Editor’s Note: Digital health is playing a significant role in driving delivery and payment model innovation in healthcare. Recognizing its importance across a wide range of critical applications—from enhancing the consumer’s decision journey to facilitating information sharing to providing remote care, access and monitoring—Manatt Health is creating a new “Health Update” series focused on digital health. The series kicks off with the article below on creating focused digital health departments that improve the patient care experience, as well as optimize research, training and communication.

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Digital technologies and the Internet of Things have become woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. Consumers now expect the same level of digital integration that they experience in other areas of their lives from their healthcare providers.

Digital strategies can be particularly important—but also particularly complicated—in the healthcare arena for a number of reasons. The healthcare journey can be a stressful one for consumers. The issues are multifaceted, and the environment is unfamiliar and often daunting to patients and their families. The language and terms used can be foreign and require translation to everyday language to be understood. In addition, health systems can be large and hard to navigate, with multiple people involved in delivering, coordinating and paying for care. Faced with these complexities, patients may experience a general lack of control and fear about the outcome, if something goes wrong.

The connectivity that consumers have grown to expect may ease the challenges inherent in patient journeys. These touch points of connectivity represent important opportunities to gain consumer confidence, create loyalty, and ensure a satisfying experience.

Digital Health Departments: Aligned Yet Unique

Forward-thinking institutions are responding to patient expectations with new digital strategies. Similar to patients, the staffs at provider organizations have hopes that technology will improve their ability to deliver quality care.

To support their transition to the digital era, organizations are dedicating resources to expanding their information technology departments with special units focused on digital tools. With the multitude of available apps, portals, sensors and other rapidly developing technologies, organizations must have digital health strategies to help them prioritize and support their digital health (DH) initiatives. To be effective, DH strategies must align with the larger organizational vision and value propositions, governance and resource allocation planning, as well as include a clear roadmap for DH implementations.

While DH departments must be integrated with the larger information systems departments, they also are unique in several ways. DH departments need to remain nimble in exploring a range of possible ideas and testing them for proof of concepts. They have to be able to succeed or fail quickly. For each point along the healthcare delivery path, DH departments must research existing options—and decide whether to create vendor partnerships or support development in house. At the same time, they are responsible for convening and responding to the needs and suggestions of a broad array of stakeholders across their organizations.

In addition, DH departments may be called on to extend the reach of their organizations outside their building walls to support the virtual delivery of care. These virtual touch points may be direct-to-consumer care, provider-to-provider communications, and remote monitoring services. All of these require strong relationships with outside partners.

Of course, connectivity in and of itself is not a guarantee of improved outcomes. Therefore, DH requirements should include built-in analytics and evaluations to ensure digital services are meeting clinical and quality goals.

Beyond Patient Care

Patient care is not the only area that can benefit significantly from an effective DH strategy. In addition to improving patient care, digital tools promise innovations in training and education for the allied healthcare fields. They can support:

  • Revenue cycle management divisions with new tools for estimating costs of care and establishing new payment models.
  • Research departments with new tools for clinical trial recruitment and for rapidly disseminating research findings.
  • Caregivers with new tools for accessing information and personalized approaches for treating their loved ones.

DH Department Governance

Organizations may have started their forays into digital health prior to an official DH office being established. Therefore, as DH departments become formal structures, they need to implement enterprise portfolio management systems. This approach allows them to see all of the DH initiatives across the organization and prioritize a balanced portfolio with coordinated resources going forward.

Part of DH governance is to ensure continuity in the look, feel and navigation of digital tools for patients, staff and partners. DH leaders also must govern knowledge management, establishing and enforcing technology standards, security protocols and regulatory compliance programs.

In addition, DH leaders must effectively allocate resources and manage cross-functional teams of internal staff, vendors and partners. They must possess strong leadership and change management skills. Their success will be measured by their impact on key performance indicators, such as patient satisfaction, clinical quality metrics and efficient business models.

Conclusion

While facing a plethora of expectations from a wide range of invested parties, strong DH departments, with strong leadership, have the ability to transform and improve the delivery and quality of care across the entire patient experience. Organizations with proven DH strategies will lead their peers on education, research, training and outreach.