The vast majority of health care leaders recognize the importance of digital innovation to the long-term success of their organizations, according to a new survey of hospital leaders on digital innovation capabilities.

In the survey, conducted by the American Hospital Association and AVIA, a health innovation company, 85 percent of respondents said that pursuing digital innovation is tied to the long-term strategy of their organizations. Yet the survey also noted a “contrast between digital innovation aspirations and on-the-ground results.” One leader commented that the health care field “needs help identifying options for meaningful innovation and building the structure needed to support it.”

Executives and innovation officers from 317 health systems in 48 states, including a mix of urban and rural facilities, responded to the survey, which was conducted in December 2016. The results were released in mid-September 2017.

Innovation can mean different things to different organizations. Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents said they believe that innovation includes partnering with innovative organizations. Forty-two percent said they believe innovation includes testing and scaling externally developed digital solutions.

Areas where hospitals have already made digital innovation investments included operational efficiencies (31 percent); primary care delivery and utilization (30 percent); patient access, such as telemedicine (26 percent); and care transitions (26 percent), according to the survey.

Digital innovation today is tied to the competencies of a chief information officer, says Christina Jack, senior director of entrepreneur strategy and innovation at the AHA and a director of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. This can mean that digital innovation is siloed instead of being woven into an organization’s operations.

Many digital entrepreneurs do not have clinical backgrounds, further contributing to the culture clash between digital innovators and health care, she added. “There is a lot of work educating entrepreneurs about the health care system,” Jack says.

Done correctly, health care leaders believe digital innovations can improve quality, safety, costs, the patient experience and the workplace experience for physicians and staff.

While three-fourths of leaders say digital innovation is a priority for their organizations, 52 percent are holding off on innovation because they lack the capital.

Digital innovation carries a high value but “it has to be at a scale organizations can afford,“ Jack says.