Briefing paper

For all the ways that technology is transforming the way people shop, bank, and travel, it has yet to make major inroads into how they receive healthcare. The adoption of digitally enabled tools for diagnosis, treatment, and management, for example, has been modest. Electronic medical records are still not a part of routine care. According to the Electronic Medical Record Adoption model, adoption ranges from just 3 percent in Europe to 35 percent in the United States.

Technology itself isn’t the problem. Many healthcare tasks have been automated or digitally enhanced for decades. And evidence of further potential is compelling. This includes, for example, preventing up to 95 percent of adverse drug events, saving lives by improving compliance with care recommendations, and reducing the number of duplicate diagnostic tests and reducing costs by 7 to 11 percent.

Instead, the barriers to a digital transformation in healthcare are often decidedly nontechnological. In a recent interview, Harold F. Wolf, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), considers a change of culture to be the biggest hurdle in the industry’s digital transformation. Similarly, our McKinsey colleagues found that the three barriers to digital most mentioned by leaders in the pharmaceutical and medical-technology industry were culture and mind-set, organizational structure, and governance.

It will likely take a concerted effort among stakeholders to get past those barriers. To draw attention to the characteristics of health systems that best support adoption of digital tools, we conducted a high-level review of more than 30 countries. We followed that with a deeper look at a dozen countries with digitally advanced health economies—where they either have managed to implement digital solutions at scale or have disrupted the market with their innovation. In this article, we have deconstructed their journeys and distilled a set of six conditions that can smooth the path toward a successful systemwide digital transformation in healthcare—no matter where a country is in its digital health journey. A sidebar summarizes each stakeholder’s potential roles (see sidebar, “Stakeholders have various roles in digital transformation”).

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