What Can Digital Transformation in Healthcare Look Like

Digital Transformation | 0 comments | by Erin Quilliam

The medical industry has always been one of innovation. With novel technology comes potential new methods of discovering or treating illness or providing a better standard of care to patients. In this article, we will explain what digital transformation can look like in the medical industry, what innovation it enables, and the effect it has for healthcare providers and patients.

The Call for Digital Transformation

The last few years have seen more sudden advances in digital and technology than ever before. Within the last decade, we have seen the rise of smartphones, wearables, augmented reality, big data, bitcoin, and much more. These developments have not only changed specialist industries, like medicine, but our daily lives.

However, this pace of change means that a disconnect between expectation and reality can emerge. Public expectations have evolved as much as technology. This world of change has left businesses in a predicament: to stay the same or try to keep up. 

Digital transformation is the means to not only “keeping up” with this world of change, but being ready for the future. These transformations are more than simply adding the latest digital tools and tech to the workplace. It also involves a strategic change to the structure and strategies employed in order to best take advantage of technology, the current understanding of public desire, and the known methods which complement them. 

In terms of the medical industry, this means great leaps such as data-driven healthcare, digitisation of work process, and increasing the availability of content, advice and services. We explain some of these elements of change in more detail below, as well as what they mean for healthcare practitioner and patients alike. 

Digital Transformation requires a change in attitiudeSuccessful Transformation Requires Thought, Not Just Technology

As mentioned, revolutionising the healthcare world with digital transformation is far more than adopting disruptive technologies. There is also the need to educate healthcare providers and patients to better understand the potential of digital within the field. They must also grasp how the industry needs to remain in line with the latest expectations. This education is not only a huge part in transforming the medical industry. It is also the means to the success of said transformation. As discussed in Digital Health is a Cultural Transformation of Traditional Healthcare, “To make digital health fill the gaps and function properly, we need to build knowledge and attitude.” To build knowledge and attitude ensures people aware not only of the changes afoot but of the benefits and opportunities it can bring for both practitioners and patients, and embraces them.

This responsibility to teach will largely sit with stakeholders, who will be tasked with continually meeting the expectations of healthcare professionals and their patients. They will need to extend the understanding of the benefits of digital within healthcare and help implement change. This is no different from any other industry, however, as executive involvement is a huge factor in the success of any digital transformation.

The adoption of technology is not the greatest difficulty in digital transformations in healthcare. The biggest setback is this change in culture and attitude. That is why it is important not to dismiss the non-technical aspects of transformation, and their importance both in the transformation process, and it’s the likelihood of success.

Yet, in the areas where digital is being adopted, there are a number of advantages for both patients and practitioners alike. We have provided a few examples of how this is happening below.

Going digital offers apps and accessible healthcareDigital, Apps and Accessible Healthcare

In today’s digital world, we have become accustomed to being able to access the information and services we need instantly. Even the ease and speed of Amazon was not enough, and we began to use Prime, and Prime Now – Promising faster and faster delivery of items. This attitude is not just for shopping though. In entertainment, we demand instant access, and so streaming giants for TV and film have emerged like Netflix and Prime Video. Even gaming has turned to streaming, with Game Pass, Playstation Now, or the new Apple Arcade. We know that digital offers the opportunity and availability to access things wherever and whenever we need to – and healthcare is no exception.

In addition, the relationship between the public and the healthcare industry is in a state of change. To improve going forward, it “should be sought to make sure that patients, their relatives and their carers have sufficient information, sufficient choice and sufficient autonomy to feel that they are effectively in charge.” This itself bears similarity to the emerging attitude of the digital-savvy public, who expect full and instant access to information and the availability of choice and autonomy in the management of their own lives and health. This ranges from viewing their medical records to communicating with healthcare professionals on different channels whenever they require or accessing resources online.

One method of providing these desires is the rise of apps. 

For example, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the availability and uptake of electronic prescription services. Typically, these are delivered through mobile or web apps. Many of these services are combined with others to provide a one-stop hub which enables patients to better manage their personal health. For example, the web and mobile app Patient Access is now used across the UK and provides 24/7 access to medical records, appointment booking, helpful content, as well as prescription requests. However, it is far from the only one. Many apps offering similar services are currently dominating the medical charts in app stores. 

Moreover, it is not only independent companies and private healthcare leveraging apps. Many of the charted medical apps are from the NHS. The National Health Service has a host of applications to its name. Including; their own national app, a virtual assistant, 111 online, and regional apps like the Birmingham and Solihull app. But these applications are not only available – and trending – for patients, there are also apps meant to aid healthcare providers. For example, resource apps such as the safeguarding guide for healthcare professionals. 

This means that the use of bespoke software applications has benefits and accessibility for both patients and healthcare professionals. They provide the means to aligning people’s expectations with the delivery of information and services. 

An Example of Digitisation 

This year, we helped to create a series of online portals (a kind of web app) for a private pharmacy. One portal enabled patients to manage their prescriptions online, as well as their information. A mirroring portal was created for prescribers. It provided all the tools and information required for them to order, review, and prescribe medication. 

