Guest Column | October 10, 2019

Building The Case To Fund The Digital Front Door

By Kathryn Austin, AVIA

The Future Of Automation And Digital Transformation In Late Phase Research

How successful health systems are escalating board-level awareness, engagement and action.

Priorities abound for health systems. As complex organizations, there are always too many budgets to fund, too many service lines to invest in, too many areas that demand attention and improvement.

And when it comes to prioritizing digital transformation, many health systems face the additional challenge of needing engagement from boards of directors that lack visibility into the most impactful digital issues.

A 2019 study from Black Book on the technology expertise and preparedness of health system boards reported that “health system boards lack sufficient oversight over technology” – with 79 percent of surveyed board members responding that they receive too little data and feedback on tech challenges facing the health system.

Other results from the study are equally concerning. Nearly 500 C-suite hospital executives were asked how tech-savvy their boards are on specific issues – 91 percent of respondents said their boards had “no knowledge” on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and 88 percent said their boards had no knowledge about healthcare cyber risks.

Set against this backdrop, how do forward-thinking health systems empower their teams to act decisively and move with urgency and an eye toward scale when developing their digital front doors, the suite of digital solutions that include everything from search and scheduling to consumer-facing virtual health?

How do they make it easy, logical and imperative for their boards of directors and senior-most leaders to confidently say yes to funding the digital consumer experience?

Spotlight The Risk Of Not Acting

Part of this lies in framing up the work through the right lens. In our partnerships with health systems nationwide, we’ve seen that the organizations that have had the most success in generating significant alignment and investment in their digital front doors are the ones that clearly understand how to balance the risk with the opportunity of what they’re undertaking. As consumers increasingly make health decisions based on convenience and cost, savvy health systems grasp that a significant number of commercial-pay patients may be at-risk.

We polled 25+ health systems that are taking action to advance their consumer-facing digital strategies –the group agreed that 1 to 3 percentage points of commercial share is up for grabs in this expanding digital market. For many large health systems, that’s tens of millions of dollars in revenue potentially lost to new and nontraditional competitors that offer near-immediate access to primary care, more direct access to specialists, more transparent pricing, more flexible scheduling. The list goes on and on.

It’s a competitive environment that has advanced quickly and that our research shows will advance even more rapidly in the next 18 to 24 months. Today’s health systems must continue to compete with their peer health systems across town and within their region … AND they must go head-to-head with built-for-purpose, text-based primary care companies, like 98point6, as well as retail health companies, like CVS Health and Walmart and vertically integrated organizations, like Optum.

For health systems that recognize this, prioritizing investment in consumer-facing digital capabilities becomes a necessary move to mitigate risk and defend market share. Health system leaders can compel action by painting a clear, financially jarring picture of how life will look and margins will be impacted if they fail to act or act too late.

Be Clear On Where You’re Going And How Far You Have To Go To Get There

Health system leaders also mobilize action and investment in their digital front doors by building a clear vision of what they’re striving for. That starts with putting the digital front door in context at their organizations and more deeply understanding the consumers they seek to serve. One health system leader we worked with recently shared how her team opened the eyes of her organization’s senior leadership by showing that only 50 percent of the people who called into her organization’s clinics for help were satisfied with the resolution of their call.

A leader at another health system literally gathered other senior leaders into a conference room and played anonymized audio recordings of consumers trying to navigate through the health system’s phone system to find what they needed. Upon hearing the frustrated consumers first-hand, the senior leaders knew in a visceral and contextualized way exactly how far they needed to advance to keep the organization competitive and sustainable in a digitally native health environment. In both examples, a turning point in the path toward digital excellence came when the abstract notion of the digital consumer experience was correlated to a measurable performance indicator and an authentic human voice.

Realistic portrayals of what good looks like can be similarly compelling. One Midwest health system has a vision for using digital as the springboard to become the premier health destination in its region. To secure board-level engagement and approval for the substantial investment, the team created a multi-year digital roadmap that built a step-by-step business case for investment.

Along the way, the roadmap answered key questions that would be present on the board’s mind: Why should the organization prioritize this investment at this time? How can these next generation capabilities enhance the consumer and provider experience? What financial and human capital are needed to execute the roadmap successfully? How does this plan mesh with projects and initiatives that are already in flight?

By approaching this work in a holistic, comprehensive way – supported by a full business plan – the organization was able to rise above the myopia of one-off projects, pilots and innovation incubation. Instead, it elevated the work to something strategically impactful for the enterprise – creating a vision not only for new digital capabilities, but also for how the organization will function differently and engage its communities differently once the capabilities are fully enabled. The organization created a plan for sustainable competitiveness and new avenues of growth.

About The Author

Kathryn Austin is Senior Manager, Provider Solutions for AVIA.