If digital is the inevitable future of healthcare, the question is ‘where to start on that path?’ As technologies emerge in all dimensions of healthcare – from the methods of treating patients to the platforms that can enable patient-provider interaction, health leaders should take decisive action by deciding on the investments to make today. Sensibly, many organizations have started with less sophisticated, more proven technologies. More than half of executives (59 percent) surveyed through the 2021 Healthcare CEO Future Pulse report that their organizations are using telemedicine, for example, making it the most-cited tech innovation in current use; its utility and benefits made only more obvious thanks to COVID-19.

Dr. Christian Elsner

Putting data and science first

A data-focused approach requires not only infrastructure, but also a mindset shift for many health leaders – who think of their data as pseudo-proprietary and put up administrative and technological barriers to access. But for Dr. Christian Elsner who works for an academic medical center, sharing data even with other academic centers is worthwhile: “By sharing and creating an open-source model for data in a way that puts the science first, it’s worthwhile justification to break down barriers. By federating data and opening it to the ecosystem, the best organizations won’t have to worry about their position in the market because they’ll be the ones who know what to do with the data and benefit their patients most.”

Dr. Christian Elsner
Chief Financial Officer
University Medical Center of Gutenberg Johannes University Mainz

While telemedicine and data-leveraging technology seems like a feasible option today with new mindsets and delivery models, more sophisticated technologies like robotic surgery seem like more distant realities despite their anticipated impact. Our survey results suggest that health leaders are focusing first on data-generating, analyzing, and supporting technology – the tools and platforms that help document and transmit patient data, support in clinical decision-making, and enable patient navigation. In line with patient-centric, community-based care, these technologies help set up the digital front door to care.

The evolution from data-oriented technologies to more patient-interfacing technologies is evident. Today, more than half (55 percent) use clinical decision support systems and nearly half (48 percent) employ patient care guidance platforms. Almost two fifths of CEOs (38 percent) are using artificial intelligence to engage with and/or treat patients; some also report using remote monitoring (47 percent), wearables (40 percent) and embedded biometric monitoring (35 percent).

As part of the 2021 Healthcare CEO Future Pulse, health leaders were asked to self-identify their organizations’ transformation style personas. Those who indicated they were innovators are more likely to have invested in the technologies that help in the gathering and synthesis of data today – including AI, remote monitoring, biometric embedded monitoring, and wearables, while those identifying as laggards have made their investment in clinical decision support – an intuitive explanation being it can help support stretched workforces in sifting through information and arriving at decisions more efficiently. Interestingly, the outlook on particular technologies varies between self-identified transformation personas – where greater faith is put by innovators into technologies that ‘touch’ patients. For instance, innovators see embedded biometric monitoring and robotic surgery as having high impact, rating them 61 and 100 percent respectively, sentiments that are in stark contrast of those of the laggards and late majority. These divergent points of view suggest where organizations could make their investments and where their specialties may lie in the future.

Organizational transformation persona analysis table
Dr. Anton Decker

When asked about his organization’s approach to investing in technology, Dr. Anton Decker says the best interests of patients are always factored in and are at the center of investment decisions:

“What Mayo does well is invest in the human beings and infrastructure to maintain technology and keep staff contemporary. Technology should be accompanied by people and processes in order to achieve the best outcomes, and we should celebrate these health technologies the same as we do scientific breakthroughs like vaccines.”

Dr. Anton Decker
President Mayo Clinic International
(United States)


Key takeaway

  • Technology demands significant investment over a long period of time, requiring thoughtful planning of what to invest in, when, and in which order to develop the ‘critical path’ based on the capabilities that accumulate and the platforms that can be built upon.

  • Digital transformation is a journey that starts with getting data technologies in place, using data, and then evolves into more sophisticated technologies that support care delivery.

  • Digital solutions should be fit for purpose. A significant investment of time, money and resources should be justified with a clear case to generate better patient and/or business outcomes.

How to take action

Technological transformation is a perpetual journey – meaning that health leaders should evaluate their long-term digital health objectives and work backwards from their current capacities and capabilities to develop a ‘critical path’ to get there. This process involves developing an understanding of which technologies to prioritize, which in turn helps to set up infrastructure for future technologies, sequences investment timing, and informs workforce preparation, such as creating new roles or upskilling existing staff.