If you’re looking for an analogy, for most of today’s healthcare providers, trying to build on digital transformation is like trying to perch the second floor of a house on walls made entirely of pebbles and no cement. Many elements are there; there’s just nothing holding them together. Without that cement, the second stage of the building will simply collapse.

The pebbles represent the current state of fragmentation in the healthcare sector. There are tens of thousands of different organisations using thousands of different IT platforms in the US healthcare system, with an almost infinite number of different standards and various privacy controls. This makes it hard to achieve a complete picture of an individual’s health data. This complexity is not frequently seen outside of the US. However, attempts by the UK Government to ‘bolt on’ digital COVID-19 solutions without any connection to existing infrastructure proved both ineffective and wildly expensive.18

In a bid to increase access to healthcare during the pandemic, the Medicare program (the closest that Americans come to a single-payer system) expanded its payments to telehealth providers across the country, not just to those in the patient’s local area, as had been the standard. The waiver helps patients access a wide range of providers for different conditions on a single platform, something not easily done before.19.

Figure 7: Please rank your organisation’s top three technology priorities in the next year.

Sample size = 99, Senior Executives
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

Unsurprisingly, finding ways to bring data together from different systems is a top priority for senior executives in the coming year (60%, Figure 7). Working on data availability is the first step in a virtuous circle that can transform providers’ digital efforts. Interestingly, executives put building customer journeys above enterprise data architecture which could be putting the cart before the horse.

Even though the difference is slight (55% vs. 49%), the survey findings are a reminder to build the foundations before starting the second story. Because without unified, available data, the campaign and marketing automation tools involved in customer journey management are likely to be less efficient.

With data feeding automation and then AI for internal and patient-facing applications, providers can make the most of other resources, such as diverting staff to more strategic tasks or high-touch patient experience. With higher patient satisfaction and an ability to interact online, more data is gathered, deeper insights gained, AI systems become more sophisticated, and the virtuous circle is complete.

The thought of implementing large-scale technological change may cause providers to balk, particularly those operating on ever-tighter margins. But however immediate the need for digital transformation may be, it is a long-term decider of success. It doesn’t even have to be in areas of direct healthcare provision.

A recent McKinsey study on healthcare’s payments infrastructure found that 30 interventions to simplify processes could save $265bn annually.20

rrSimilarly, simplifying internal processes can have a dramatic impact on employee experience. The pandemic has been a time of unbelievable stress on healthcare employees and it has caused many to reconsider their career choice. More than half a million US healthcare workers quit their jobs in August 2021 alone. To attract those workers back or keep the ones they have, healthcare providers will have to put every possible tool at employees’ disposal to make their work life as healthy as it can be. As one economist recently pointed out: “It’s now going to be a workers’ market […] they are starting to flex their collective muscle.”21

Follow the Leader

Using our Marketing Operations Performance Index (MOPI) developed for Adobe Digital Trends 2022, we identified the characteristics of leaders, mainstream companies, and laggards in the healthcare space (visit the Methodology section in this report to read how the MOPI is constructed).

Figure 8: What is your number one priority to obtain or maintain a competitive advantage in 2022?

Note: The sample size for the laggards’ group was too small to include for meaningful statistical analysis. Sample size = 362
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

The majority of the healthcare industry comprises Mainstream companies, but a small but significant proportion (33%) would be considered leaders. When tallied with the potential steps a healthcare business can take to improve experience (see Figure 8), it is clear where Leaders feel the opportunities lie.

From all the responses gathered so far, from collaboration capabilities to connected technologies, Leading businesses clearly have the foundations in place to move to the next stage of digital transformation. So, it’s no surprise that Leaders in Figure 8 prioritise new services that offer a more holistic approach to health management. At the same time, Mainstream organisations are focused on hygiene measures of access and convenience.

Leading organisations might be looking to emulate the sort of service offered by digital diabetes management provider, OneTouch. OneTouch Reveal patients can monitor their blood sugar and share results with their healthcare team and others.22 The company claims that 77% of people with diabetes who use this product found managing their condition with an app better than without.

