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VIEWPOINT: How Health Care Can Embrace a Digital Transformation

By Sanjeev Agrawal and Mohan Giridharadas


It desperately needs one

The health-care industry would be better equipped to meet its many challenges if it were more willing to embrace a digital transformation it so desperately needs.

Health-care systems can no longer afford to allow their operational components to be only “good enough” or to be constrained by the mindsets and habits of the past.

Improved and more-efficient use of equipment and personnel is critical for health-care organizations that want to thrive in their current markets and capture new market share going forward.

The way to achieve that is through a well-executed digital transformation in which new and better digital technology is used to change how health systems operate and deliver patient care.

Health care has lagged behind as other asset-intensive businesses — such as transportation, retail, airlines, hospitality, and food services — have made dramatic progress over the last decade with digital transformations of their own.

What’s held health care back? At least in part it’s because of some long-held — and in our view, incorrect — beliefs. A few of those beliefs, and our responses to them, include:

• Health care is not like other businesses. Some people argue that the rules that apply to other businesses don’t apply to health care. Or they say that their particular health system is different from others. Operationally speaking, health care is fundamentally no different from any other asset-intensive business that has substantial demand and supply stochasticity. And while health systems may indeed have unique characteristics relative to one another, they share far more in common.

• Electronic health records (EHR) systems should accomplish these objectives. Indeed, EHRs have been a vital addition to health-care operations, serving as a repository for enormous amounts of data. But your EHR is not going to perform high-level predictive analytics for you. You need technology that places the right analytics, insights, and recommendations in front of the right users — such as surgeons, schedulers, nurses, and executive teams — at the right time.

• IT should take the lead on digital transformation. The health-care industry tends to rely on IT departments more than perhaps it should for digital innovation, which is somewhat understandable. Health-care professionals want to focus on providing good clinical care, not on software and technology. In the rest of the business world, however, IT’s role is understood to be providing infrastructure, security, and policies to implement business-transformation tools. IT’s role is not to solve complex operational problems. IT cannot possibly know the details of every part of the health system’s business well enough to take the lead on digital transformation. 

Health care needs to rid itself of these and other incorrect beliefs so that it can change its inefficient ways. Making more efficient use of personnel and equipment that already exist — and delivering better and more timely patient care in the process — could be the true game changer.

Sanjeev Agrawal and Mohan Giridharadas, co-authors of “Better Healthcare Through Math,” are senior executives at LeanTaaS (, a software company that focuses on improving health-care operations. Over the past six to seven years, LeanTaaS has conducted thousands of conversations with physicians, nurses, administrators, and health-care executives to understand the issues they face. 


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