Health Systems’ Big Bet on Innovation

June 25, 2024 | Megan Donahue | Liz Russell

We are surrounded by change that moves at breakneck speed; yet, there is still always a need to embrace innovation. Everyone talks about innovation, but what is often missed is that it comes in many ways and is very specific by industry. In healthcare, we see innovation as doing things better and doing better things. It requires both to drive meaningful impact and value that is innovative.

We need to embrace innovation in healthcare now more than ever. While many challenges persist within the industry, we must prioritize innovation and technology to support a resilient healthcare system that can weather any storm.

Taking a cue from the Restaurant and Convenience sector, Domino’s Pizza is a prime example of innovation and what it means to do things better and do better things. They began a digital transformation journey more than 10 years ago, which focused on engaging with their customers in a space that had previously only been transactional. The outcome drove transparency in the pizza ordering process, provided customization and convenience, and drove brand loyalty and sales. The interactive pizza tracker and voice ordering pizza app are fan favorites that revolutionized the ordering process, helping parents place their favorite order for the big soccer game, after school snack, or even just pizza night.

In the healthcare industry, innovation must actively improve experiences—from making things more efficient to enhancing patient interactions and supporting people in new ways throughout the healthcare journey. It must positively impact outcomes, driving better access to care, serving people outside of the moments of care, and thinking more holistically about health and wellness.

We’ll cover the state of innovation today as well as how groundbreaking digital technologies continue to help provide much-needed advancements.

Making a Case for Innovation

We see health systems and providers embracing innovation to do things better and do better things. And it’s clear that this way of thinking is driving investments in healthcare.

Historically, hospital IT departments spent years testing out new technologies before scaling them across the organization. In the age of AI, the pace of change is accelerated and providers must keep up for fear of falling behind. High performing providers are twice as likely to be using technology such as telemedicine, advanced analytics for population health management, and check-in kiosks that help them deliver improved patient experience.

Providers also have distinct challenges to balance. They must navigate and overcome workforce burnout and staffing shortages as well as the all-important transition to value-based care models to ensure high-quality, sustainable healthcare delivery. There are rising patient expectations for seamless experiences both in person and across digital platforms. There is increased pressure to keep the technological pace that consumers have come to expect in order to meet patient engagement and experience expectations.​ As healthcare costs continue to rise, consumers are empowered to search for and expect greater value and quality of service, timely and convenient care, as well as transparent information.

While there are certainly many hurdles to overcome, there are equally as many ways to champion digital innovation initiatives that can help advance healthcare and improve health delivery.

How Innovation Can Help Us Do Things Better and Do Better Things

The integration of cutting-edge technologies is setting a new standard for efficiency and insight-driven, personalized, patient care.

Operational Efficiency and Cost Management

Advanced health information systems, AI-driven analytics, and robotic process automation have the power to revolutionize how we deliver care.

From a workforce management standpoint, AI can help centralize delivery service functions, streamline processes, and optimize workflows to support physician burnout and create efficiencies for care teams. We’re also seeing examples where AI-powered solutions are improving back-of-house tasks such as call center enablement, real-time customer service recommendations, and automating call recaps.

Health systems are deploying digital technology to tackle issues from easing the drudgery of medical documentation to making it easier for patients to get information about their medical care, enhancing patient outcomes and achieving substantial cost savings.

Enhanced Patient Experience

Patients are in the driver seat and have more control over their healthcare journey than ever before. It is the provider’s responsibility to meet patients and caregivers where they are and to keep them engaged beyond the moment of care. This has been shown to not only drastically improve the patient experience, but to impact adherence and readmission rates.

From telehealth visits to remote monitoring and patient portals or voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices, technology is providing new lifelines that aid in early diagnosis, better care instruction, and post-discharge adherence.

Personalized treatment plans and self-service options are also paving the way for a more streamlined and compassionate patient journey.

Breakthrough Research and Treatment

Technology advancements such as genetic sequencing, precision medicine, and data-driven clinical decision support systems, have opened new frontiers in research and treatment.

Integration improvements with Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and care enablement through AI to deliver identity-driven personalized care, content, and next best action are just a few examples of the amazing progress we’ve made in recent years.

Health Equity and Access

Digital technology can improve a patient’s healthcare experience before even stepping foot in a provider’s office. It can help us understand internet usage and help patients navigate their journey toward care. It can help deliver more personalized communication at the right moments in time, including providing maps and directions, helpful information about the check-in process, as well as materials needed for check-in.

From chatbots to AI-guided search and digital scheduling interfaces, greater access to technology advancements can ease the burden on patients as they navigate their healthcare journey.

Considerations for Innovation in Healthcare

Innovation is not only about doing things better but also about doing better things. The technological breakthroughs can result in significant improvements and advancements within healthcare that get us to a place where providers and patients truly reap the benefits of those advancements.

It can be difficult to know where to start as organizations face pressure to roll out improvements that will make an impact quickly. There are a few best practices we recommend considering.

First, it’s important to remember to solve for problems and truly understand how your options can impact that issue before overinvesting in technology solutions. This might include process reviews, design explorations and workshops to truly understand future state needs and capabilities, which can’t be focused solely on technology because putting great technology into a bad process will fail.

Rebecca Kaul, SVP and Chief of Digital Innovation and Transformation at Northwell Health, introduces the need to solve for the 80%. When there are an overwhelming number of problems that need to be solved, it’s important to focus on those that can have the greatest impact for the most people.

It also helps to find the biggest pain point and address those inefficiencies, because the impact of even a small improvement can receive a lot of positive attention within organizations known for being historically slow to embrace change.

While it’s important to remember to solve for problems, it’s equally important to make sure you’re solving the right problems. Being able to balance bigger innovation initiatives with smaller changes that might have wide-reaching impact is key. And it’s always essential to be able to scale in both cases. We know that digital transformation is hard and requires a combination of choosing the right goals, finding the right talent, and executing with the right methods to get there. Governance is critical and a structure for vetting, prioritizing, and building Center of Excellence capabilities is often the difference between successful endeavors and those that fall flat.

For example, Houston Methodist has piloted new technology with select service lines, in order to "succeed fast, fail fast” with innovation projects. Then, they can scale successful pilot programs across the company with fewer untested variables and less risk.
In a challenging and data-rich environment, embracing scalable strategies and the smart use of technology is not just beneficial; it's essential. Harnessing the power of technology and data is crucial for health organizations to thrive and deliver high-quality care in the digital age.

People Improve Healthcare

While technological improvements can further industries, innovation ultimately must happen with those who are delivering care. It’s about people as much if not more than it is about technology. Digital technology is simply the vehicle to drive change. And it will help us build a future where healthcare is accessible not just for the privileged few, where hospitals are places of healing and empathy, where technology enhances rather than hinders the patient experience, and where health outcomes are improved.

To focus on improving care and human health is important work. If we can leverage digital technology to improve access to care where care doesn’t exist, we will have made a positive impact not only for our clients but also for the healthcare ecosystem, as a whole. The implications of innovation in healthcare are far-reaching and will change how care is delivered.