• December 4, 2023

Survey: 75% of Healthcare Leaders Aren’t Happy With Their Digital Health Plans

A recent survey of 100 health system executives finds that most say a strong digital health strategy is essential, yet less than a quarter are confident in the one they have.

More than 90% of health systems surveyed recently say a strong digital health strategy is essential to improving clinical outcomes, boosting clinician satisfaction rates and increasing productivity, yet less than half actually have a strategy in place. And less than a quarter are “very confident” that they have the right strategy.

That’s the troubling take-away from a survey of 100 health system executives conducted this past February by Sage Growth Partners. The survey, contained in Panda Health’s Hospital Digital Health Technology Report: 2022, offers a glimpse of the chaotic digital health market that healthcare leaders are facing these days, and offers a few guidelines to establishing a path forward.

“This report shows that hospitals are struggling in their efforts to improve efficiency, patient care, and outcomes as a result of challenging and time-consuming technology procurements,” David Harvey, CEO of Panda Health, a digital health marketplace launched in 2020 through a partnership of CentraCare, the Gunderson health System and ThedaCare, said in a press release. “It can take hospitals up to one year or longer to find and contract for new solutions, and even after implementing them, many question if they selected the best technology for their unique needs. Healthcare organizations need a more streamlined process, so they can confidently move faster and drive better outcomes.”

Digital health was seen as a “nice to have” strategy just a few years ago, but the pandemic pushed things into overdrive. Many healthcare organizations embraced virtual care platforms and digital health tools and programs to reduce traffic at overcrowded hospitals and replace in-person treatment at a time when the risk for spreading the virus was high.

Now, with COVID-19 easing into the background and consumers expressing their desire to continue using digital health, health systems are looking to make those emergency measures more permanent and trying to develop long-term strategies.

Identifying the Path Forward

“Many organizations are turning to digital health solutions, which tend to integrate with and complement EHRs and other systems of record, to build patient loyalty, improve the bottom line, and support staff members and clinicians,” the Panda Health report says. “These technologies span a multitude of use cases and solution categories, including patient engagement platforms, financial clearance and price estimation tools, digital care navigators, and more.”

According to the survey:

  • 68% want digital care coordination/care journey orchestration tools;
  • 63% of the health systems are looking to implement digital reputation management tools within the next three years;
  • 61% are looking for digital care navigators or website chatbots;
  • 47% are looking for financial clearance and price explanation tools;
  • 43% are looking for self-service patient scheduling solutions;
  • 41% want patient engagement tools;
  • 39% are interested in remote patient monitoring services; and
  • 38% are eyeing self-service payments and estimates services.

(Interestingly, of the health systems surveyed, 91% say they already have a telemedicine platform in place, with the remaining 9% planning on adopting one within three years.)

But creating a strategy to address those needs is not that easy.

According to the survey, only 6% of the health systems surveyed have a “fully developed” digital health plan, while 46% feel their plan is “moderately developed.” Conversely, 16% said they haven’t developed any plan, and 31% say it’s “slightly developed.”

When asked to identify the biggest barrier to establishing a strategy, 38% citing the integration vetting process, 34% identified vetting solutions for functionality, 15% focused on cybersecurity vetting, and 10% identified technical standards vetting.

Part of the problem is tied to the crowded digital health market, fueled by a dramatic increase in venture funding from $14 billion in 2020 to $26.5 billion in 2021. According to the survey, 66% of health systems say it’s moderately or extremely challenging to find the right solutions to consider, while 71% say it’s moderately or extremely challenging to align internal stakeholders to a digital health strategy.

Alongside that, more than half of the health systems surveyed said they get more than 10 e-mails or phone calls every week from digital health vendors, with 3% saying they field more than 100 a week, yet 95% surveyed said those vendor contacts result in business deals less than 2% of the time.

To tackle these challenges, the report makes three recommendations:

  • Establish a deliberate and actionable strategy;
  • Find new ways to quickly narrow the field; and
  • Conduct a more efficient evaluation and contracting process.

That may include seeking outside help. Some 56% of the health systems surveyed said it would be very or extremely valuable to partner with another organization to evaluate and implement a digital health strategy.

The recommendation may seem simplistic, but the value of a good digital health plan is clear. Some 83% of the health systems surveyed say digital health adoption will increase over the next three years, and 65% say their budgets will increase as a result. In other words, if they’re spending money on the issue, they’d better know what they’re spending it on.

Eric Wicklund is the Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.