Picture this: You are down with fever. You log into a hospital’s website and answer a series of questions to get your diagnosis and prescription for medications. You could also virtually consult a specialist for a second opinion. Sounds too good to be true? It’s only a matter of time before the healthcare industry evolves into a whole new level of patient-centric care, thanks to digital transformation.
Contrary to popular perception, digitization in healthcare is not really a new phenomenon. The first wave can be traced back to the 1950s, when healthcare providers started using IT to process and store huge amounts of data. Ever since, there has been a steady digital adoption in healthcare organizations, especially in developed countries. That explains the introduction of government policies, such as electronic health card in Germany, Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act in the US, and National Programme for IT in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.
Today, the emphasis is on digital transformation, with 360-degree digitization across organizations. Think smart hospitals, surgical robots, tech-assisted wearables, telemedicine, and the innumerable ways in which technology is revolutionizing the healthcare landscape. As our lives become more technology-savvy, digital technologies promise to make healthcare more personalized, accessible, and affordable.
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According to Deloitte’s 2018 Global Healthcare Outlook, wearable-tech can simplify patients’ lives beyond tracking and monitoring their health. With automation and push notifications, patients’ devices can keep a track of their weight, pulse, or oxygen levels, and fill in these details into mobile patient portals. This data can then be sent to doctors in real-time. Regular tab on such patient data can help predict the risk of ailments, like heart diseases, and help prevent them.
IoT helps in improving patients’ adherence to prescribed therapies, avoiding hospitalizations, and related complications as well as costs. In fact, it has already shown results in improving health outcomes in chronic diseases like diabetes.
In time, patients will be leveraging conversational artificial intelligence (AI) for treatment within the comforts of their home. The new-age digital channels will facilitate real-time communication between patients and healthcare providers anywhere. And all that health data will be put to good use, by proactively preventing diseases and facilitating personalized medicine for one and all.
The big picture
International Data Corporation (IDC) has predicted that by 2019, the hospital of the future will be a reality. There will be 50 per cent increase in the use of robots to deliver medications, supplies, and food at hospitals. Similarly, 60 per cent of healthcare applications will collect real-time location data and clinical IoT device data to embed cognitive capabilities to discover patterns, thereby freeing up 30 per cent of the clinicians’ time. That’s not all, more than 40 per cent healthcare organizations across the world, says IDC, will use IoT-enabled biosensors, a passive way to measure the patients’ vital signs and other biometrics.
Digital disruption in the healthcare industry will come in the form of smart technologies such as AI and predictive analytics that will save on time and money. Big Data helps doctors to systematically review clinical data and make treatment decisions, while conversational AI assists in getting the latest information on a patient’s recent treatments, medication, and diagnosis results, thereby enhancing patient engagement. Chatbot of the future will play myriad roles – as a virtual nurse to give personalized care, reminder for medications, diagnostic test results, scheduling appointments, and the like.
Making it happen
Research shows that nine out of ten digital transformation projects fail. That’s because a digital strategy is only as good as the organization attempting to execute it. For starters, keeping pace with rapid technology developments requires massive investments – at least initially – in electronic patient records, interoperability, and big data, among others. But beyond technology, organizations should be ready to make strategic investments in people and processes.
Healthcare organizations of the future need to extend their focus beyond price and quality of care to creating customer-centric relationships. The idea is to provide personalized care and elevate patient experience by using digital solutions to aid omnichannel patient access, including customer apps, patient portals, tailored digital information kits, and self-check-in kiosks. Wondering how enterprises, saddled with decades-old legacy systems, processes, and operating models optimized for a brick-and-mortar world, can achieve this feat?
Digital transformation is not just about fancy technology, but also about new ways of working. And the change has to come from the top. The CEO and management need to embrace an agile and data-driven approach to fight inertia and succeed in their digital initiatives. It cannot be an isolated effort by the IT department; the whole organization has to be an active part of the transformation for the endeavor to be successful.
Last year, IDC had predicted that the number of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations will double by 2018. Protecting data in today’s hyper-connected world is a challenge that the healthcare industry has no choice but to step up to. Without data protection and adequate security, digital innovation is of little value.
The emphasis today is on cybersecurity and data risk management, especially when it comes to sensitive patient data. Technologies like blockchain are helping healthcare enterprises in protecting the privacy of huge amounts of user data. Besides, governments worldwide are drafting policies to fight cyber threats and protect data. For instance, the Data Protection Act in the UK, the Data Protection Directive in the EU, and HIPAA and PCI in the US.
All said and done
Healthcare is changing. To meet the challenges of an aging population and escalating costs, the healthcare industry will have to adopt transformational technologies, such as Big Data and analytics, IoT, and AI. The focus has to be ‘consumer-centric’ healthcare that makes patient care more efficient and cost effective.
On the road to digital transformation, the healthcare industry will benefit from optimization, not just at operational levels, but across the entire value chain. Provided concerns of data security and privacy are dealt with in a proactive and systematic manner. The fact of the matter is that very few industries have the potential to be transformed so profoundly by digital technology as healthcare.