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Digital transformation in healthcare: choice or necessity?

Mar 09, 2022

20 minutes read

Healthcare digital transformation has been a boon over the last time. According to statistics, the global market for digital healthcare transformation will grow from $76 billion in 2018 to $210 billion in 2025. Providers adopt new technologies that change the healthcare industry rapidly and help to improve patients’ outcomes.

The biggest challenge of this process is a growing gap between the demand for healthcare and resources to meet demand. It shows that digital transformation is crucial to bridge the gap. The progress has been slow, and provider organizations’ digital maturity varies within and between countries.

Healthcare systems: rising requests and reducing possibilities

Healthcare systems are always complex and diverse. Countries organize and fund their healthcare services differently with the distinct publicly provided level and types of care. The most common barriers are waiting times, traveling distance, and socio-economic and cultural factors. 

The level of healthcare spending is usually under strict public control, and now many changes are needed to guarantee the effectiveness of health systems in the future. The known trend of the past decades is the improved life expectancy in all countries. A growing number of people over 65 face a reduction of healthy life years and an extension of healthcare needs due to chronic illnesses. It means more financial pressure on healthcare systems because of developing and maintaining the medical care infrastructure, investing in new technologies and therapies. 

Approximately 70% of their budgets healthcare companies spend on staff pay. Rising labor costs and staff shortages reduce the ability of health providers to meet the population requirements for medical care.

Patients are looking for more digital interactions in their healthcare, and providers use technology to help them meet those needs. The quantity and quality of medical care have improved significantly, but the complexity of healthcare demands has also grown. Public expectations of personalized and user-friendly services have increased rapidly, but the staff and other resources have become more limited. Most countries are looking towards digital transformation to close this gap between expectations and real possibilities.

Many clinicians face increasing workloads, and the gap between the supply of resources and the demand for healthcare is widening. Digital technologies can integrate care, define and reduce risks, predict population health needs, help manage the process, improve the quality of data flow to deliver timely, efficient, and safe medical help.

However, digital transformation is not just a change of technologies. Digital transformation is about change management enabled by technologies to help increase the effectiveness of service delivery and the benefits to patients and medical staff.

In most countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened these workforce pressures. Hospitals had to reorganize their services in the shortest time frame, and staff had to work in new ways, in unfamiliar teams. The lack of suitable treatments and the risks and fear of contracting the virus have increased mental and physical health pressures, impacting the workforce’s capacity further.

Why do we need digital transformation in healthcare?

Over 70% of patients would like to have online access to their medical histories, and over 50% of millennials would switch doctors for one with better online access.

For long time healthcare has been defined by the enlargement of life-extending and life-enhancing therapies. It has improved the health outcomes but also has increased costs. The rapidity and transformation have grown with digital healthcare (wearables, digital diagnostics, healthcare applications), genomics, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Healthcare has always adapted digital technologies more slowly than other industries. Remote patient monitoring has led some providers to change healthcare models driving innovation through deploying wireless technology, miniaturization, and computing power, to develop medical devices that can collect, analyze and transmit large amounts of data. Medical devices, data flow, AI-driven software, connectivity technologies, and health services build the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). The IoMT is now empowering the digital transformation in medical care with the help of monitoring, diagnosing, treating, and managing patients more effectively.

Related: Virtual hospital: what is It, benefits, examples, opportunities

Today, the healthcare industry’s competitive environment is different from a decade ago: digital tools and technologies are disrupting specific services, customer interactions, delivery mechanisms, back-office operations, and supplier relationships.

Never before have so many technologies affected the healthcare industry so quickly all-at-once: 

  • Big data and advanced analytics
  • Next-generation genomics
  • Machine learning and automation programs
  • Connected, sensor-enabled devices and wearables
  • 3-D printing
  • Robotics

Thanks to technology, patients are more informed and more engaged in medical decisions, and policymakers are driving the development of open data and technology standards and knowledge-sharing initiatives among companies.

As a result, some healthcare companies focus on using technology to improve their interactions with patients and partners, rein in costs, streamline operations, and better manage to change industry regulations. They are moving toward evidence-based medicine, using big data, investment in reimbursement for emerging devices or treatments. 

Stakeholders involved in the healthcare transformation

Digital transformation of healthcare needs several stakeholders with multiple goals. There are five groups: workforce, policymakers, health and social care, industry, academia.

Health care professionals, executive directors and managers, technical IT staff, data scientists, informaticians, and analysts build the workforce group. 

Country-level central and local government, financial, quality, professional regulators, and government agencies build policymakers groups.

