How Health Care Companies Can Start Their Digital Transformation

Finding a practical path toward success in a digital world.

April 18, 2018

Dan Howell, West Monroe Partners


Sponsored by West Monroe Partners

Evolving consumer expectations, driven in large part by digital technology, are reshaping every industry. Health care is no exception. Todays health care consumers crave connectedness and want instant contact and feedback just as they have in interactions with other industries such as retail and financial services.

The widespread emergence of connected devices enables them to interact with their health care providers and insurers via non-traditional channels. For example, our 2017 signature research, No More Waiting Room: The Future of Healthcare Customer Experience found that 86 percent of health care consumers who have access to online portals use these platforms for some or all of their communication with their health care provider. Even more, 91 percent, use mobile apps when available.

But portals and mobile apps are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital transformation of the industry. With doctors now able to monitor heart failure patients remotely via implantable monitoring devices and insurance companies able to deliver personalized incentives for healthy behaviors by accessing fitness app/tracker data, the impact of digital technology on health care is becoming rapidly profound.

Digital interactions will define future success

In the future, health care companies will find themselves winning or losing consumers based on the quality of digital interactions they offer. Our research found a clear link between consumer satisfaction and the availability of digital communication channels. Consumers awarded a Net Promoter Score of 13 to providers that offer an online portal, compared to a -28 NPS for those who do not. Similarly, providers that offer a mobile app earned a 28 NPS compared to -28 among those without an app.

This presents a daunting challenge for an industry already strained by evolving and uncertain regulation…and already significantly behind the curve on technology innovation and collaboration efforts that improve consumer experience. In our study, 85 percent of executives said they are not sure their company has the technology in place to advance customer experience, and more than half (54 percent) arent confident they have the processes to evolve that experience.

The challenge of knowing how and where to start

Like their counterparts in all industries, health care executives are feeling the pressure to do something, but many admit they dont really know what to do or even what digital transformation means. To make digital a little more tangible, we refer to it as applied technology that changes business conditions, creates an adaptive culture, and uses data to scale and grow the business.

We typically offer two pieces of advice to those stymied by the mandate to go digital now or risk survival:

First, take a deep breath. Digital transformation is a rapidly evolving mandate with big, nebulous, new concepts. With time, it will come into sharper focus and until it does, the best course is to relax (a bit) and find ways to begin translating an imposing idea into a practical course of action.

And to do that, we find it is helpful to think of digital as less of a thing and more of a way of doing things. Key tenets include establishing a strategy for a digital world (note that were not saying a digital strategy) and digital DNA into your business. To put yourself in that frame of mind, consider how Amazon might transform your business. It would use digital technology to run better operations, facilitate the ability to adapt to change faster, and create value and scale from data.

A few key guiding principles

Most health care companies already have their hands full simply trying to run a better business, so a prudent place to start is by applying a few key principles:

–Choose a process that your organization already has targeted for improvement. Health care-specific core processes such as claims adjudication or billing are often good candidates for digital solutions because they offer the potential for tangible improvement in growth, cost savings, consumer lift and employee experience. We call this a virtuous cycle.

–Only fund initiatives that unlock new data and capabilities. For example, in our research report, we highlighted the example of a health care firm that spent $100,000 on candy for its lobbies while ignoring scheduling and billing issues that had a much bigger impact on customer satisfaction or lack thereof.

–Pick a concept that reflects one of the key tenets of digital transformation, such as using data differently or accelerating the speed at which you operate. We often find it useful to start with the idea that, in the future, every company, regardless of its business, will be a software company.

–Put your consumer (patient or insured) at the center of the effort. Think about the health care consumer lifecycle and where in that lifecycle you can employ new digital technology to have the greatest impact on experience.

Target the intersection of consumer experience and efficient operations

These principles lead to the intersection of consumer experience/engagement and core operations a place where health care companies will find ample opportunities to move the meter toward digital transformation.

Looking across the health care consumer lifecycle can help identify specific moments on which to focus for using digital technology. One helpful tip is to think about poker, where white chips have little value and are almost disposable while blue chips have a much greater value. Well-intentioned companies and employees can spend a lot of time and resources on white chip moments while failing to see the blue chip moments that really matter for customers or employees (such as the example of investing in candy for the lobby rather than in streamlining a dissatisfactory billing process).

Focusing on digital engagement often delivers the dual benefit of also improving operations and reducing costs. For example, reaching consumers through the channels they prefer can reduce the need for costly paper communication or multiple communications required to accomplish a particular goal. Similarly, an effective digital sales and marketing channel can significantly reduce customer acquisition costs.

Digital engagement: Digital technology offers new ways to engage consumers by providing the personalized, effortless experience they expect. The possibilities run the gamut from targeted engagement campaigns to create behavior change, to self-service capabilities that allow consumers to set channel and communication preferences, to care management programs that access health and fitness data, to the ability to see a doctor virtually rather than in person.

These offerings are particularly important given that millennials, who are now the largest living generation in the United States, are leading the charge for digital interaction with both providers and payers. At the same time, though, as health care organizations increasingly adopt telehealth and home care solutions, they need to maintain a balance between accommodating millennials and delivering the services favored by more senior consumers.

Digital operations: Digital technology offers many potential opportunities for improving operations from processing payments electronically to digitizing customer documentation so that it is available in searchable formats. While these present opportunities to reduce costs eliminating distribution of EOBs or other documents or reducing calls to a contact center they also can have a significant impact on consumer experience by making processes easier, faster, and more transparent. As we discussed in our previous article, streamlining some of your lower value processes can also create a positive impact for employees, by allowing them to focus on higher-value, more fulfilling tasks.

Experiment, learn, then expand

With so many possible digital directions an organization could move first to capture value, it is easy to become overwhelmed or paralyzed by potential. Take that deep breath. Instead of rushing to create a digital strategy, focus on evolving your business strategy for success in the digital world. Look to the intersection of consumer experience and operations as a lens for choosing a discrete, manageable opportunity to become more digital. Experiment by developing it, learn from it, and then expand your digital roadmap from there. That is the prudent path to digital transformation.

About the authors:

Dan Howell (above) is a director in West Monroes Healthcare and Life Sciences practice and leads the practice for the firms Seattle office. Contact: dhowell@wmp.com

Kyle Hutchins (above) is a senior director at West Monroe Partners and leads West Monroes Digital practice. Contact: khutchins@wmp.com

West Monroe is a progressive business and technology consulting firm that partners with dynamic organizations to re-imagine, build, and operate their businesses at peak performance.