‘Absolutely a Priority’: How Digital Transformation Is Taking Off in Healthcare

‘Absolutely a Priority’: How Digital Transformation Is Taking Off in Healthcare

Healthcare providers are embracing agility and consumer-oriented philosophies at an accelerated rate. At Southcoast Health, a community-based health system operating in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, IT and clinical leaders raced to stand up new solutions in the spring of 2020. As with most healthcare providers, telehealth became a mission-critical service at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the organization also had to find ways to track testing and implement new triage practices. In effect, the pandemic forced Southcoast to dramatically accelerate its digital transformation efforts, says Jim Feen, senior vice president and chief digital and information officer.

“We could have spent a year trying to devise an emergency department triage process that kept people safe, but we didn’t have the luxury of time,” Feen says. “In a span of three to four days, using Microsoft Teams carts on wheels, we were able to develop advanced workflows that we may never have designed otherwise. And we saw that sort of acceleration across service lines. We were working together collaboratively through a command center, and the necessities of the moment really spawned a lot of innovation.”

Natalie Schibell, senior analyst for healthcare at Forrester, says that digital transformation in healthcare “accelerated by at least a decade” during the pandemic. In addition to telehealth, she says, healthcare organizations rapidly rolled out solutions around remote patient monitoring, electronic health record systems and hospital-at-home programs.

The pace of digital transformation is expected to continue to accelerate as incumbent healthcare providers face competition from retail healthcare options offered by pharmacy chains, Schibell adds. “It’s incredibly disruptive,” she says. “Now, not only can you go to these stores to get your over-the-counter ­medications, but you can get your vaccine and see a medical provider. Digital transformation is absolutely a priority if healthcare providers want to keep up with the convenience and investment in technology that retail health is participating in right now.”

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