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  • Susan Snedaker

Why a Strong IT Function is Essential for Successful Digital Transformation and AI Integration

In my latest book, Renovating Healthcare IT, I talk about the pressure on healthcare IT (HIT) departments over the past few years. Prior to the pandemic, the conversation was around the ubiquitous catch phrase "digital transformation." Healthcare executives wanted to tap the power of technology and the phrase digital transformation seemed to capture that notion for many. What was often missing was the understanding that technology, while being at the center of change in healthcare, was not really the target when discussing digital transformation. Digital transformation is about literally transforming, or changing, how care is delivered using technology. That means looking at care delivery holistically, not solely through a technology lens. The question was "how can technology change the way we deliver care?" when the better question was "how can we change the way we deliver care and what technology can facilitate that change?"

Image depicting digital journey from Susan Snedaker's book Renovating Healthcare IT
Digital Journey from Renovating Healthcare IT - Building the Foundation for Digital Transformation by Susan Snedaker

The Digital Journey

If we look at the digital journey, we see that the first step was moving from paper to electronic medical records - but it was exactly at that point in the journey we went off-course. Instead of re-imaginig how care could be delivered with electronic medical records, we faithfully recreated the paper processes that were entrenched in healthcare at the time. Few organizations had the time or foresight to reimagine care in an electronic world and even if they had, they would likely have gotten it wrong. It's hard to imagine working in a future state that has never existed before, so most organizations simply converted from paper to electronic methods and called it good.

You can see the second step is changing business processes to leverage technology. This really seems to be what most were clamoring for when using the phrase "digital transformation." There is good reason to take this step toward digitalizing processes and many healthcare organizations have done so using EHRs and patient portals, for example. We saw many processes become digitalized during the pandemic and many of those new ways of doing business are here to stay. This is not digital transformation, per se, but it's a necessary building block on that continuum.

The third step is true digital transformation and this is where a completely new (and generally disruptive) approach to providing health care services happens. Few organizations have achieved true digital transformation on their own. Typically, a leading healthcare organization (well-funded or academi, most often) will develop a new model of care and test it out. If it works, others follow. If it fails, it fails and usually those leading edge companies will iterate until they find a model that will work, and again others follow.

Digital Transformation Requires Organizational Change and IT Capabilities

It's incredibly risky to be the digital transformer of health care for many reasons including patient risk, revenue risk, staff risk, and reputational risk.

What's missing from many of these conversations about transformation are these two key questions:

  1. How well does your organization drive change? [Hint, it's probably not nearly as adept as you might hope it is.]

  2. How prepared is your IT department to support technology change? [Hint, after years of budget cuts and staffing constraints, it's not nearly as ready as you might hope it is.]

Digital transformation, including the use of emerging AI solutions, requires a very robust IT function and that's not where most organizations are today.

Healthcare IT Must Renovate Before It Can Innovate

For the past decade or more, EHR deployments were the core focus for organizations and that's where the funding went. Core infrastructure was often short-changed in favor of an EHR or a new module for the EHR or new technology to support the EHR (tablets, handhelds, better wireless, etc.).

Today, many HIT departments are working with cobbled-together technologies with staff who may lack the training, skills, or experience to manage those legacy technologies along with leading-edge solutions. How many can support old Windows Servers along with cloud-hosted virtual platforms? How many can manage cybersecurity across that continuum? And, for the applications folks, how many are supporting old and new, side-by-side, hoping to keep them running well enough to be up "most of the time."

Until HIT departments are able to clear out and clean up, to renovate the HIT function, digital transformation (and AI-solutions) are just a dream. The future state will be dictated by the current state and for many, that is a deficit situation.

Renovate your Healthcare IT Function to Enable a Better Future State

Assessing your HIT function by looking at each of the building blocks and developing a plan to improve (improve, not perfect) will put you on a path to being able to deliver on the promises of technology. Check out my latest book and let me know what you think.

Renovating Healthcare IT - Building the Foundation for Digital Transformation by Susan T. Snedaker


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