By Jacqueline Cole, Operations Coordinator

The healthcare landscape has changed rapidly since the beginning of 2020 and the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic forced healthcare organizations to rapidly accelerate the adoption of digital solutions. At the start of the pandemic, barely 20% of providers had a digital strategy. Today, having a clear digital strategy is at the forefront of the future of healthcare. And who is leading the development and execution of that digital strategy is critical.

The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Role in Healthcare

The CDO role has been around in other industries for decades; however, healthcare has lagged behind. The role of the CDO is to manage a company’s digital strategy to increase their digital capabilities. A healthcare CDO aims to make patient care more accessible, more effective, more productized, and more scalable. This role is different in every company. According to Mayo Clinic CDO Rita Khan, a CDO’s goal should be to give patients the ability to easily take charge of their own care. Enabling the transition from in-person to remote care is one way CDOs are taking action to empower the patient journey. A CDO’s role is always evolving; they are constantly improving and changing. Jason Szczuka, CDO of Bon Secours Mercy Health, believes that the role is about putting a digital extension on a foundation of already great care.

Differences Between the CDO and CIO

Many health systems have digital initiatives fall under the Chief Information Officer’s (CIO) responsibilities. In reality, the scope of responsibilities between the two roles can be very different but both essential. The primary difference between a CIO and a CDO is that a CDO turns technology into a revenue opportunity for the company. Where a CIO has operational responsibility, a CDO should be responsible for profit and loss, which in most health systems a CIO is not responsible for. Most CIOs are not prioritizing new business creation- new markets, new opportunities, new resources. However, a CDO should be constantly thinking about what is new, what is coming next, and what new market they can enter digitally.

While there has been a rise in dedicated CDOs in health systems, many organizations can’t or don’t see the necessity for adding a new position to their team right now. And it isn’t critical to separately define these roles everywhere. However, because less than 20% of providers have a digital strategy, health systems are not even sure where to begin on the digital strategy journey.  And this is where the role of the CDO can be most effective. A company usually brings in a CDO for 2 main reasons:

  1. When the company needs help addressing the complex root problems before any progress can be made on a digital strategy. A CDO comes in to help understand and address these issues so that digitization can begin.
  2. A CDO will be brought in when the CEO realizes that they will not be able to complete their digital goals with their current team and plan.

How COVID effected digital transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic forced healthcare organizations to accept digital transformation, whether they wanted to or not. Health systems that had already deployed components of their digital strategies were miles ahead of those who had been resisting change. For example, Mayo Clinic CDO Rita Khan noted how the pandemic accelerated their work to digitize. Mayo Clinic noticed an increase in their video appointments from 10 videos a day, to 1,500 visits a day from February to May 2020 alone. The past two years have shown the importance of digital transformation, and how innovation is key to healthcare, or you will get left behind.

Today’s CDO Focuses on 3 Main Priorities

  1. Prioritize Patient Experience: Patient experience is the most important focus areas for a CDO; if patient experience isn’t made easier, then they are not doing their job. Digital strategy should target a seamless patient experience at the center of it.
  2. Use Digital to Drive Health System Strategy: A CDO’s focus should be on innovating and finding new ways to deliver care. Their role is not just to get things done, but to figure out how to take current practices and make them better. A CDO must be thinking about care delivery models that are not yet traditional or ubiquitous. They are innovators at their core.
  3. Collaborate across the C-Suite: A good leader will pull in help from others to come to the best solution. A CDO should utilize the other branches of their company to address problems and create solutions. This will not only help the company in the long run, but will strengthen the company community, helping the organization run more smoothly.

The Digital Strategy Roadmap

Digital strategy is the organized use of tools and technology-enabled services to create and strengthen connections among healthcare stakeholders to help achieve the quadruple aim.

A digital strategy roadmap is the long-term strategy for digitizing a company. This involves technology, a well thought out plan of attack, business processes, and educating the senior team to see how their business will benefit from a digital transformation. A CDO may need to create a model to navigate the evolving landscape of offerings, both from partners and competitors. It is important to make sure the digital roadmap supports the main strategic priorities and goals of the organization. Digital transformation can become an ongoing conversation and not just a yearly topic of discussion. 

Healthcare organizations are beginning to focus on digital transformation because of its effects on patient and staff satisfaction. Digital transformation increases patient and staff satisfaction by streamlining processes and making their lives easier. This means physicians can spend more time face to face engaging with patients and learning about their health, and less time on paperwork and finding data.

HIMSS – in partnership with Healthbox – created the Digital Health Indicator (DHI) to measure a company’s progress toward a digital health ecosystem across four dimensions. The Digital Health Indicator (DHI) measures progress toward a digital health ecosystem. An ecosystem that connects clinicians and provider teams with people, enabling them to manage their health and wellness using digital tools in a secure and private environment whenever and wherever care is needed. Operational and care delivery processes are outcomes-driven, informed by data and real-world evidence to achieve exceptional quality, safety and performance that is sustainable. Understanding your organization’s capacity for digital transformation is a critical first step to setting the strategy for change. 

Closing

It is critical that healthcare organizations prioritize digital transformation today and plan for tomorrow. While an organization does not need to have a dedicated CDO role, we will see more CDO specific roles evolve in healthcare organizations. To be successful in the enablement of a digital ecosystem, health system leaders need to create a strategy for the future with their team. This strategy should:

  1. Make digital transformation integral to the strategy 
  2. Prioritize the patient/consumer and their desires constantly
  3. Grow data access and create insights quickly, always evolving
  4. Branch out- broaden your network and collaborate with others
  5. Get things done. Don’t sit around waiting, immediately start making changes and getting things done

The role of a CDO has rapidly expanded in the past few years and will continue to do so as healthcare organizations embrace digital transformation. Everyone should embody the role of a CDO; look out for what’s new, what’s coming, and what you can do to be at the front of a new market.

Chief Digital Officers- Paving the Way to a Digital World

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