Consumer digital in healthcare isn’t coming.

It’s here.

I have had the pleasure and the privilege of working with health systems and healthcare stakeholders both in Canada and the United States. One topic that is at the forefront of the health leader’s mind is this notion that the advent of consumer-facing mobile health technology like apps, patient portals, virtual reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, telemedicine, etc. is about to disrupt the industry.

This cannot be further from the truth.

We talk about “consumer digital” in the healthcare space as if it is a storm on the horizon, that is about to make landfall. I would submit to you that consumer digital has arrived, and we— the healthcare industry— are far behind.

It is now a competitive imperative for the healthcare organizations to modernize their approach to— patient, consumer, and client engagement through implementing digitally enabled solutions.

Many in the industry argue that we still have time to spare as seemingly no one within the industry has yet been able to do this well.


That mindset assumes that health systems, particularly in the United States only compete with one another to deliver value.

That is false.

I would argue, especially in the digital consumer space, that the real competitor of a health system is anyone who their patients choose to compare them to.

In the eyes of the consumer, we don’t get a pass because we are “healthcare,” and “our industry is more complicated” than the others.

For publicly funded health systems, there is an even more significant mandate to succeed in this space as they have an implicit social contract with the citizens and the communities they to serve to deliver value.

The consumer today has terrific digital experiences with other industries like banking, retail, travel, and entertainment. You can buy a plane ticket, download your boarding pass and book a hotel all from your smartphone while monitoring your transactions from your bank’s app. Healthcare remains the thorn in the digitally minded consumer’s side as only limited interactions with health systems are available through mobile-digital modalities.

Therefore, health systems that currently lead the industry in this space are just the best of the worst.

We can do better.

Health systems should immediately work to adopt a digital consumer strategy that will not only position them as leaders in their industry but also position them to go toe-to-toe with leaders in differing sectors, and compete with digital native companies entering the healthcare space.

We must take bold steps forward to improve our digital offering. If we don’t, in the short-term we risk being displaced. In the long run, we risk becoming irrelevant.

Here are some ideas to inform you consumer digital health strategy;

1) Procure innovation through partnerships.

Generally speaking, healthcare practitioners aren’t known for being great technologists. Of course, there are a few exceptions. One strategy you can take as a healthcare leader is to partner with technology firms, entrepreneurs, and innovators so that you can create the future of care together in a collaborative manner. It can be a costly and wasteful strategy for the healthcare organizations to go off on their own trying to play double duty as both a healthcare and a technology expert. Play to your strengths.

A more reasonable approach would be for healthcare practitioners to work with technologists who understand the boundaries of technology, but lack the expertise to “right size” and map out their technology onto a clinical use case. The right partnership can be transformative for your organization.

2) Use a design process.

Innovation and value have to go hand in hand.

Organisations who focus too much on innovation tend to implement technologies that exceed the comfort of their patients and the culture of their organizations, or worse, they over-engineer solutions an introduce additional complexity into the organization.  Conversely, focusing too much on value tends to lead to innovation that does not give an organization enough uniqueness to compete in the marketplace.

The solution to getting this balance right is to implement a design process into your digital consumer strategy, whereby every implementation of technology is tied back to a real consumer insight and need. Also, perform regular check-ins with consumers to ensure alignment with your strategy.

3) Invite everyone to the party.

Sorry, physicians are not the only people involved in patients care.

When looking for innovative ideas to inform your digital consumer strategy, be sure to gather input from various types of clinical and non-clinical roles across the care continuum.  Speaking from experience, I have found some of the best design insights and ideas stem from nurses, unit clerks, and environmental services workers. These care providers are often overlooked as a source of information, yet they spend the most time directly interacting with patients and their families. Don’t forget them.


Zain Ismail’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization’s he is affiliated with. Follow  Zain on Twitter— @IsmailZain #IsmailNation #CrossBorderLove #YQG