Digital Transformation in HealthcareBy Fernando de Obeso | Mon, 02/28/2022 - 11:00
With COVID, healthcare providers were forced to scale up virtual care capabilities: digital triaging helped healthcare providers prioritize care while keeping their staff and patients safe; telehealth and remote patient monitoring became the norm and faced with scarcity of resources, healthcare leaders improved data and care collaboration. As the pandemic recedes, this transformation is creating an opportunity to integrate these and many other new practices into regular healthcare operations, allowing us to improve how care is delivered.
The future looks promising with connected and highly accessible networks of virtual and in-person care, with real-time and predictive insights supporting care collaboration across the patient journey. At the same time, AI-enabled workflow optimization can help improve operational efficiency so that healthcare professionals get to focus on what they do best: providing patient care.
Finally, by enabling people to take better care of their health and well-being using personalized digital health solutions, we can promote a shift from sick care to preventive medicine.
A Much-Needed Digital Transformation
While COVID has served as a catalyst for change, the need for digital transformation has long been recognized by healthcare leaders. The following trends will push this transformation in the upcoming years.
- Increase of chronic diseases
Chronic diseases are placing an increasing burden on healthcare systems. More than 400 million people have diabetes, 500 million suffer from respiratory diseases, and 1.1 billion adults have hypertension. These numbers are projected to soar as populations continue to age. With these trends, healthcare systems will become unsustainable by 2050; therefore, there’s an urgent need for digital health solutions that can help detect, diagnose, and treat disease earlier and more effectively – or, better yet, prevent people from developing chronic disease in the first place.
- Remote patient monitoring
Patients are taking an increasingly active role in their health and well-being, expecting more convenient and personalized care experiences. The pandemic has further caused patient expectations to shift. For example, a recent survey showed that 40 percent of surveyed consumers will continue to use telehealth going forward – up from 11 percent of consumers using telehealth prior to the pandemic.
- Healthcare staff shortages
The WHO estimates that by 2035 there will be a global deficit of 12.9 million healthcare professionals. Physicians and staff are already paying a heavy toll as the pandemic added ever more strain to the system, calling for digital solutions that can help automate routine tasks and simplify workflows. At the same time, healthcare providers are seeking ways to extend the reach of specialist care to communities where experienced staff is in short supply.
- Efficiencies to reduce waste and costs
Adding to the challenge for healthcare systems is that costs keep rising while reimbursement is under pressure. Between 2020 and 2024, global health spending is expected to rise at a 4 percent annual rate, considerably faster than the 2.8 percent recorded in 2015-2019. However, more money does not necessarily translate into better results. Case in point is the US, where it is estimated that approximately 25 percent of total healthcare expenditure is wasted, with administrative complexity being the main source of waste, along with overprescribing medicine and lawsuits. To obtain efficiencies, we need data-driven insights to discover where the biggest efficiencies are.
These four trends create an urgent need for digital transformation to enable new ways to make operations feasible and efficient going forward. Healthcare systems depend on it.
What Will This Digital Transformation Look Like?
24/7 access to healthcare practitioners
Post-pandemic, it seems that patients will continue to access care from different settings, encouraging healthcare providers to meet patients where they are with personalized services that suit their needs and preferences. With patients and consumers having grown accustomed to virtual health services during the pandemic, they will continue to demand more choice and convenience in their care experiences. Banking, retail, and other industries already offer 24/7 digital access to their services. Healthcare will have to follow suit to meet the expectations of today’s health consumer.
Data collection via wearable devices
Patients are increasingly taking a pro-active part in their own care, by collecting data through wearable technology and sensors, and by sharing data with care providers. The patient more than ever will be at the center of the care team, participating in shared decision-making alongside care professionals. However, the challenge will remain, especially in developing countries, how to make these data-collecting devices accessible. One option is to roll out APPs to smartphones; however, this will take some time and education on how to consistently use them correctly in order to collect any meaningful information.
Healthcare anytime, anywhere, closer to the patient
Telehealth and remote patient monitoring will complement in-person care. For patients with chronic conditions, much of the care that currently takes place in hospitals will move into lower-cost settings, such as the home. New access points, such as retail health clinics, will bring care closer to local communities.
Zoom and video chat collaborations between healthcare providers will also help extend the reach of specialist care to remote and rural regions, where specialist staff is in short supply. Through Zoom calls, experienced doctors can look over the shoulder of the less experienced professional to provide guidance and support. This can make specialized care more accessible and affordable, while improving consistency in the quality of care. You will get your CT scan checked by doctors in distant places.
Integrated data for more precise and improved care
In this distributed network of care, the integration of data across settings – both within and outside the hospital – will become even more important than it is today. By intelligently integrating data from multiple sources, healthcare providers will gain a deeper and more complete understanding of a patient’s health and condition(s). This will enable more precise and personalized care, with treatment tailored to the needs and characteristics of the individual patient.
For example, in cardiac care, healthcare providers need to have the right insights available at their fingertips, across the patient journey – from emergency care to diagnosis, treatment, and care in the home. Integration is key here. Smart diagnostic solutions, supported by a secure informatics backbone, can bring together patient data in one comprehensive view, spanning the full patient’s history. Similarly, in the treatment of heart patients, bringing together different types of patient data can help interventional cardiologists decide, guide, treat, and confirm successful outcomes. As I mentioned in my previous article, collecting the raw data from the diagnostic equipment and using ML and AI, a doctor can get a much broader picture of a patient’s health.
As we continue to connect data across devices, departments and episodes of care, the ultimate vision is to have a full digital twin of a patient: a model that integrates all relevant information about the patient, and that is updated over time to offer a 360-degree view of the patient at the point of care. Creating a digital model of a patient’s heart has already shown promise in diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions.
From sick care to prevention
As the focus shifts from managing episodes of care to a more holistic and longitudinal approach across the care continuum, prevention will also become a stronger focus for healthcare systems.
Digital health technology can promote more healthy lifestyles, with AI-enabled apps offering tailored recommendations based on a person’s behaviors and health goals. Ultimately, digital transformation will enable sick care to evolve into true healthcare, setting it on a more sustainable course for the future.
As healthcare becomes increasingly distributed, healthcare leaders need to ensure that every patient gets the right care in the right setting at the right time. That’s where data-driven, centralized care coordination comes in.
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