We all hope that COVID-19 and the related difficulties of 2020 fade into the past soon. Even when they do, they are likely to be replaced by the unknowns of 2021: healthcare will continue to face challenges, whether it’s the massive task of distributing a COVID-19 vaccine or, more generally, delivering the maximum amount of patient care with minimal waste of effort and expense.
But the healthcare industry would be better equipped to meet those challenges if it were more willing to embrace a digital transformation it so desperately needs, says Sanjeev Agrawal, co-author with Mohan Giridharadas of Better Healthcare Through Math (www.leantaas.com).
“Healthcare systems can no longer afford to allow their operational components to be only ‘good enough’ or to be constrained by the mindsets and habits of the past,” Agrawal says.
Agrawal and Giridharadas, senior executives at LeanTaaS, a software company that focuses on improving healthcare operations, say improved and more efficient use of equipment and personnel is critical for healthcare organizations that want to thrive in their current markets and capture new market share going forward.
“The way to achieve that is through a well-executed digital transformation in which new and better digital technology is used to change how health systems operate and deliver patient care,” Giridharadas says.
Healthcare has lagged behind as other asset-intensive businesses, such as transportation, retail, airlines, hospitality and food services, have made dramatic progress over the last decade with digital transformations of their own.
What’s held healthcare back? Agrawal and Giridharadas say at least in part it’s because of some long-held – and in their view, incorrect – beliefs. A few of those beliefs, and their responses to them, include:
- Healthcare is not like other businesses. Some people argue that the rules that apply to other businesses don’t apply to healthcare. Or they say that their particular health system is different from others. “Operationally speaking, healthcare is fundamentally no different from any other asset-intensive business that has substantial demand and supply stochasticity,” Agrawal says. “And while health systems may indeed have unique characteristics relative to one another, they share far more in common.”
- Electronic health records systems should accomplish these objectives. Indeed, EHRs have been a vital addition to healthcare operations, serving as a repository for enormous amounts of data, Giridharadas says. “But your EHR is not going to perform high-level predictive analytics for you,” he says. “You need technology that places the right analytics, insights, and recommendations in front of the right users – such as surgeons, schedulers, nurses, and executive teams – at the right time.”
- IT should take the lead on digital transformation. The healthcare industry tends to rely on IT departments more than perhaps it should for digital innovation, which is somewhat understandable, Agrawal says. “Healthcare professionals want to focus on providing good clinical care, not on software and technology,” he says. “In the rest of the business world, however, IT’s role is understood to be providing infrastructure, security, and policies to implement business-transformation tools. IT’s role is not to solve complex operational problems. IT cannot possibly know the details of every part of the health system’s business well enough to take the lead on digital transformation.”
“Healthcare needs to rid itself of these and other incorrect beliefs so that it can change its inefficient ways,” Giridharadas says. “Making more efficient use of personnel and equipment that already exist – and delivering better and more timely patient care in the process – could be the true game changer.”
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