Digital Transformation in Healthcare: Senior Leaders on Opportunities and Challenges

Our seven-expert panel says that while there’s no single strategy, transformation must always deliver value.

The tech is ready, but people and talent are just as important. Digital is no longer the domain of just one team. User experiences must be personalized and offer clear benefits.

Those are among the major takeaways from Prophet’s most recent healthcare roundtable on digital transformation. We gather for these discussions several times a year so leaders from different subsectors and functions can compare notes and share insights. A big thank you to our participants:

We covered a lot in a little time, but here are the big takeaways – many of which align with the insights found in Prophet Healthcare’s research report.

Five Things to Keep in Mind as Your Healthcare Organization Digitally Transforms

1) There’s No One Right Transformation Strategy

Transformation approaches are as varied as the healthcare organizations trying to transform. If the question is whether to build, buy or borrow, the answer in healthcare is often all of the above.

Healthcare leaders called out that startup acquisitions can be attractive when they provide access to new thinking, talent and ways of working. But the acquiring company must take the right integration approach if it is to overcome cultural barriers and fully realize the value of its investment. One global healthcare leader carefully evaluates talent as part of its acquisition strategy and said that putting “acqui-hires” high-profile leadership positions can signal the organization’s commitment to its digital transformation. Such bold moves are a good way to move the needle on “digital thinking” at the largest organizations.

2) Flexible Solutions and Hybrid Models Suit Varying Needs

Tactical flexibility is necessary to navigate inevitable resistance points. For example, the overnight shift to remote working showed just how quickly organizations could “get digital.” Now it’s a matter of optimizing what works and scaling it. For example, mental health is a natural fit for virtual care, but not for all patients (e.g., those with roommates). Such realities necessitate business models that are both traditional and virtual, rather than either-or.

One healthcare sales leader confirmed that field representatives want to get back out on the road, but also recognized how digital made their lives easier and helped enhance personal relationships. What “location, location, location” was once to retail, “hybrid, hybrid, hybrid” will be to all parts of healthcare.

3) Digital Must Deliver Value

Participants pointed out common links among effective transformation strategies – how they deliver real value to users and solve real-world problems. One leader mentioned digital interactions that provide “a little something extra,” such as access to a community or tools to address common issues (e.g., guides to talking to an employer about a disease).

“Such realities necessitate business models that are both traditional and virtual, rather than either-or.

Another stated that too much digital content is still brochureware when it should be engaging users with questions about specific needs. While digital transformation is strategically critical, success can – and should – be measured tactically and practically.  It’s not about taking non-digital things and making them digital.  It’s about making things better through the use of digital.

4) Transformation Takes More Than Tech

Healthcare organizations adopted technology at an unprecedented pace in 2020, generally a good thing for a historically slow-moving industry. There’s a risk, however, that some companies may under-invest in other vital people-related capabilities (e.g., user experience design, Agile methodologies, innovation approaches). In some cases, it may be necessary to dust off that tired ­– but still true – warning: “tech is not a silver bullet.”

Leaders want to avoid simply adding more devices. They are looking for tech that simplifies and streamlines. For instance, smart beds that automatically take patients’ vital signs could free nurses to focus on more meaningful tasks. In order to change a behavior, there has to be a clear benefit.

Indeed, behavioral change may be the biggest barrier to achieving scale, according to our group. Consider how it took a global pandemic to overcome caregiver resistance to virtual visits. The technology has been ready for years and patients wanted virtual care, but the power of habit – doing things the way they’d always been done – was too strong. Some leaders are wary that we’ll lapse back into these old patterns post-pandemic, though others are optimistic that medical schools now offer virtual care training for the next generation of physicians.

5) Optimizing The Value of Digital Means Thinking Digital

To build on the momentum of the last year, leaders are looking to optimize what works. For example, enhancing online sessions for new pharma research or treatment options and mandating that some appointments be virtual (e.g., check-ins for prescription renewal or with chronic disease patients). They also called out the necessity of balancing digital marketing and sales efforts with traditional tactics.

Leaders in our roundtable also spoke to the need for specific digital talent (e.g., individuals who can translate business needs into technology requirements). Everyone claims to be agile, but too many projects run into “sprint-stop, sprint-stop” patterns because one leader or stakeholder isn’t on board. Our roundtable participants showed empathy – as well as a few eye rolls and chuckles – about this common experience. Still, everyone agrees the journey to agile must continue and a ‘digital mindset’ from leaders is necessary to accelerate it.


In terms of digital transformation, healthcare adapted quickly to the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders are pushing forward, despite significant barriers, fine-tuning and scaling their successful initiatives and exploring new capabilities. The next year may not bring as much change as the last year, but it will be critical to sustaining the positive change that’s occurred.

For more, download our Transforming Healthcare: The State of Digital Marketing and Selling in Life Sciences report.

If you’re interested in participating in future healthcare roundtables, reach out to Paul.

Your network connection is offline.