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4 Questions To Ask Before Investing In Healthcare Technology — Afterthoughts From Google’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Karen DeSalvo

For many healthcare organizations, July 1 will mark the beginning of a new fiscal year. As this year comes to a close, leaders at these organizations are putting together their next yearly budget — and a major part of that is deciding which healthcare technology solutions to invest in.

I recently spoke with Dr. Karen DeSalvo on Modern Healthcare’s “Next Up” podcast about vetting these investments.

Dr. DeSalvo is a guru when it comes to technological investments. After serving in Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration, she led the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Currently, she is the first Chief Health Officer at Google.

In our conversation, Dr. DeSalvo discussed four questions that organizations need to ask themselves before making investments.

For any type of healthcare technology investment — whether it’s buying a new ultrasound machine, updating your telehealth system, or revamping content on your website — it’s critical to answer these questions before deciding where your technology dollars will be going.

1. Does this fit with our strategic priorities?

Don’t get distracted by the shiny new object. Only make an investment if what you’re investing in really says, “This is what our organization is all about.”

This is particularly important if you’re investing in something like an electronic health record system that will require an ongoing partnership with an outside company. You don’t just want to think about your own strategic priorities — you want to think about theirs, too.

If your priorities align, it’s much easier to come to an agreed understanding of the definition of the success. It’s also a lot easier to work through roadblocks and make sure you still reach success in the end.


Karen DeSalvo, MD“… a lot of our partners when they come to us is, what is the future going to look like? And how can we help not just get there, but build it? What does it mean, if we want to think about building artificial intelligence models to identify breast cancer? How can we do that together in a way that is not just bringing great engineering capabilities to bear but doing it in a way that respects patient autonomy and privacy and has a fairness in the models in mind? These are all things that when you build that future, you want to know, with your partner, yeah, what we want is to eliminate disparities. And we want to make care less costly, so that we’re pulling savings out of the system. And if you can be aligned into that future, then you can kind of back into, ‘What are the steps that we need to take together to build that?’”

2. Will it help our patients?

When we say “technology,” we’re not just talking about equipment or patient data systems. We’re also talking about a piece of technology that patients are using every day: your website.

Whether you’re working with an outside organization or paying someone in your organization to write it, be selective about the type of content you’re paying for.

Healthcare 101s should be close to the bottom of your list. Do those FAQ pages that go into detail about the symptoms and causes of a disease help patients? Sure. Does having those pages on your own site help them? Probably not.

By the time patients get to your site, they want to make an appointment. They want to know what types of treatments are available at your facility and who will be treating them. They’ve already consulted Dr. Google.

Don’t waste your money on reinventing the wheel. A quick explanation of a condition on a page is fine, but you don’t need to write your own Wikipedia article. Provide links to reputable sources, like the CDC or NIH. Use your money to invest in the unique content your patients want, like what to expect when they receive care in your brand new dialysis center, or original advice on parenting a child who has ADHD. Invest in content that speaks to your patient populations’ cultural and socioeconomic needs.


Karen DeSalvo, MD“… healthcare systems don’t need to think that they have to create all that content because there’s already good content out there from places like the American Diabetes Association or NAMI or the CDC. I think it’s helpful for consumers that they can be pointed to some of that existing good content.”

“… what I hear from consumers and patients is, they want to make sure that the healthcare system is getting the healthcare part right. And the messaging part, sometimes they can find from other sources. Perhaps that’s the most succinct way to sometimes say it. It’s that we don’t have to be all things to all people.”

3. Will it help our providers help our patients?

4. What problem does this solve for us?

Questions 3 and 4 go hand-in-hand.

That new cutting-edge imaging equipment might be really tempting. But is it actually going to improve the quality of care your clinicians can provide — or is it just a really expensive new coat of paint? And how complex is it? Is taking the time to learn the new technology going to be worth the results?

If it’s not going to help providers, ask yourself if it’s going to solve any other problems that your organization or patients are facing. If there’s no problem, then you don’t need to spend time and money on a solution.


Karen DeSalvo, MD“Is it going to solve some important problems that our providers have, whether that’s our nurses or social workers or doctors? And really to stay focused in all those areas as much as possible on what are the problems we’re trying to solve? And is this a solution that meets it? I think it’s very easy to get enamored with solutions and cool, interesting technology that really doesn’t solve a problem that might actually add more layers of complexity or create more problems.”

The Takeaway

It’s easy to get caught up with wanting the latest and greatest, or to partner with a company because you enjoy working with the people there. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of wasted time and money in technology solutions that you don’t actually need or that are premature investments. But by asking the right questions, you can make investments that are best for your organization and won’t unnecessarily eat up your budget.

If one of your upcoming technology needs is a website or content overhaul, we’d love to work with you. Contact CareContent.