National health and social care organizations, local health and care providers, and founders belong to the health and social care group.

Schools, colleges, universities belong to the academic group. 

Large pharma, tech companies, digital technology start-ups belong to the industry group. 

What will the future require from healthcare models? First, they have to enable continuous learning throughout their lives with flexible education and training systems to count on the necessary skills. The education and training have to prepare clinicians more effectively for their new tasks and roles. Investment in continuous personal development will be crucial for the effective adoption of AI, telehealth, and digital medicine. Clinicians will need additional skills such as interpersonal communication, emotional, social, and team-building abilities. More opportunities and better clinician mobility will cause the growing need for soft skills.

The support from robotics, cognitive automation, and AI will dramatically change clinicians’ roles and work manners primarily due to a fundamental change in how robotics, cognitive automation, and AI will support clinicians. Doctors will spend considerably less time on data collection and administrative processes focusing on personal approach, quality, and safety of medical care instead. Clinicians will be more agile and flexible, less constrained by working for a specific institution.

With the rising use of virtual consultations, patients will navigate their care plans. Clinicians will be able to work remotely and consult from other locations. Wearables will integrate routinely with virtual consultations, providing clinicians with real-time patients’ data helping to improve the quality of diagnosis and choose a better treatment strategy. More patients will be diagnosed, reviewed, and treated in their homes with antibiotics delivered later that day.

New stakeholders will disrupt the healthcare ecosystem, mainly focusing on personalized health data value to improve wellness, immune health, vitality, and prevention and facilitate innovative healthcare solutions. New connections will emerge between new and existing stakeholders, with health data being a crucial binding factor.

The current state of digitalization of healthcare industry

The quick technological change and the numerosity and diversity of digital health technologies available in the market have made it challenging for organizations and clinicians to understand which technologies to invest in.

The strong growth in start-ups and scale-ups in the health data value chain, especially in areas like AI, is expected besides the already established technology giants. The future hospitals will be entirely digitized and automated, focused on delivering specialized acute and emergency care. Primary care providers will administrate most population health management (PHM) prevention and chronic care management services, mainly through virtual channels. The greatest actual challenge to healthcare provision is the aging of the population. It is why home care providers, residential care, and nursing homes will become more critical roles within the health care system working in partnership with hospitals and primary care. There will be greater demand for more extensive digital capabilities to keep up with technological changes.

The top challenges for organizations in implementing digital technologies in healthcare

According to a survey launched in 2020 by Deloitte Centre for health solutions, the following top challenges of frontline clinicians (nurses and doctors) working across primary and secondary care had been identified: 

  • Bureaucracy in healthcare 
  • The cost of technologies
  • Finding the right technologies 
  • Complexity of technology
  • Training staff to use technology
  • Sharing patient data
  • The convincing team of the benefits of technology
  • Existence of evidence of outcomes
  • Icaling up the use cases of technologies

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare and speeded up the digitalization of some healthcare areas by at least a decade, but other sites still need to be transformed. This digital transformation will be crucial in shaping the future of healthcare.

Attitudes to care have changed, bringing new healthcare behavior, services offered, and more effective collaboration among stakeholders. A stable, efficient, and cost-effective future for health also requires a population health management (PHM) approach focusing on prevention, health equality, and improving the population’s health and wellbeing. PHM requires reliable, interoperable data, analytics, and insights about defined populations, multiple care settings to identify healthcare needs and align services accordingly. It affords a new approach to funding based on value-based outcomes as well.

How well prepared is your organization for the adoption of digital technologies?

Philips’ Future Health Index 2020 is a global survey that shows what young healthcare professionals expect from technology, training, and job satisfaction. This survey reported severe concerns about the administrative demands that deflect their primary responsibilities. A lot of respondents are frustrated about the low progress of technological change.

Many technology-enabled systems and services are used by healthcare providers worldwide already, but the scale of adoption and capabilities of digital technologies differ widely across countries. The fact is, patients expect healthcare services to be available when and where needed and are no longer ready to remain passive recipients of care. They are prepared to use technologies and monitor their health, but they want safety for their data.

A growing gap in digital health literacy risks exacerbating health inequalities. Digital healthcare solutions can reduce health inequalities and increase the wellbeing of the population by changing how care services are delivered to patients.

What actions are crucial for accelerating digital transformation in healthcare industry?

The future of health care requires a population health management approach that will improve the health and wellbeing of the entire population by preventing and reducing health inequalities. This approach will require access to interoperable data, insights about defined people, analytics to align services accordingly to most essential healthcare needs. Enablers adopt digital and remote monitoring technologies, improve health literacy, and deploy patient activation measures.

