Hospital leaders see promise of digital innovation but struggle to overcome financial and operational barriers

by  Evan Sweeney | 

The majority of hospital executives believe digital innovation is critical to their facility’s long-term success, but many are stifled by a lack of capital funding to invest in new technologies and an under-resourced IT department to support integration.

And, as Congress wages another battle over healthcare reform, more than one-third say regulatory uncertainty is keeping them from making new investments in digital innovation.

A full 75% of hospital executives, including CEOs and innovation leaders, believe digital innovation is necessary to gain an advantage over competitors, according to a survey of more than 300 executives by the American Hospital Association and Avia, an innovation network of hospitals and health systems. Eighty-five percent of respondents said digital innovation is tied to their long-term strategy.

While most believe that digital transformation is prioritized throughout their organization, financing is a clear barrier. More than half of respondents said they are holding off on digital investments because they don’t have the capital and 70% believe their IT department does not have the staffing or resources to support new investments.

RELATED: Q&A—BJC HealthCare’s innovation lab will focus on process improvement over apps and gadgets

For that reason, hospital leaders see value in creating an innovation center with dedicated funding to oversee new projects. More than 70% of hospitals with more than 400 beds have built or plan to build and innovation center. Half of academic medical centers have made that investment or have plans to do so.

Implementing new digital tools can also be a challenge, especially for facilities that lack dedicated funding or sufficiently staffed IT departments. The average hospital takes 23 months to fully scale a digital innovation, however, AHA and Avia found that hospitals with dedicated funding, budget reserves for each service line, a separate mechanism for funding digital opportunities and a well-staffed IT department take half as long to implement new technology.

RELATED: In a B2B world, digital health startups thrive on targeted engagement, successful pilots

“We now know that top performers share traits that allow them to accelerate innovation 52% faster than average organizations, shortening time to impact by a full year,” Eric Langshur, CEO and co-founder of AVIA said in an announcement. “It’s never been more essential or accessible to take action.”

Despite some hesitancy from providers, digital health investments notched record-setting funding levels in 2017, and experts say the industry is on pace for its biggest year yet. But recent reports also show that digital health startups rely on collaboration with hospitals and pilot projects, and some companies say those projects take more than a year before registering a sale.