Key actions for successful digital transformation in healthcare

Judy Han

Digital Transformation and Organizational Sustainability Lead Consultant at Roche

Key actions for successful digital transformation in healthcare

12 August 2021 | 7min

Quick Takes

  • Digital transformation offers almost endless opportunities to improve all facets of healthcare

  • Yet, the majority of organizations do not reach their transformation goals

  • To achieve successful digital transformation leaders must prioritize their leadership capabilities, deepen their self-awareness and listen

Lost in transformation

Transforming organizations in the digital era has become an overdosed and overused mantra that we are facing, especially in the healthcare space. However, if you look closer into successful and scalable approaches, little evidence has been created compared to the number of theories, articles and diverse opinions being published globally. 

Simply searching for the term “digital health transformation” reveals more than 530 Million Google results. Yet, a pragmatic toolkit to reach an unclear destination for organizations is not available. Navigating in a complex and interdependent system, digitalization offers almost endless opportunities and at the same time, reveals several hindrances. Skepticism of digital transformation initiatives has gained more attention, unsurprisingly, as around 70% of them do not reach their goals.1 This brings some soberness into today’s digital agenda when planning the next transformation ahead. So how could you possibly lead the way out of this uncertainty?

Navigating oneself

Leading oneself is one of the hardest disciplines. However, if you want to lead, invest at least 40% of your time in leading yourself.2 Leading oneself requires energy, dedication, persistence and most importantly: time which is for today’s leaders one of the most valuable assets – not interchangeable and unsaleable. As our daily agendas appear to be filled automatically, with timely bottlenecks, it can be compared to the Hourglass Symptom: our proximal workload is queuing up due to a time stenosis. The consequence: less time to spend on leading oneself. If we are already facing a lack of time, how can we even develop new leadership traits and lead ourselves through a change?

Recently, several methods for developing new habits have become quite popular, such as the 100-Day Action Plan or a 30-Day Leadership Challenge. Further, the 21/90 rule states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change. However, these formulas simply sound too tempting to potentially solve our time constraints. Certainly, there is no shortage of advice – books and blogs, hacks and apps – all created to boost time management.3 Rather from an end goal perspective: putting “leading oneself” into practice means to consciously make a daily decision.

Thinking about priorities and timing before acting on pent-up desires,4 how can we unlock our time hourglass locked-in symptoms?

Key action items
  • Timebox your objectives – no excuses. Define your essential daily priorities. Start with 2-3 key objectives to focus on setting into a routine practice. Name and list your examples.
  • Groundhog Day. Reflect and note down the amount of time for each daily activity. Do you recognize any recurrent patterns? And do they support your leadership navigation?

The self-awareness gap

One of the key topics to be asked throughout one’s own change transformation journey basically leads to the question: Where are my strengths? According to P. Drucker, most people think they know what they are good at. And usually, they are wrong.5 And this might ultimately lead to an overconfidence bias.

More often, the opposite is the case: people know what they are not good at. One way to prove it would be to discover your strength through feedback analyses. Certainly, feedback is not a new technique for organizations. And one might feel a bit insecure to address this topic even to colleagues who are reporting to us. It is a matter of how we are approaching and requesting honest feedback which does not come very easy to everyone. Especially asking the younger generation of employees about their observations. The new generation of ambitious and at the same time reflective workforce is more open and courageous to speak bottom-up when they feel appreciated and trusted. And vice versa: they are then more willing to carefully listen when it comes to asking advice for direction and guidance.

Having a temperature check in truly understanding what skills and competences one holds can help oneself in distinguishing areas of low competences and weaknesses. One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. “Energy, resources and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer. Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform”.5

Facing digital transformation initiatives, the leading question should not be “what digital assets are missing today?” (from a low competence perspective) but rather be formulated into “what are our key strengths today and how could a digital asset support and complement it?” (from a high competence level perspective).

Key action items
  • Create a skills inventory for yourself and your team. Focus first on strengths, and not on weaknesses. How much do you know about your strengths and how much of your workforce has reflected on this throughout their own learning journey? This might help you to navigate your digital transformation in which digital assets could complement and which ones not.
  • Feedback. And backfeed. Listening is one of the essentials for building trust and feeling acknowledged especially when it comes to receiving and accepting feedback. When was the last time you proactively asked for feedback on your performance and fed it back to someone else?

Communication starts with listening

Communication has become far more important within the digital workspace. And it will become even more relevant in how it will change interpersonal relationships. Empathy is being more described than being experienced. Connectivity is more a matter of infrastructure and 5G than of sharing the same beliefs and values. Resonating with a digital transformation mandate highly depends on how the digital and human will work and communicate together. And will complement through a successful competence pairing.

Today’s ways of communication have changed from an analogue conversation to a digital meetup. It has changed the way we are conveying our messages and how they are perceived. In the healthcare space, the expectation has risen to a quicker and timely return in a response. For instance, after the lockdown, 80% of patients and 74% of GPs would like to continue remote consultations,4 and time saving has been mentioned as one of the most evident benefit for patients.5 This also explains the rise of digital online booking tools to find the right online medical consultation, such as Teladoc Health or Doctor on Demand.

So, how to bridge a faster delivery of virtual care and at the same time keep up a high level of quality? One important factor is communication: the quality of virtual care relies heavily on effective communication6 – or so to say: conversational care delivery. This also includes the part of active listening, as an essential component of clinical data gathering and diagnosis and further strengthening the doctor-patient relationship.7

Speed and shorter time periods for consultation might play against each other in order to maintain a high level in the quality of care delivery. One way to balance and strengthen both parts is to better understand and apply effective ways of communication. What can we learn and derive from it?

Key action items
  • D(e-)express your mode of delivery. Only a fractional part of information can be processed in each conversation led via a digital channel. Focus on the 2-3 key messages you want to convey and rather spend more time to express them than on less relevant topics.
  • You are on mute. Not them. Listening is a critical part to better understand what is needed and required can help you focus on how to support. Rephrase and restate what you have heard from your opposite.
  • De-filtered communication. Don’t assume but rather ask! As we like to fall back to our own mental processes and shortcuts of taking decisions based on our pre-filters by default, ask beyond what you have just heard.

Takeaways for successful digital transformation in healthcare

Digital can save you time. But only if you first prioritize saving time for yourself.
Therefore, spend more time on the crucial aspects of your leadership competencies. Do you know how much time you are spending on high versus low impact activities today?

Focus first on your strengths. Then on digital assets.
True transformation starts not with digital assets in the first place. It starts with an in-depth understanding of single minds of organizations and their core strengths. What are your core capabilities and competencies?

Time versus quality delivery.
Digital conversations can help organizations to act and respond quicker, however with the challenge to balance the level of quality simultaneously. Don’t forget: quality is usually perceived over time. How are you ensuring quality in the long-term for your organization?

Judy Han is the Lead for Digital Transformation and Organizational Sustainability for Global Roche Healthcare Consulting. She brings more than 10 years of multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare industry expertise, with a strong background and passion for digital health, strategy & management consulting as well as commercial business models & digital healthcare transformation.


1. Tabrizi et al. (2019). Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
2. Chastain. (2020). Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
3. Dierdorff (2020). Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
4. Dee Hock, Leadership Quote. (2008). Leadership Review. Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
5. Peter F. Drucker. (1999). Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
6. Loell (2020). Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]
7. Zanaboni et al. (2020). BMJ Open10, e034773. Article available from: [Accessed August 2021]