Based on the research Digital transformation Shaping the future of European healthcare made by Deloitte Centre for health solutions, specific actions are needed to help deliver digital transformation. These actions are similar for all countries: 

  • Infrastructure: create robust health IT infrastructure that includes connectivity (Wi-Fi, broadband, fiber optic, etc.), secure data storage, and consented access to health data and data sharing. 
  • Open EHRs: Implementing accessible and open EHRs (electronic health records) is crucial for all countries. Most hospitals have digitized their patient records, but other healthcare data is still stored in different locations. There are considerable differences in the electronic records used within and between hospitals, and these are rarely interoperable with primary care records. 
  • Interoperability is the most critical problem for healthcare in the whole world. In the future, the complete health history of each patient will be stored in one place, and the access will be as easy by computer or phone as we access our bank account details. Interoperability, easy access to data will cause a closer collaboration of stakeholders in the healthcare industry. New services will be offered continuously. Medical treatments will be more precise, less invasive, less complex, and cheaper, with digital transformation driving most of the change.
  • Governance: an established governance framework will support the improved culture of digital transformation that includes ethical use of digital solutions, patient consent, cybersecurity, patient education, etc.

Six primary forces of change will drive this vision of the future: sharing of data, interoperability, empowered consumers, behavior change, equality in healthcare access, scientific breakthrough

Healthcare providers now have to identify which technologies will help them in the future. The most effective technologies are SMART:

  • Straightforward and easy to use
  • Measurable
  • Agile
  • Reliant on collaboration
  • Tailored to end-users needs — especially if they are interoperable and can be delivered at scale.

COVID-19 and digital transformation in healthcare industry

Since March 2020, millions of patients and healthcare staff worldwide have seen their services and lives disrupted, and many have died. Health systems had rapidly reorganized their services to meet the acute needs of patients with COVID-19, managing social distancing, reducing face-to-face appointments and footfall in care settings. It required an unprecedented change management program to be implemented in weeks instead of years. The healthcare industry has rapidly formed collaborations to develop much-needed treatments and technology and produce sufficient personal protective equipment. 

Several essential aspects have been changed in most hospitals. In contrast to the previous staff shortages trend, it has become relevant to manage the surge in patients. More staff was needed. Outpatient visits and emergency departments had to be reorganized to reduce the risk of cross-infection. Difficult decisions had to be made around planned services and ongoing treatments. Supply chain compliance and equipment shortages had to be balanced. New ways of working and managing the risks and deploying products, fast-tracked technologies, and more flexible regulatory processes were on the focus.

The necessity of social distancing and lockdowns has changed the traditional face-to-face healthcare delivery model. The use of digital solutions, primarily telehealth, such as virtual consultations and remote patient monitoring, has become a new trend

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven citizens’ expectations for access to digital, on-demand, personalized medical care services anywhere and anytime.

The pandemic has also increased citizens’ acceptance that care can now occur outside traditional healthcare settings. Now more patients understand the link between having a healthy immune system and prevention. They track their health status and know about the importance of mental and physical health. Moreover, patients want personalized care based on their personal medical information. This new trend will make a digital health system approach even more popular and connect populations empowering them to manage their health. At the same time, the pandemic has shown profound disparities and inequalities in health systems that need to be addressed urgently. 

Critical steps to digital transformation 

One of the most crucial steps is to let clinicians and patients be trustful and confident while using digital health technologies.

Leaders across the health system will need to agree on several points, such as deciding which technologies are most effective, deciding how innovation is funded, and creating a secure IT infrastructure to provide safe and equitable access to both the technology and the data generated. 

Building a digital enterprise requires an organization-wide commitment to pursue specific vital steps: 

  1. Manage data as a strategic asset. That step requires the rigorous and ongoing integration of data from multiple sources, including wearables, imaging, diagnostic laboratory, genetics, social determinants, and payers, all gathered on secure and quickly accessible data platforms. Security and confidentiality are essential.
  2. Empower data-driven decisions. Patient data and real-time operational data are essential for the improved healthcare industry. Technological innovations, including AI-powered tools, help providers make sense of the deluge of clinical and operational data they will be confronted with. Data analysis could help identify, prevent and contain future pandemics, provided that the data is shared globally and is of uniformly high quality.
  3. Connect care teams and patients. A cultural change will be necessary for many people as they adjust to the idea of “moving data, not patients.” Home patients monitoring and secure teleconsultations will enable receiving medical care at home with hospital quality. It will help patients gain more transparency into their consideration and more actively participate in their care.
  4. Build a learning health system. Transforming institutions into accurate learning health systems requires leadership buy-in with collective targets, aligned incentives, and an organization-wide commitment to transformation. Then, it requires building suitable organizational structures. Finally, it requires rigorous measurement and secure sharing of patient outcomes.

