Orignal article can be viewed here.


The World Economic Forum and many others predict that new technologies “will dramatically change the nature of work across all industries and occupations. The fusion of digital, physical and biological technologies driving the current changes will … mean that leaders need to prepare workforces and develop education models to work with, and alongside, increasingly capable, connected and intelligent machines” (Schwab, 2016).

Global leaders in human resource management believe that complex problem solving, social, process and systems skills will be far more in demand in 2020, compared with technical, physical, resource management or content (subject matter) skills (WEF, 2016).

Think that doesn’t apply to health? Think again.

  • Robotic technologies are already being used in functions such as medication distribution, infection control, surgery and even diagnosing patients, let alone support functions such as food service and other deliveries (Maleski, 2014). A supervised, autonomous robot can now perform surgery on soft tissue more effectively than a surgeon, or even a surgeon assisted by a robot (at least in test situations; Paddock, 2016). Soft tissue represents the more difficult end of the surgery spectrum.
  • The supercomputer is an incredibly robust diagnostic aid that is already being used for everything from training medical students to managing the treatment of lung cancer (Kotler, 2013). Research by Indiana University found that using patient data with machine-learning algorithms can drastically improve both the cost and quality of healthcare (Mearian, 2013). AI is now having significant impact on health and biotech, from informing healthcare decisions to speeding up the selection of targets for drug development (Baum, 2015).
  • Meanwhile, a range of studies indicate that “too many physicians and hospitals are not applying known, evidence-based and available guidelines for quality practice. Physicians are either ignoring or unaware of much better ways to treat their patients” Kumar & Nash, 2011).

Delivering healthcare in the digital age will emphasize those complex problem solving, social, process and systems skills, as well as: comfort in working with a range of sophisticated technologies; higher-level data collection and understanding of analytics. Patients, consumers and policy shapers will demand the health system enhancements that require them, and new entrants into health care will force existing players to adapt.

These are not tomorrow’s changes – they are happening now.

Consider three intersecting health workforces that need to collaborate closely to provide appropriate, effective and efficient services in the digital age: clinical, IT and managerial.

Clinical workforces need digital awareness – understanding of what technologies can provide and how these relate to their current and near-term contexts; digital literacy – ability to articulate their workplace and professional needs and to ensure these are not “lost in translation”; and digital competencies – abilities not only to use systems effectively but to ensure the coherence of data, information, knowledge and processes across entire health ecosystems.

Information and IT workforces need situational awareness, literacy and competence. The recent reference by the CEO of the American Medical Association to digital health as (potentially) the “snake oil of our generation” is salutary (Murphy, 2016). Digital does have the potential to exacerbate health’s silos, point to care that is not evidence-based and divert clinicians from direct care – if developed and implemented without deep understanding of health’s complex, socio-technical contexts:

  • The RAND Corporation notes that electronic health records have so far failed to produce hoped-for savings in health care costs and have had mixed results (Abelson & Creswell, 2013).
  • A range of reviews raise questions about the efficacy of health apps, e.g.: “Our results indicate that many app developers are not including proven behavioral strategies in their apps” (IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics); and “a study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, PA, questioned the accuracy of four health apps that claim to detect skin cancer” (Whiteman, 2014).

Managers and Boards of health services. “There’s not a corner or crevice of healthcare that is not being affected somehow by technology. … Ensuring [technologies] are effectively implemented within healthcare organizations is a critical role of healthcare administrators” (Freel, 2012). The US Department of Health and Human Services ranked the use of electronic information and health information technology as the third highest management and performance challenge for 2015 (DHHS, 2016).

The digital age of healthcare is here now – not just for large providers – and healthcare managers need to be competent to take advantage of digital opportunities, deal with challenges and steer decisively through changing ethical, consumer, workplace and infrastructural landscapes.


Access to latest thinking, contextualized for health sectors, is crucial to health workforces performing in the digital age and coherently meeting the challenges. Just-in-time training and development are critical necessities – there will be more emphasis on the ability of workers to adapt continuously and learn new skills and approaches that emphasize situational context:

  • “context is defined as the ability and willingness to anticipate emerging trends and connect the dots, [competencies that] have been characteristics of effective leadership across generations. In the [digital age, these skills] are a prerequisite for adaptation and survival” (Schwab, 2016).

The Digital Health Workforce Academy (www.dhwacademy.com) has been established to meet these needs.

Courses are now available for clinicians:

  • Clinical Practice in the Digital Age.
  • Clinical Leadership in Digital Projects.

Courses for IT professionals and managers are in the pipeline and are coming soon.


Abelson, R. & Creswell, J. (2013, January 10). In Second Look, Few Savings From Digital Health Records. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/business/electronic-records-systems-have-not-reduced-health-costs-report-says.html.

Baum, S. (2015). 4 ways healthcare is putting artificial intelligence, machine learning to use. MedCity News. Retrieved from http://medcitynews.com/2015/02/4-ways-healthcare-putting-artificial-intelligence-machine-learning-use/.

Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). OIG’S FY 2015 Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Inspector-general. Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/about/budget/fy2017/performance/performance-plan-top-management-and-performance-challenges/index.html.

Freel, M. (2012). 5 Challenges Hospital Administrators Must Overcome to Succeed in Today’s Rapidly Changing Industry. Becker’s Hospital Review. Retrieved from http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/5-challenges-hospital-administrators-must-overcome-to-succeed-in-todays-rapidly-changing-industry.html.

Kotler, S. (2013). 5 Medical Technologies Revolutionizing Healthcare. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenkotler/2013/12/19/5-medical-technologies-revolutionizing-healthcare/#54af22041f2f.

Kumar, S. & Nash, B. (2011). Two doctors take on the health care system in a new book that aims to arm people with information. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/demand-better-health-care-book/.

Maleski, D. (2014). Health care robotics. Health Facilities Management, provided by Health Forum, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association. Retrieved from http://www.hfmmagazine.com/articles/1328?dcrPath=/templatedata/HF_Common/NewsArticle/data/HFM/Magazine/2014/July/technology-health-care-robots.

Mearian, K. (2013). AI found better than doctors at diagnosing, treating patients. Computerworld. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2494918/healthcare-it/ai-found-better-than-doctors-at-diagnosing–treating-patients.html.

Murphy, K. (2016). AMA: EHR Interoperability Part of Today’s Digital Snake Oil. HER Intelligence. Retrieved from https://ehrintelligence.com/news/ama-ehr-interoperability-part-of-todays-digital-snake-oil.

Paddock, C. (2016). Robot performs surgery on soft tissue better than human hands. Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/309998.php.

Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. Geneva, Switzerland.

Whiteman, H. (2014). Health apps: do they do more harm than good? Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/283117.php.

World Economic Forum (WEF). (2016). The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Media/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_embargoed.pdf.