Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
December 2, 2020

Following the ‘Moral Compass’ as Healthcare Goes Digital

The healthcare industry’s digital transformation has entered hyper speed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the future of this transformation depends not just on how the industry implements technology today, but also how its leaders address the ethics around the data and analytics they are able to generate from that technology. Data is a critical benefit for healthcare organizations as they expand their use of technology; questions about patient privacy and data ownership are equally critical challenges.

“Executives will need to exercise moral judgment, imagination and courage,” said Linda Hill, a Harvard Business School professor and leading expert on leadership and innovation. “To build trust, they will need to go beyond ‘do no harm’ and ensure they are doing things in the interest of patients and customers. You have data, but do you use it? How do you inform customers that you’re using it? You have to be thoughtful and deliberate because once you share it, you can’t take it back.”

Hill was one of a dozen experts and executives we spoke with about the short-and long-term impact of the COVID crisis on the healthcare industry. But Hill, the co-author of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, pointed to several important questions for all healthcare sectors as they move into the digital health era.

Putting the customer first

Technology is bringing sea change to the healthcare industry: from sensors to electronic records and — particularly in 2020 — telehealth. As industry leaders look toward long-term digitization efforts, they will need to ensure that they are focused on customer and patient satisfaction.

First, leaders must understand what they need to do, and then identify what tools they need to achieve this. Often, the tool comes first, without considering how customers and patients would use them and need from them.

“A lot of digital platforms that healthcare companies have are not very human-centric, because they aren't designed with the user in mind,” Hill said. “We need to have electronic records, but right now it feels very impersonal.”

The trouble with data

Data presents several issues for organizations as digital technology brings new troves of information. The basic questions — What are you doing with the data? Where are you housing it? — lend themselves to some deeper questions.

First is how you’re using it. If the goal is to use data to help make better decisions, then it must be accessible to decision makers in a way that is approachable to them, and not just data analysts. The more digitally mature companies present their data in dashboards that provide important information about the stats that drive value and impact.

Next are the questions about the security of your data. What happens if there is a breach? Are you sharing or selling your data, and if so, how are you ensuring that it is in the best interest of patients and customers? All told, these are important questions that must be addressed by the business.

“It’s dangerous to have copious amounts of data around at risk of being hacked if you’re not really using it,” Hill said. “That's not a data analyst issue but a business decision.”

Three questions healthcare leaders must ask about how their organizations are using data:

  1. How do you create a culture of accountability where everyone from the board to staff shares responsibility for data security? We define culture as the shared assumptions that drive the way organizations think, behave and act. How has your organization made sure that strong data security is a shared value?
  2. How do you find leaders who share the values of the organization? Are you screening and hiring for people who will remain true to your mission? Does your hiring process ask the right questions and seek out the right traits in potential leaders?
  3. Have you created awareness of these values throughout your organization? How do you ensure and maintain your organization’s values from the top down? Are you having candid conversations about ethical dilemmas associated with collecting and using data and providing guidance on how to address them responsibly?