Digital Strategy for Health Systems: Keep It Simple Stupid

Last month, Panda Health released its “Hospital Digital Health Technology Report: 2022“. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a quick read, but allow me to highlight a few key insights:

  • About half of health executives responded “No” on the question “Does your organization have a digital health strategy?”
  • About half also receive 11+ emails or calls each week about “digital health solutions”, and these emails/calls result in acquiring the technology, on average, less than 1% of the time
  • About half report “We have this already” for “Self-service patient scheduling” (Ha! Literally made me LOL)
  • The process takes several months to a few years:

Several observations for your consideration:

  1. K.I.S.S.: A digital strategy is NOT brain surgery, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise (even if your Chief Digital Officer happens to be a Neurosurgeon). In my experience, most health systems are laboring over this process, taking months or years to powerpoint the “perfect” digital strategy, build an investment plan and participate in bleeding edge technology. IMHO, this is all a ludicrous waste of time… at least until you’ve done the basics really, really well first.
    • Until you can meet the most obvious patient expectations, please consider that your “digital strategy” should be the following:
      • Push all primary care providers to have open schedules (i.e., anyone can book any appointment)
      • Publish those open schedules on your website and in your app
      • Clean up your website (it’s probably a mess). If you want to get fancy, learn to sort your provider search by the things that matter most to patients:
        1. Timely appointment (first available)
        2. Proximity (closest to me)
        3. Appointment type (new patient, video visit, etc.)
      • Improve your app registration — seriously, how many apps have you registered for that use the Experian Credit Check?
      • Aggregate and promote all your Urgent Care options (i.e., same day video, “eVisits”, walk-in availability, UC clinics, retail clinics) in a clear, simple and obvious place
    • For those 50% of health systems who answered “We have this already”, please go to #2.
  2. EAT YOUR OWN DOG FOOD: Use your tools, every day. Don’t call your CMO when you have a medical question or need a recommendation for a doctor. The pubic don’t have that luxury and you’re becoming increasingly detached from what they deal with trying to navigate your tools. After you start using your own tools, you’ll probably notice how bad everything is. Congratulations, you have human empathy! And like everyone else, your expectations are now set by Uber, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix, etc. It’s not shocking your tools aren’t good enough. Believe your eyes and your experience, not your staff that’s telling you otherwise. My guess is, what you’ll quickly find is:
    • Direct scheduling (i.e., self-scheduling for established patients) isn’t enough
    • You don’t have as much availability as you’re being told
    • You have to call for most appointments
    • Even when you do self-schedule appointments, some offices may cancel the appointment and instruct you to call in to schedule
    • The first “new patient” appointment is months out with your preferred provider
    • If you had to use your own online scheduling capability, you’d probably just drive to the local Urgent Care
  3. KNOW YOUR TRUE NORTH: Start with patient problems, NOT overhyped technology or investment strategies. Providers (doctors, hospitals, health systems, etc.) exist to provide patient care and deliver on experience, outcomes and affordability. Not to implement AI. Not get ROI from investments. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the last two, but how are they actually going to deliver on your mission? Technology can be a powerful tool, but it’s a means to an end. The end is solving patient problems and you’re in luck: there’s a ton of them. Pick one, define a metric, get started and nail it before you do anything else. If you’re confused about where to start, go back up to #1.