While it still probably holds true that “Doctor knows best”, the dynamics of the relationship between healthcare professionals and consumers is certainly changing. In today’s information-rich digital age, where information is a click away and readily accessible, consumers want to take healthcare matters into their own hands. A recent survey revealed that over 86% of customers want to play a more proactive role when it comes to healthcare decisions. With over 4 million mobile health apps downloaded each day[i], and more than 45% of consumers searching for health information on social media channels[ii], the consumer is more empowered than ever before.

Where does this new dynamic leave the healthcare industry? We conducted a survey of global healthcare players, comparing the digital maturity of healthcare against other industries. Unfortunately, in terms of meeting consumer expectations in a digital age, we found an industry that is not entirely fighting fit. The survey revealed a wide disparity in the digital maturity of healthcare providers. Only 33% were found to be digitally mature (what we call the ‘Digirati’), while the majority were found to be lagging in the use of digital technologies. Taking a look at three areas – social, mobile and personalization of care – provides an interesting healthcare health-check.

Taking the social medicine. Social media channels offer tremendous potential for building and cementing relationships with healthcare consumers. There are some companies that are pulling out all the stops in terms of effectively using this channel – Cleveland Clinic being one of them. This Ohio-based multi-specialty medical center has used social media to provide engaging, relevant content to its users. No surprises then that the clinic has among the highest levels of social media reach compared to its peers, with over 1 million followers on Facebook and over 2 million visits-per-month to its online patient education portal – “Health Hub”[iii]. In fact, the clinic’s Twitter account has been recognized by TIME magazine as one of the 140 best Twitter feeds of 2014[iv].

However, such healthy examples are few and far between. Most providers have failed to capitalize on the social media opportunity. Setting aside the healthcare Digirati that we mentioned above, we found that only 18% of the non-Digirati in healthcare use social media channels to provide customer services. Frequently, those that do use social media channels utilize them to provide organizational information rather than focus on customer issues[v].

Swallowing the mobile pill. As well as social, the mobile channel is not being used effectively for customer service. With more than 100,000 mobile healthcare apps currently available in the market[vi], this channel is a force to reckon with. Mayo Clinic, for example, has risen to the fore as an active user of this platform. Its smartphone app enables cardiac patients recovering from surgery to monitor their vital signs and track recovery. The app is highly effective in reducing patient re-admissions – only 20% of patients who used the app were re-admitted to the hospital within three months, as opposed to 60% who did not use the app[vii].

However, Mayo Clinic is an isolated example. We found that only 13% of non-Digirati healthcare providers use mobile channels to provide services to customers.

Personalizing the prescription. Healthcare providers have access to a wealth of data, which can be used to personalize care in various ways. For instance, Canada’s St. Paul’s Hospital is implementing a Big Data analytics solution in order to develop individualized treatment plans for its HIV/AIDS patients. The solution will analyze genetic data to identify ways in which specific strains of the HIV virus affect a patient[viii]. However, such instances of personalization are rare in the healthcare industry. Our survey revealed that only 21% of non-Digirati healthcare providers use digital technologies to personalize care.

There are a number of reasons why the industry is failing to fully embrace the digital opportunity. Many healthcare providers lack a systematic approach when it comes to digital transformation. We found that only 33% of non-Digirati healthcare providers have a high-level roadmap for digital transformation, while only 28% have a common vision on digital transformation across their senior executive group. We also found that only 36% of non-Digirati invests in building digital skills such as mobile, analytics, social media and digital leadership. In addition, most healthcare providers continue to rely on manual processes and only 31% have automated their core processes.

So, how can the industry’s players do more to build their digital health?  It all starts by defining a vision and securing buy-in from top management. Healthcare providers need to define a vision that is based on a thorough understanding of the impact of digital on healthcare delivery. The vision should also be based on an assessment of existing digital capabilities, processes and IT systems.

The next step is to establish a transformative roadmap, along with a governance model to drive digital initiatives. In terms of the roadmap, some digital initiatives would be quick wins, using established technologies to transform the customer experience. Others would be more long-term in nature, requiring sustained investments in building digital assets. Strong governance of digital initiatives can be accomplished by appointing a Digital Czar and creating dedicated Digital Services Units (DSUs) and Centers of Excellence (CoEs). The Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, the Mobile Center of Excellence at Cleveland Clinic, and Mount Sinai Hospital’s Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology are all examples of such CoEs.

Healthcare providers will also need to ensure that their employees fully embrace digital tools. Building a digital communication backbone and platforms for knowledge sharing will be critical to achieve this. In addition, healthcare providers should leverage “digital ambassadors” – doctors and nurses who are early adopters of digital technologies – to help evangelize the use of these technologies among employees.

Finally, healthcare providers need to prioritize digital skill development by actively investing in training programs and hiring experienced digital professionals. Internal operations should also be streamlined to enable healthcare providers to rapidly respond to evolving market requirements.

The course of treatment is clear, as is the opportunity. Digital provides a really exciting opportunity for this industry to be more efficient, to transform its customer experience and – critically – enhance quality of care. You can read more in our report: Taking the Digital Pulse: Why Healthcare Providers Need an Urgent Digital Check-Up.

[i] BusinessInsider, “10 Ways Mobile Is Transforming Health Care”, June 2014

[ii] National Research Corporation, “Consumers Going Digital With Their Healthcare Experiences Means Providers Must Step It Up”, March 2014

[iii] Health Leaders Media, “Secret to Cleveland Clinic’s Social Media Success: Content”, June 2014

[iv] Time.com, “The 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2014”, May 2014

[v] Health Leaders Media, “Secret to Cleveland Clinic’s Social Media Success: Content”, June 2014

[vi] Information Week, “9 Mobile Apps To Get You Fit”, June 2014

[vii] FierceMobile Healthcare, “Smartphone app proves valuable for cardiac patients”, April 2014

[viii] Business Cloud, “Canada’s largest HIV treatment centre taps SAP, PHEMI for big data project”, February 2014