It’s an irony of 21st Century business that, as organizations focus on digital transformation, their efforts appear to be at odds with a startling reality: That digital is dead.
Well, almost, anyway. As society’s use of technology becomes so innate we barely notice it, “digital” is becoming yesterday’s language.
The tools that once stood out as disruptive innovation are now quietly camouflaged in our everyday behaviors. No longer a specialist skill set or a discrete discipline, digital has been rebranded as the new normal – a virtual oxygen, silently intrinsic to everything we do.
Yet though it’s redefined almost every sector, its impact on healthcare is less pronounced. There, digital transformation remains a high priority but a distant destination. Perhaps it’s time we reframed our approach.
Currently, 70% of all organizations boast a digital transformation strategy. In healthcare, however, progress is sporadic. Global health systems, weighed down by an imbalance between demand and supply, are slowly digitizing services. Many providers, however, are still struggling to transition from traditional models of care.
Digital maturity has become the holy grail, with global standards like EMRAM used to measure organizations’ readiness for digital transformation. But it’s the wrong goal and the wrong metric. Digital maturity is not an endpoint; it’s a springboard to tackle unmet needs.
In healthcare, those needs are significant. Half the world lacks access to essential health services, while over 50% of deaths are still caused by four preventable risk factors. These indicators are the true measure of healthcare progress.
So how can we make inroads? To focus narrowly on digital transformation is to miss the point, because transformation is a broad canvas. If we’re to reduce the global burden of disease, we should set our sights on a bigger prize where health equity – not digital maturity – is the new normal.
Getting there requires total, not piecemeal, transformation. That means transformation in culture, thinking, and behavior; transformation in business models, communication, and engagement; and creative transformation. Digital will inevitably, if invisibly, make a contribution, but it won’t solve the puzzle on its own.
Let’s be clear: Digital transformation is a worthy pursuit. Some of healthcare’s most eminent transformers have harnessed digital to tackle important health challenges. For example, they’ve used it to spur early identification of patients at risk of cancer, to accelerate the enrollment of patients in life-saving clinical trials, and to support patients through and beyond invasive surgery. Digital platforms are empowering physicians with clinical data to personalize cancer treatments and helping patients with low health literacy make informed decisions about their care. Unsurprisingly, digital is also Amazon’s weapon of choice in its attempts to “reinvent healthcare.”
These initiatives are great examples of digital transformation, but they don’t work in isolation. Creative transformation, the kind that changes behaviours and enhances lives, requires a multidimensional, integrated approach. It demands total alignment – of strategy, resources and stakeholder networks – behind a single vision to address unmet need. It requires a coalition of talent empowered by a culture of co-creation. And, importantly, it requires relevant and arresting creative communications that capture hearts and minds to drive meaningful change.
The most effective healthcare communications rely on a deep understanding of disease and behavior. Crucially, they don’t speak digital; they speak “human.”
Healthcare must therefore rethink its narrow focus on digitization and shoot for total transformation. Ultimately, however, healthcare will only be transformed when equity of access has unseated digital as the new normal.
We’re a long way from the finishing line. Winning won’t just depend on digital transformation; it will require collaboration and creative transformation to bring quality healthcare to everyone who needs it.
Claire Gillis is international CEO of WPP’s health practice