Revolutionary digital health technologies must constantly evolve to meet rapidly growing needs. These evolutions drive innovation through advances in wireless technology, miniaturization, and computing power, to develop platforms that can collect, analyze and transmit large amounts of health data. A digital health strategy combines these platforms with an organization’s existing IT systems and software, connectivity technologies and services. With the industry and its technologies rapidly developing, it can be hard to keep pace developing and implementing strategies that best serve both your care team and patient population. Where do you start? How do you pivot? When is a new technology a help versus and hindrance?

In our upcoming webinar, “The Essential Building Blocks for a Successful Digital Strategy,” we discuss exactly what you need to develop a digital strategy that not only serves you now, but is built to pivot as your organization (and digital health technology) changes. Don’t miss the HIMSS sponsored webinar on Monday, August 2nd, 2021 at 1:00pm CST.

Prepare for the webinar, and get ready to start building your digital strategy, by reviewing our advice below.

What are the First Steps to Developing a Strategy?

Most stakeholders now acknowledge there are benefits in virtual healthcare delivery, or ‘telehealth’, especially when used as a solution to help manage the immense problems of aging, rising healthcare costs, and the burden of non-communicable diseases. The unprecedented adoption of technology has been driven by targeted financial incentives and emergency regulatory changes.

The first step to a digital health strategy is identifying your specific needs and choosing the best-suited digital health technology to support them. When finding the right platform, consider the cost of technology, the complexity of technology, challenges sharing patient data (a big issue for integrated care), leveraging existing technology investments; and evaluation of how the implementation works in practice. Stakeholders need to ensure they can track data, use it to inform providers/patients, and obtain evidence of outcomes. Additionally, technology must be able to scale to larger needs as the healthcare system grows and develops. You want to build systems that are scalable so that you are always ready to take on the next challenge. Finally, stakeholders need to account for macro issues including government policies, incentives, payment and reimbursement mechanisms.

After choosing a technology, ensure that your digital health strategy encompasses the big three: people, process, and technology.

Moving to Implementation

After you’ve chosen a technology and developed a workflow, you need to put proper focus on change management by preparing your care teams. 81% of executives are pushing for digital transformations, but only 20% of executives have found their implementations effective. Poor implementation is often due to improper care team training. Provider adoption in digital programs is a critical success factor. McKinsey reports that in 2019, 93% of European doctors still communicated with hospitals on paper, while 44% of all healthcare facilities exchanged medical data by digital means, and many outpatient doctors and pharmacists remain skeptical of digital solutions. For successful implementation, you must not only provide technical training, but you must engage in culture change management training. Teams need training on how to change their daily habits and routines to ensure that the systems and workflows are most effective

In addition to care team training, patient training and adaptation is necessary. Patients are key stakeholders and services need to consider their needs. Do they have the necessary technology and abilities to participate in the digital health systems/workflows? What are their barriers to adoption and how can the health system address these? Devise a plan to train patients through one-on-one meetings, videos, handouts, etc.

Mistakes Organizations Make When Implementing New Digital Health Strategies

  • Replacing processes that don’t need to be replaced
  • Overengineering – implementing technology for technology’s sake not for a more streamlined easy to use process improvement
  • Failing to understand the need for cultural transformation
  • Not Integrating the patient voice and technical abilities into the program design
  • Failing to build cross functional teams around a strategic goal
  • Implementing point solutions and not thinking about entire workflow at the enterprise level

Make equitable access for patients part of your digital health strategy 

Finally, it is important to make accessibility a key part of your plan formation, not an afterthought. Try using resources that integrate with existing investments. Make sure that your digital solutions and workflows integrate with language access needs. 8% of the population is Limited English Proficient and requires medical interpretation, not accounting for the Deaf and hard of hearing community who also need similar resources.

For example, Penn Med incorporated equitable access into their digital strategy and found major success. They paired digital health outreach with social service organizations in local communities. The Penn Med Equitable Covid-19 Vaccine Program provided vaccines at community clinics, recognizing that comprehensive care delivery brings care to patients, not the other way around. They reached close to 3,000 patients, 85% of whom are Black. Intentional flow design and pre-registration enabled an on-time model with minimal-to-no-wait-time to ensure a positive patient experience, and high-touch follow-up through outbound phone calls. The program has resulted in a less than .04% no-show rate for second doses. 

Another great example is Centra Care. They took services to their community––mosques, churches, factories––where patients congregate and enrolled trusted community leaders to educate the patient population. Their team recognized that their digital strategy needed to accommodate patients with low digital literacy––a good telehealth program wasn’t enough to connect with their community. Successfully digital health strategies must include non-digital solutions as well to help overcome the digital divide.

The future of healthcare incorporates digital health technologies to better the lives of providers and patients. Successful implementation of these technologies must be thoroughly thought through and planned for. Learn even more about building your digital plan in our upcoming webinar.