For the past decade or more, healthcare organizations have invested heavily in electronic medical record (EMR) solutions, yet much of the promise of EMRs remains elusive. Furthermore, EMRs don’t address the digital requirements of healthcare beyond the four walls of the hospital.

That’s not to suggest that EMRs aren’t an important investment for hospitals. Rather, it’s about balancing those investments against other digital initiatives to achieve the objectives of the hospital as well as the objectives of healthcare more broadly.

The Australian federal government, for example, is trying to leverage digital to move some of the healthcare load out of hospitals and closer to the homes of patients to improve outcomes, achieve greater patient satisfaction, and reduce costs in areas such as chronic care and mental health.

But unless the customer or patient is engaged in that journey, goals will be hard to achieve. We have long been comfortable acknowledging the need for patient centricity or even consumer-led care, but we stop short of the possibility of applying modern customer service principles to a patient.

To engage the healthcare customer, healthcare organizations will need to deploy a digital platform that makes it possible to more quickly adopt flexible toolsets that complement the back-end systems organizations have invested so heavily in, such as EMRs and patient administration systems. Then the question becomes how to enable that digital health platform within the existing ecosystem.

Defining a digital plan

It helps to start by identifying the biggest pain points and opportunities and then defining an incremental plan to execute what matters. These pain points and opportunities tend to fall into four categories:

  • Infrastructure
  • Software and tools
  • Interoperability
  • Methodology

Digital infrastructure is the foundation of digital transformation and new models of care enabled by customer service principles. Increasingly, the most beneficial digital tools critical to the data analytics and logistical improvement of customer-centric engagement models reside in the cloud.

The second category, software and tools, is about looking beyond traditional healthcare platforms and applying customer service principles and digital tools used by other industries. These enable healthcare organizations to achieve the objectives of personalized healthcare and engagement of the customer/patient.

When it comes to interoperability and integration technologies, we must move from being facility-based to aggregating broader customer datasets across the healthcare spectrum. That includes connecting with the customer in his or her home through the customer’s devices and consolidating all sources of information about that individual. There are proven technologies outside of healthcare, so it makes sense to tap into the experience of other industries.

A digital transformation methodology starts at the highest level with the culture of the organization. Next, attention must be paid to the customer journey, from where that customer is in his or her healthcare today to what can be achieved in the future. To achieve those long-term objectives, that journey needs to be underpinned by the proper technologies, systems, processes and policies, and a digital readiness methodology is critical to determining what is needed.

Beyond the EMR

Achieving the objectives of better outcomes, reduced costs and greater satisfaction requires healthcare organizations to take a pragmatic approach to their technology, tools and process investments.

Massive investments in EMRs have taken a toll on some healthcare organizations, while many others that have followed the traditional principles of EMR adoption have failed to achieve benefits commensurate with the cost.

Much of this results from the difficulties some organizations have had in adapting to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) EMR Adoption Model (EMRAM).

While the EMRAM model is beneficial to both patients and the healthcare organization for many reasons, it’s not necessarily the best — or only — way to adopt key capabilities, or indeed, digital solutions reaching beyond the hospital walls. An alternative approach is to implement capabilities such as medication management or customer-centric tools through a digital platform that better supports a “start where IT matters” approach.

The benefits of pragmatic investment in EMRs are evident. However, as the industry moves toward greater personalization of healthcare with a parallel need to also standardize (in other words, remove variance), and as pressure mounts to improve outcomes and reduce costs, a digital platform provides greater flexibility to incorporate the best digital solutions.