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Healthcare has evolved continuously over the past 50 years.  Like most industries, hospitals started adopting computers for basic productive tasks like accounting and payroll.  These were repetitive tasks that easily lent themselves to automation.

Thirty years ago, the second stage of digital healthcare began with supply chain integration and human resources adoption.  The patient health card resulted at this stage as the user was connected to the supply chain with profiles built to track history.  However, this was still built on a discrete hospital by hospital basis without wide area integration.

The third stage has largely evolved over the past 10 to 20 years, and we saw the development of end to end digitization of the healthcare processes.  Everything from x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI, and other unstructured data was integrated into the work flow processes to combine with patient records, computerized prescriptions, ordering of tests, patient discharge, video education on the closed circuit television system in the hospital rooms, and much more.  As business intelligence and analytics was added to the digital healthcare workflows, changes and improvements in patient care resulted.  Insights were gained and better controls for regulations, privacy, and stakeholder management resulted.


Now that patients around the world have grown more comfortable using digital networks and services, even for complex and sensitive issues such as healthcare (successful websites DrEd, PatientsLikeMe, and ZocDoc are just three examples of this trend), I believe the time has come for healthcare systems, payers, and providers to go “all in” on their digital strategies. There is clearly a risk in so much as generic websites are not ideal for all purposes and patients have expressed interest to connect to their own trusted healthcare professionals as opposed to some generic online service.  For the sake of patient privacy, protecting confidential patient information is a tricky issue to address too.  The question is, where should they start?

Non-healthcare organizations that pioneered the third wave of digitization began by trying to understand what their customers really wanted; they then built their initial digital products and services based on that information and methodically expanded their offerings and customer base from there.  It is believed that this model would work for healthcare as well.  Success in the third wave of digital depends very much on first understanding patients’ digital preferences in both channel and service.  But many digital healthcare strategies are still driven by myths or information that is no longer true.  McKinsey & Company interviewed thousands of patients from different age groups, countries, genders, and incomes; respondents had varying levels of digital savvy.  Their research revealed surprising and actionable insights about what patients really want, which can in turn inform how healthcare organizations begin their digital patient-enablement journey.  Here, are the five insights that McKinsey uncovered:

  • Myth 1: People don’t want to use digital services for healthcare – patients are in fact willing to use digital services, they just need digital services that meet and map to their needs.

  • Myth 2: Only young people want to use digital services – Not true, in fact, older patients (those over 50) want digital healthcare services nearly as much as their younger counterparts.

  • Myth 3: Mobile health is the game changer – Not exactly correct, younger patients like mobile applications, but need better apps to meet their needs.

  • Myth 4: Patients want innovative features and apps – Again, not exactly correct, the core features patients expect from their health system are surprisingly mundane: efficiency, better access to information, integration with other channels, and the availability of a real person if the digital service doesn’t give them what they need.

  • Myth 5: A comprehensive platform of service offerings is a prerequisite for creating value – The go big or go home thinking is not right either.  Features can be added in a crawl, walk, run, manner to build the platform over time.  There is no need for a “moon shot” here.

Just like organizations in other industries, healthcare companies should continually add new services to keep patient attention and build value.  Once patients are familiar with the general idea of digital-service provision, organizations can begin offering more complex, high-value services, such as integrated-care companion apps or mobile health records.  Digital healthcare is an evolution, not a revolution.


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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.



Biesdorf, S., Niedermann, F. (2014). Healthcare’s Digital Future. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved March 31, 2016 from,

Einarsen, B. (2012). Digital Assets for Patient Education. Retrieved on March 31, 2016 from,

Infosys. (2016). Consumer Engagement through Digital Transformation. Retrieved on March 31, 2016 from,