsunami that includes all sources, not just provider-controlled databases. We need to synthesize data from existing sources and use patient generated data, social determinants of health, census information, AI engines, and so many other sources. A daunting effort.

Merger and acquisition activity, seen as a boon to the healthcare sector, has added challenges for HIT leaders. Having more partners and larger scale is appealing on the surface, but functioning as a single enterprise is incredibly difficult. Interoperability is simply not where it needs to be. The Patients and their Families expect our enterprises to function as a system, not just a loose confederation of well-intentioned collaborators.

My family recently moved from Dallas to Austin and I reached out to a communications giant to provide the services we needed for our new home. This company is part of an industry that has been involved in mergers and acquisitions for years, just like we are seeing in the healthcare sector. The experience hyperactivated my empathy receptors. A single enterprise with hundreds, if not thousands of parts tested my mettle, most of the details of which I will spare you. I desperately wanted someone to take charge and tell the subparts of the communications giant what to do next. Instead I had to call 9 different phone numbers each for a different help desk, none of which could do everything I needed, work with 6 subcontractors independently, download 2 apps for 2 portals to manage the same services for which I had no portal in Dallas, and wait 16 days for all the changes to be completed. I couldn’t help but think about what our Patients and Families, our physicians, and other partners must feel like when they become mired in our systems.

The 2 biggest challenges for digital health are 1) easy, real-time access to actionable, secured, and trusted data and 2) activity coordination between participants on the healthcare continuum on behalf of the Patients and Families. Patients and Families expect us to

  • solve the interoperability problem,
  • function as a coordinated, collaborative collection of health and care professionals,
  • personalize their journey based on aspirations, not just conditions,
  • ensure that handoffs between participants on the healthcare continuum occur flawlessly,
  • to get real value from their experience.

If you and your organization cannot meet these expectations, are you really providing a true digital experience? If so, thank you. If not, please stay tuned. Future blogs will deal with becoming a Digital Health System.

When will you be ready to hardwire STEEEP? Our Patients and Families, our communities live every other part of their lives in a digital world. Their health and care journeys should be redesigned for the Digital Health System.

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