Characteristics needed to improve technology adoption at scale

Using digital technologies and datasets from multiple sources already enables more precise targeted treatments. It will also let key stakeholders increasingly collaborate while realizing a future for healthcare that is truly predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory.

Predictive – AI-driven early diagnosing systems that warn patients about risks. Deep-learning technologies developed for automated image recognition have already demonstrated excellent effectiveness. Radiology, pathology, and ophthalmology are already being improved by AI tools, analyzing large amounts of data from different sources. 

Preventive – information from wearables integrated with data from EHR (electronic health record) will be available 24/7, helping by detecting condition changes outside the clinical space. Prevention and wellness will focus on mental health and delaying age-related diseases by improving the immune system. Employers will take an active role in monitoring the health of their employees and becoming responsible for that instead of health care institutions. 

Personalized – more precise clinical therapies and drug development. All diseases will be diagnosed at early stages, allowing prevention and more effective treatment. Genomics applications, AI technologies, and digital devices for lifestyle and remote patients monitoring will be the key to new self-management and prevention tools.

Participatory – more patient engagement and involvement will drive patient-centric medical treatment models.

Most successful strategies for digital healthcare transformation

There are four core strategies for succeeding with digital transformation: identify the critical sources of value, build and maintain core management competencies, build service-delivery capabilities, and modernize IT foundations. Let’s describe each strategy in more detail.

  1. Healthcare companies have to identify and prioritize their critical sources of value; define the services and products they provide that lead to competitive differentiation and benefit most from digitization. Most healthcare institutions’ clear conception of value is giving customers targeted services and products and engaging them in value-based relationships.
  2. Companies have to build and maintain core management competencies. In other words, all the enablers allow them to pursue a successful digital agenda.
  3. Healthcare companies have to create better capabilities for service delivery —not just to integrate and manage new digital technologies but also to implement new approaches to product development and distribution (for instance, agile and DevOps methodologies). 
  4. Healthcare institutions have to modernize their IT foundations. For instance, upgrading IT expertise, managing data as a strategic asset, and improving security protocols for the company’s most vital assets, moving to digital solutions like cloud servers and customized software.

Service-delivery capabilities

Healthcare institutions have to offer targeted digital services and products. They have to understand user needs straightforwardly and reimagine their workflow and processes as end-to-end activities that can be automated, virtualized, and personalized, employing real-time insights. Agile development, data sciences, and customer-oriented design can be helpful approaches for these companies to explore. To realize this, companies will need to improve interactions between the business users and IT, modify the organizational structures to be more product-oriented, and reconsider their budget and planning models.

Combining agile operations with customer-experience design and data science can bring significant results: early detection of certain types of disease (for instance, atrial fibrillation), predictive diagnostics, or remote patient care monitoring. Some pharma enterprises use advanced analytics to identify new uses for established drugs or discover new ones.

Modernize IT foundations

Healthcare companies need to answer a question about their IT infrastructure: is it capable of supporting the required activities? Complex legacy technology systems often are the main difficulty for healthcare companies seeking to go digital. To support agile approaches and strategic priorities to development, companies need to build a reliable data backbone to ensure that all data is managed holistically so that users can access data sets quickly and easily.

The first step is incorporating connectivity into the IT architecture —for instance, generating and managing data collected from medical devices using sensors and other monitoring technologies. Some internal platforms exist that let healthcare companies analyze real-world treatment data to prove their offerings’ efficacy, safety, and value.

Companies will need strong cybersecurity policies and infrastructures to protect the information. They have to minimize risks for each asset, using surveys and executive workshops; identifying potential attackers.

The healthcare industry is being disrupted by digitization. Incumbents face threats from digital natives, who are relatively free of legacy constraints and can capture value from nontraditional sources. 

However, the winners in digital health initiate change. They invest early in promising technologies and risk-sharing relationships with other companies, inside and outside the industry. They embrace new development and operating models and rely more on data-driven insights. They reimagine themselves as collaborative organizations that can keep up with changes in the healthcare industry. The four main principles for change mentioned above help companies improve and successfully tackle the transformation, creating more value for all stakeholders and better patient outcomes.

Digital transformation shaping the future of european healthcare
September 2020

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