But the service doesn’t stop there. OneTouch has partnered with other digital wellbeing apps, Noom, Fitbit, Cecilia Health, and Welldoc.

Noom is a behaviour change nutrition app designed to help people with their weight and wellbeing but is proven to help diabetics improve their blood glucose control. A pilot study found 65% of the OneTouch Reveal users who used Noom lost five times more weight than non-Noom users.23 Fitbit is also integrated into the offering, with a recent report having shown that adding activity monitoring also improves blood sugar.

Cecilia Health is a one-to-one remote coaching program that answers users’ questions and helps with medication adherence. Welldoc is a personalised, AI-driven app specifically for patients with diabetes and heart/circulatory conditions. These solutions are open to the public via the app stores. Together, they create a ‘one-stop shop’ approach to diabetes management for patients, with a single subscription set to be included in reimbursements starting in early 2022.24

Figure 9: Which of the following steps, if any, is your organisation taking to increase the productivity of the marketing/ecommerce group?

Note: The sample size for the laggards’ group was too small to include for meaningful statistical analysis. Sample size = 305

To be able to deliver these bundled solutions, skills, as well as technology will be an interesting challenge. We’ve already seen that providers will have to work hard to attract talent and provide them with the best possible tools. As we saw in the five Performance Indicators, Talent is one of the key components in meeting the challenges of this shifting landscape. Naturally, Leaders are investing heavily in training and work and project management compared to Mainstream companies (65% vs. 48% for training, and 66% vs. 56% for work and project management). (see Figure 9)

The flipside is also true. When we asked, elsewhere in the survey, what practitioners felt was holding their marketing or customer experience organisation back, 42% of the Mainstream companies cited poor integration between tech systems, compared to just 29% of Leaders (see below Figure 10). Tech integration is clearly still a challenge even for the crème de la crème companies, but they’re definitely making faster progress. Similarly, the lack of digital skills was more of an internal barrier for Mainstream providers than Leaders (30% vs 19%), indicating that they should perhaps consider investing more in training and development than they currently do.

Figure 10: What is holding your marketing/customer experience organisation back, if anything? Please check any internal barriers that your organisation is experiencing.

Note: The sample size for the laggards’ group was too small to include for meaningful statistical analysis. Sample size = 305 Practitioners
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

Not yet a high priority for healthcare professionals (but certainly higher for Leaders than for Mainstream) is investing in Marketing Operations (39% vs. 27%, see Figure 9). We predict this will rise in significance, not least because of the deeper engagement with technology, particularly around AI, and continued attempts to connect systems and people.

The term Marketing Operations was coined by Scott Brinker in the late 2000s, having identified that “technology decisions and marketing strategy are intertwined.” Brinker foresaw a new position blending IT professionals and marketing to lead the way in increasing digital-first industry sectors.25

It doesn’t mean everyone in marketing is also a technologist. Advances in dashboarding mean the day-to-day use of solutions requires minimal technical training. By having an expert who can understand the needs of Marketing while also selecting and managing the most appropriate technology solutions, everyone can get on with their ‘day job’, confident that there is a watchful eye on technological performance.

Automating customer journeys using apps, self-service portals, chatbots, or a readiness to fill the Marketing Operations role can significantly influence a digital healthcare transformation. But the role has the potential to be diminished when used in isolation. Figure 10 shows that successful digital transformation is clearly greater than the sum of its parts when each of the elements highlighted in this report is brought together.

Figure 11: Thinking about key marketing insights in your organisation, how would you rate the following? (‘Very strong’ and ‘Strong’ responses only)

Note: The sample size for the laggards’ group was too small to include for meaningful statistical analysis. Sample size = 268
Source: Adobe/Econsultancy, Digital Trends Survey, Q4 2021

As seen in Figure 11, Leaders who have upskilled staff, who have done the foundational work to help systems and teams communicate, and who have done the necessary data due diligence to feed automation and AI find that their ability to perform their job well far outstrips that of their Mainstream counterparts.

The pandemic will eventually be in Healthcare’s rear-view mirror, but competition is only going to intensify. Standing still is effectively going backwards. Healthcare providers will need every possible tool in their toolkit to survive and thrive.