The pizza paradox: Unraveling the complexity of digital innovation in healthcare


These provider modernization efforts struggle because they’re not always clearly defined to solve critical problems that individual organizations face.

This article is part of the May 2023 COVERstory.

What’s your favorite pizza topping?  It’s a simple question, I know, but I bet when I ask the question, you will hear a different answer from each person you ask.

Some of your friends may say ham and pineapple, while warm pineapple is blasphemous to some, I get it; others may simply say cheese or pepperoni. There are so many different combinations of answers!

Like that initial easy question regarding pizza, if you ask another simple question like, “What is digital innovation in healthcare?” there will most certainly be 10 different ways that 10 people answer the question.  Some may provide simple answers like cheese or pepperoni, and some may be more complex and esoteric, like warm pineapples and ham.

In this article, I won’t share any more opinions on pizza. My goal is to demystify digital innovation or digital health, digital transformation, innovative approaches or any other buzzwords being used to describe the creation of successful user engagement leveraging technology offered to them for a true care continuum.

Combatting the headwinds

There are many headwinds facing healthcare organizations, including payer reimbursement issues, cost increases, supply chain issues, staffing shortages, clinician burnout and patients shopping for care, thus becoming less sticky to organizations.

Let’s add in some major technical debt, including cyber security, from reprioritization of efforts to combat the pandemic with whatever technology we could throw at it to support operational needs.

Healthcare is not an easy industry to support from an IT perspective; it’s complex, with many masters driving needs, but philosophically, technology should support and even ease the burden for some of these headwinds. However, IT often is seen as an organizational burden, with users saying, “Oh great, another device to hold,” “Another thing to log into,” “Another way to track movements and process” and “Another thing to complete while seeing patients.”

IT can be just plain hard

While I am an IT guy and have hopes and dreams for technology- enabled solutions to solve these perceptions, technology burnout is real, and we see it in our work lives as well as our personal lives. We are always connected.

As I was rising through the IT ranks, I recognized that information technology is difficult – it’s often seen as a burden, and just following the most recent headlines, the first to be cut in cost-cutting measures to reduce expenses. I could feel the collaborative pressures between IT and operations as they continue to manifest through a huge Epic install, finding niche products to fill an operational gap, or stale pilots that could not move to scale.

Like many of you, I got into healthcare IT because of a higher calling – maybe it wasn’t direct clinical care, but you felt the drive to make a difference. You recognized the importance of technology and want to serve as the underpinning of how the clinicians see their patients and how the hospital operates to take care of their patients.

Digital innovation, at its core, looks to the same mantra – support the underpinning of business operations and clinical care through technology-enabled solutions. Digital Innovators aim to create a digital continuum of successful interactions with end users. They seek to create a positively emotional response by successfully serving the right technology to the user during their time of engagement.

Accomplishing key, tangible goals

A patient should be able to schedule when they want to – online, without having to make a phone call, wait on hold or not get directed to the right person – on their own time, unless they choose make that call. Then, AI should point them to the right area to meet their needs. That successful interaction is digital health, with the process well laid out, in a tangible, strategic way, to make the patients interactions better with the system. This methodical approach includes pilots with success measures, and scaling plans should be prioritized within the organization and budgeted as the priorities are laid out.

That’s one example – another may be to reduce leakage from the organization and ensure referrals are managed in a successful manner for the organizational goals. Another may be the right alerts getting to the right point of care at the right time for nurse call strategies. Yet another may be more driven to consumer-centric experiences or reimagining how clinicians document in an EMR.

Revenue cycle teams may want their staff to work at the top of their skill set, or staffing shortages are forcing a look at automation platforms.  Either way, leveraging technology through digital health supports the underpinning of successful clinical and operational needs.

Focusing on strategic goals within an organization can ensure the priorities are known and that they get budget and attention. Creating a digital continuum of successful interactions takes focus, alignment and collaboration with operations.

Organizations that have seen success with digital health recognize the importance of partnerships with their clinicians, operational stakeholders and the community.     

The EMR is an ecosystem of desired workflows that impact clinicians, and the billing software creates an experience for those end users. Enabling a tangible strategy to bring about better, more successful, interactions with technology is paramount to supporting end-user adoption and reducing technology burnout.

Tactical, tangible planning, a focused prioritization on key goals of the organization and alignment of budget will ensure those “Art of the Possible” innovation sessions are realized. Digital health is all around us, and we don’t have to throw out the technology that has already been purchased.

Driving a course to focus, evaluate and align business and clinical objectives for your organization is where opportunities, people, process and technology can create the digital continuum of successful interactions at scale across the organization.

To create a successful digital continuum of experiences, an organization must focus on succinct processes and tangibly plan how to get to its goal. This is where the initial “What’s your favorite Pizza?” question comes into play.

Priorities are, by definition, specific to each organization. Each organization has established a culture, goals or desires to create branded experience for end users of technology (notice I didn’t just highlight patients), and it understands their place in their own markets. The persona of the organization must come through in the creation of these successful digital transactions and focus on opportunities to create emotional “wow” moments for users.

As innovators, there is nothing better than hearing “You really helped me today,” “I was able to schedule my mom’s appointment,” “My brother was able to get care when he needed it,” “I could share my concerns with a person who understood me,” or “I was able to treat a patient with the best information possible to save their lives.”

Josh Sol is managing director of FTI Consulting.

Return to the May 2023 COVERstory.


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