Healthcare providers will be among the top three spenders on digital transformation – with the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.7 per cent – by 2021, predicts International Data Corporation (IDC). For an industry that has traditionally been hesitant to adopt information technology, the healthcare sector today is all set to embrace the digital revolution to drive the next wave of medical innovation.
From using data to get a deeper understanding of patient needs and setting up ‘smart hospitals’ that revolutionize patient care to enabling remote monitoring for chronic diseases and real-time access to electronic medical and personal health records, digital transformation is already disrupting the healthcare market. Here’s looking at three digital transformation trends that healthcare organizations simply cannot afford to miss:
Last year, Gartner had forecast that 8.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 per cent from 2016; by 2020, the number will reach 20.4 billion. With the rise of the Internet of (Medical) Things (IoMT) – also known as healthcare IoT – mobile and wearable devices today are increasingly connected, working together to create a cohesive medical report, that’s accessible anywhere.
The big question for healthcare enterprises is not whether or not to connect ‘things’, but what to do with these ‘things’ once they are connected and start supplying all that data. Studies have shown how wearables and sensors can capture robust, real-time data about patients’ quality of life, enabling researchers to better understand disease progression and the impact of treatments. Similarly, wearable motion sensors and biofeedback actuators can help manage lifestyle diseases as well as predict onset of symptoms in chronic ailments, such as Parkinson’s.
To fully leverage the benefits of IoT in healthcare, data needs to be transformed into useful information (or action). For instance, mobile devices can now perform ECGs, DIY blood tests, etc. and enter results into mobile patient portals, transmitting them to the doctor in real time. This is valuable data that has the potential to predict risks for chronic ailments, thereby prompting timely, preventive action.
Is it possible to develop a mechanism that can help predict which combinations of drugs will be most effective for each patient? Yes, artificial intelligence (AI) can make that happen. In fact, AI is already guiding doctors in corporate hospitals to make accurate disease diagnosis and data-driven decisions in the operation theater.
By applying machine learning and advanced analytics, experts concur, it is possible to significantly increase the efficiency of hospitals. For instance, by automating simple things like organizing theater schedules, hospitals can carry out more non-emergency operations a year. Similarly, in clinical trials, AI can help pharma companies in their conventional R&D approaches by facilitating a deeper understanding of data sets, better identification of new insights, leading to faster and cost-effective processes.
Research analysts McKinsey states that big data has been aiding researchers to understand what causes a disease – it could be cells, organs, tissues, DNA, metabolites, proteins or even ecosystems – and thus the types of suitable drug molecules needed to address the more complex diseases.
In the digital age, patient care options needn’t be limited by geographic location. Internet connection and smart phones are all we need to ensure that the highest quality of care reaches even the remotest corners of the world. For instance, Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian non-governmental organization, is taking advantage of remote communication to help physicians tackle difficult cases in remote areas across the globe by using the phone, video chat, and so on.
Telemedicine is also being used to bring specialist care to rural populations. A secure video conferencing software can help doctors get more time with patients, by reducing the amount of travel time. In other words, accessibility to an oncologist or cardiologist is a lot easier and faster with telemedicine than in the traditional set-up, where patients end up waiting for hours in hospitals – sometimes just to get prescription updates or second opinions for routine procedures.
Similarly, with telemedicine, those seeking emotional support can find easy access to a therapist or counselor at the click of a button. It’s a cost-effective, efficient and integrated solution that not only bypasses barriers related to location, lack of trained professionals, and social stigma, but also encourages better patient engagement.
Healthcare faces unique challenges. Rising levels of obesity and malnutrition, patients living with one or more chronic conditions, an aging population, growing healthcare spend—digital transformation is the key to addressing and dealing with these challenges.
However, healthcare organizations can script digital transformation success stories only once they knock down silos, embrace agility, and invest in robust data protection and security measures. In the end, it all boils down to offering better care to more patients, faster and at a lesser cost. Will this include using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to train doctors in operating techniques and gamifying patient treatment plans? Only time will tell.