How can digital advances be used to advance the health of your business?

Capturing the return on digital health investment

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EY - Alyson Navarro

Alyson Navarro,
Senior Manager, Advisory PI
Health Digital Strategy

EY - Rachel Hall

Rachel Hall,
Partner, EY Health Advisory
Health Digital Offering Leader

The health care industry is investing vast sums in digital programs — but we see too few organizations reaping the benefits. Despite initial disappointments and challenges, there is simply no alternative to going digital. Granted, high upfront investment is no guarantee of success — especially in an industry whose innovation journey is easily upended and outcomes are rarely clear.

We agree that it’s tough to make both big bets and big spends on an unknowable future. But that is exactly the leap of faith required. This is especially true as telehealth begins to connect traditional stakeholders (patients, their providers, insurers and life science companies) in a virtual mission to deliver health care services, information and education.

So what’s the best approach? For starters, let’s look across the entire digital chain.

Identify and prioritize initiatives

Consumers want affordable, accessible health care and are pushing providers to grow and adapt their business models as the marketplace transforms. From our work with proactive industry players out to meet this demand, we see big gains from devising digital strategies based on:

  • Knowing your market
  • Setting your strategic intent
  • Designing your digital architecture to support your business priorities
  • Improving your digital agenda so it responds agilely to new entrants and trends

Companies that remain nimble regularly review the road map. They stay relevant to the ever-changing demands of the customer universe, and they are agile enough to marshal forces within the organization to meet them.

How well is your digital strategy serving you? Too many companies stand in their own way when it comes to internal barriers or blocked pathways. They fail to see systems that are unconnected or obsolete — some as soon as they are developed. Posing a particular challenge, most health organizations have grown by acquisition, which means they often have disparate IT systems that need to be reconciled or totally transformed to meet the demands of the new organization.

Companies should feel empowered to carry their digital initiatives forward in a bold new way. This is not yesterday’s IT. Nor is it project- or timeline-based, but rather a commitment to agile adaptation in response to ever-new technology and market shifts.

Make it customer-centric

With so much disruption in health care being driven by the consumer, this is no time to keep your operations, marketing and IT functions in separate corners. True, it is the job of IT to lay the foundation and fill in the gaps of the new digital architecture. But look to operations to keep the business model resourced, fluid and aligned toward a digital future state, while marketing nurtures the brand and knows when to extend it, making the virtual customer experience a good one and capturing the right feedback from a myriad of sources.

In order for the information generated by telemedicine, smart homes, digital health tools and burgeoning networks to not be lost in a metaphorical landfill, companies must have the technology in place to collect, analyze, protect and act on patient-generated health data. This way, the era of connected personal health has the best chance of reaching its full potential. Only then can we see real outcomes shape everything from clinical decision-making to new pharmaceuticals and devices.

Know how to govern

The digital agenda is the CEO’s agenda. Best-in-class systems can only do so much. Governance needs to take digital transformation to the next level, ideally with a management structure that has the business, IT and marketing working together. It’s the rare organization that won’t need to rethink its current and legacy operations. Effective governance also requires its own budget to quickly address end-to-end organizational changes arising from digital transformation.

We have seen proactive leadership embrace — and even redefine — the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) to help catapult their organizations forward. Typically, the responsibilities of the CDO have fallen under the purview of the CIO, CTO or CMO. But as we have noted, the digital enterprise encompasses more than information, technology and marketing.

We see the role gaining more traction under the broader realm of the CEO. Ideally, the CDO should bring deep knowledge across customer experience, analytics and flexible operating models. With support in the right places, a CDO has the best chance to confirm that the business is nimble in the face of technological innovations and remains focused on serving the customer.

The CDO, to be successful, will need the full backing of the CEO to undertake the re-engineering or transformation that commitment to the digital future often requires. Operations may need to be streamlined, including compliance — and many will need a seat at the table in order to accomplish it. Trust, cybersecurity and privacy concerns will also move into the boardroom, especially as patient and consumer data proliferates with next-generation information gathering.

Don’t let your data go dark

As digital continues to work its way into the mainstream, health care organizations face a big question over the next few years: how do we capture and analyze the huge volume of data created by the consumer in order to predict future outcomes? We believe winning organizations will find ways to put it all together and produce value, both for the consumer and for the health ecosystem, ultimately improving everyone’s health.

In the meantime, expect nontraditional data sources to proliferate. Buying habits, regulatory data, consumer product usage and drug adherence stats will take their place alongside electronic medical records, payer claims, pharmacy data, connected devices and smart homes. At issue: who will actually “own” this information — and how will it be kept secure and confidential?

A push for a more holistic approach to health care means that data sources will be connected and analyzed in new ways. The challenge lies in building systems for managing and accessing these disparate data sources and providing for their interoperability. Systems like this are coming soon — and digital is the only way you can prepare for them now.

So what?

Making big, bold bets as your industry transforms in front of your eyes is not for the faint of heart. But it is what the landscape in health care today demands. A few tips to survive and thrive:

Make sure your organization is nimble to react quickly to disturbances in the field. Operations, marketing and IT, especially, need to address the end-to-end organizational transformation (not piecemeal projects) necessary to compete in the digital marketplace.

Set the digital agenda at the top. It must be embraced by the CEO. The CDO will have more of a shot of being successful in a very demanding, 24/7 role they have the full backing of the board.

Develop your data. Your customers are talking to you. Smart homes, patient networks, connected telehealth ecosystems – the conversations will only proliferate as digital continues to go mainstream. Those who find ways today to manage data that comes from anywhere will have the best chance to capture, analyze, predict, and add value that will make a difference to everyone’s health tomorrow.