In less than a month of release, these portals saw over a third of all patients (35%) begin ordering their medicines online. This not only provided evidence that the service was desired, but helped the pharmacy to reduce their running costs, and improve efficiency even in that short period. 

This is because the apps were part of a whole digital transformation. Part of which was this digitising the prescription process, which was previously managed through telecommunications. Because of this, staff could then be relocated from call centres and to the pharmacy itself. This led to an increase in efficiency and dramatically cut the turnaround time between receiving requests and dispatching the prescriptions. This was another aspect of the transformation, the restructuring of the workforce and work process itself. 

The move to electronic prescribing is not isolated, and nor are the benefits. Another example explains that as a doctor, trying to order a prescription over the phone has become so difficult, it is far more efficient (and stress-free) to simply order it digitally. Thus, the switch to digital is both a jump towards new benefits as much as it is a leap away from difficulty for both patient and prescriber.

Electronic Prescription is not the Only Process Moved to Digital

Any work process can be digitised, given the right tools and creativity. Another example we have worked on recently includes an app to aid caregivers in nursing homes. The app tracks residents’ medical needs, times for administering medication, as well as logging and tracking medicine stocks. The app consolidates all information and tasks required in the administering of medication. This aids both the experience, accuracy and efficiency of caregivers. 

The kinds of apps and other software that can be created are near endless. If there are tasks to be completed, communications to be made, numbers to log, or data to gather and analyse – digital methods will prove more secure, accurate and accessible. Whilst the running of software reduces running costs and time spent compared to analogue methods.

Offering digital opportunity, data-driven decisions, and truly connected careDigital, Data, and Connected Care

Just as our world and daily lives are becoming more connected and data-driven, so too is the care we receive. There is an argument to be made that we are transitioning from the digital to the data age. Data must now be as available and accessible as the technology we use. It powers and informs decision-making, aids organisation, and opens up new opportunities with technologies like AI and machine learning.

This surge of data availability is a huge asset to the healthcare industry. On an individual level, this data would mean a more accurate representation of a person’s health and individual needs. There are also other benefits that come from the access and use of data, such as solving the problem of ensuring patient adherence to their prescriptions. Whereas at scale, this collection of data can provide groundbreaking new insights into human health, sickness, and treatment. We can now also employ software such as AI, which can turn the mass of data into highly valuable models of prediction. These predictions then help to create new diagnostic methods, and treatment strategies.

Meanwhile, using new technology such as wearables, you can gather accurate data for a specific patient 24/7. This provides a more accurate picture of their health and helps deliver care that is more closely tailored to their needs. Whereas the ability to gather and centralise data such as vital signs observations will provide healthcare providers with the ability to monitor patients wherever they are, at any given time. Even if a patient is discharged, by wearing a medical-grade wearable, their vital signs can be monitored continuously. In the event of any issues, the care team can be warned and the patient directed back to their care. 

Why undergo digital transformation? What are the benefits of digital transformation?The General Purpose and Benefits of Digital Transformation

Many of the reasons to transform and the benefits it brings are universal for all industries. One such advantage is the digitisation of previously analogue work processes. (As exemplified by the electronic prescriptions above.) 

The provision of digital files allows better availability and security of protected data. This perhaps sounds like an oxymoron, however, compare this to a physical, paper copy of patient notes. The digital copy cannot be destroyed or damaged as paper can. In the unlikely event of deletion, it is possible to recover the files. They can also be encrypted and password-protected, amongst all manner of security protocol. This makes them far more secure than a bundle of physical notes. Whereas the ability to store the files on a cloud, or external server, all mean that back-ups can be provided. Thus making them less liable to loss. These files can also be easily shared between departments and hospitals instantly. Which then makes the problem of lost notes or patient details a thing of the past.

These benefits apply to any kind of document or data you may wish to store or share, hence why so many businesses have already made the switch to digital. (Not to mention, the environmental factors such as saved paper, and reduced printing costs.) 

Working digitally also improves efficiency and accuracy. The strange preconception that a doctor has bad handwriting is easily avoided by typing. More importantly, typing is both quicker and more legible, which makes the likelihood of misreading notes far lower. 

Part of digital transformation is the opportunity to unify all your existing systems and communications. This overcomes the difficulties of a disjointed system which leads to a host of benefits such as an improved working environment, improved efficiency, consolidated communications, and improved customer service. (Or in this case, improved patient care.)

Our conclusion on digital transformation in healthcareConclusion

This article barely covers the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways in which healthcare can be transformed. But as you can see, the industry is already one of immense change and digital innovation. It perhaps leads the way in terms of transformation so far. 

However, many individual companies may still be behind the curve, and seem to be realising. Many processes are still analogue, and only now beginning to receive a modern alternative. The urgency to transform is beginning to spread.

If you want to bring digital to the heart of your business, call us for a free consultation.

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