5 elements for launching a scalable, unified digital health strategy

Digital health is quickly becoming part of everyday life, offering a powerful opportunity for patients to take an active role in managing their health. For providers, digital health tools can bring real-time insight into whether a patient is adhering to their treatment regimen or experiencing a complication following a surgical procedure.

As care moves beyond the four walls of the clinic or hospital, organizations are beginning to invest in the necessary digital health infrastructure and programs to improve care and the patient experience. Many are realizing that, while the electronic health record and patient portal are necessary, these tools represent only part of an organization’s digital strategy. Increasingly, organizations are seeking a scalable, unified solution that can support the organization’s long-term, wide-ranging digital health needs.

A 2019 survey from Unisys Corporation, however, showed that many organizations aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to developing a digital strategy. According to the research, nearly two-thirds of providers rate themselves as being behind the curve on their digital health adoption initiatives.

Steps for digital health strategy success

A digital health strategy is vital to driving better outcomes, reducing costs and providing a better patient experience. Organizations that want to launch a digital strategy or improve an existing one should follow five key steps:

1. Assemble a cross-continuum team

Too often organizations develop their digital strategy in silos, which leads to a fragmented experience for patients from one care setting to another, one practice to another or one service line to another. This often also results in health systems having to manage dozens of tools and partners. In order for organizations to create loyalty and stickiness, they need to create a branded, digital experience for patients that is convenient and consistent, regardless of care setting.

A group of cross-departmental technology champions is critical to making the initiative successful by ensuring that patients’ care transitions are seamless. The team should be comprised of executive, clinical and information technology staff who can take ownership of the project and work out the details of the digital strategy.

2. Ensure your objectives and business strategy are in sync

Determine the key strategic initiatives for your organization and the programs that would best suit your patients. Establish whether the initiative is a strategy to build market share or to position the organization for success in value-based care. Crystallizing goals and objectives ensures your organization’s digital health investments are aligned with the business strategy and helps determine what types of capabilities may be needed first.

3. Establish a new budget with ROI in mind

Once the program is identified, implementation will require a budget. A well-thought-out digital health strategy can deliver a strong return on investment: hospitals can reduce costs, improve patient outcomes and enable providers to treat more patients more efficiently. Integrating real-time digital health data can also help organizations focus on reducing complications and readmissions – important tools in transitioning to value-based care.

4. Buy vs. build: consider future growth needs

While some health systems may have the internal IT resources to build their digital health infrastructure, doing so would likely require a significant investment of human and financial resources.

Consider partnering with vendors who are already doing what you want to do. Partnering with technology companies can be a more efficient and effective way to advance a digital health strategy and allow a health system to focus on its core business of patient care. Make sure your technology partners have internal clinical expertise to help maximize the impact of your digital health investments. Your partners should also have the portfolio breadth that allows you to scale beyond the pilot phase and add capabilities as your digital health strategy matures.

5. Test and launch for rapid scaling

When introducing a new digital health initiative, it’s not uncommon for the project to scale slowly, or not at all. Ensure your digital health partners have successfully conducted large-scale implementations and are capable of scaling and handling all patients in your health system.

To ensure a smooth launch, establish a timeline and begin executing on the strategy. Begin with internal pilots. Make sure you structure your rollout so that the initiative has executive support, staff buy-in, clear goals, a defined duration and is large enough to gather meaningful analytics. With these elements, your implementation will run smoothly and demonstrate value more quickly, building the case to scale the strategy more broadly.

A holistic approach

Engaging successfully with patients and consumers requires thinking holistically about your digital strategy. What are your business objectives, who are your stakeholders, what do your patients want and where are your gaps? The answers to these questions will vary widely from one organization to the next.

In an upcoming toolkit, we’ll share further considerations for setting your digital strategy and provide suggestions for making your portal more valuable to patients.