Roberto Aguilera
Health Sciences & Wellness Consulting Partner
EY Latam North
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How COVID-19 Accelerated Digital Transformation in Healthcare

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 07/07/2020 - 12:03

Q: What digital trends are reshaping the health industry?

A: At EY, we have found that doctors and patients understand that technology will redefine their relationship and experience. A survey we conducted before the pandemic found that doctors and patients agree that digital tools used on a regular basis can greatly influence and contribute to healthcare, but there is a great deal that still needs to be done. Technology adoption within the healthcare sector has historically been slower in Mexico because doctors and other entities in the sector take their time adapting to emerging changes. However, according to the international survey, industry players are now prioritizing future investment and incorporation of technology into their practices.

Technologies that increase patient security are among the strongest trends as they provide clinical excellence and facilitate communication with providers and consumers. Previously, technologies that could help to better approach the patient, like telemedicine, were neglected. With COVID-19, however, telehealth has quickly accelerated its market penetration. Before the pandemic, 64 percent of doctors were not planning, in the near future, to introduce virtual consultations or digital check-ups nor to use voice-controlled digital assistants. Our survey indicated that around 60 to 80 percent of doctors were now very open and willing to incorporate new technologies into their practices. However, positive responses dropped by 20 to 40 percent when asked about their willingness to use specific technologies, such as remote robotic surgeries or to move completely toward remote medical consultations as a way to increase healthcare access in rural areas that lack health infrastructure.

Q: What are the main obstacles preventing the digital transformation of hospitals in Mexico?

A: Medical professionals have a great deal of say on new technologies because their goal is to provide excellence in their practice. In Mexico, the approval from healthcare services is based on hospital productivity: having high bed occupancy numbers, full consultancy schedules, a productive ICU and a high number of patients being treated. Therefore, any new technology or digital tool is expected to comply with the productivity and quality standards that the sector is used to.

One common example of digitalized practices at a hospital is the use of an electronic clinical record. Patients themselves do not notice any benefit from its use, at first. However, hospital staff do experience an improvement in their productivity. In the long run, patients also experience the benefits because they are able to receive more personalized and adequate attention. That being said, it is sometimes hard for hospitals for to perceive these benefits initially because what comes first is investment in time and money to adapt to this new system.

Q: How is EY contributing to the digital and technological transformation in healthcare?

A: Globally, EY is dedicated to analyzing the evolution of the healthcare system, recognizing that it is evolving to a patient-centric model with the creation of Healthcare 4.0 that, at the same time, is focused on promoting preventive healthcare. Before the pandemic, we conducted another survey called NextWave to measure how the provision of healthcare has changed. The findings are particularly interesting in today’s context because we see that all those long-term plans for the sector are happening right now or will happen within the coming months. One example is telehealth.

The digital transformation is accelerating at up to three times the usual rate, meaning that the expectation for the sector is a digital-centric care model, from digital delivery of healthcare to digital interactive tools to facilitate remote consultations. At EY, we support and guide companies during this transformative process. In Mexico, we are consultancy leaders in healthcare and we are looking forward to becoming leaders in transformation.

EY had a recent success with the government of Chile, where we worked together to create an alternative method to support its healthcare systems amid the pandemic. Alongside the Chilean authorities, we created a digital solution that allowed remote guidance through an app. Through artificial intelligence, the app detects possible COVID-19 cases as Chilean users are asked to fill in a survey about their current health status. When detecting a case, the app is able to provide digital consultations with a doctor to confirm if the person is COVID-19-positive. If the doctor has high suspicions of contagion, they recommend taking the test or going to a medical facility to address any symptoms or complications. This app has elevated COVID-19 testing in Chile and has also resulted in more manageable flows of patients, who cannot visit a medical facility without a previous digital approval to do so.

In Mexico, we were able to support our hospital clients during the reconversion of their facilities to treat COVID-19 patients. It was very interesting to see that the biggest challenge that we normally face when trying to introduce digital practices into hospitals was the first one to fall away: cultural resistance. By breaking this barrier, we were able to introduce telehealth, telemedicine solutions and electronic clinical records. This was a remarkable step because once the tools are already there, we can begin taking action to improve operations and encourage the hospital to see the benefits of those tools that they were reluctant to incorporate in the past. Introducing these technologies could have taken up to 10 years. Now that we have broken through, our job is to improve these technologies.

Q: What other healthcare trends should Mexico be adopting?

A: Personalized care is the future of healthcare. Traditionally, all patients suffering from the same ailment receive the same treatment but efficacy varies depending on the person. Personalized health means taking healthcare to the patient’s home, because providers need to understand the patient’s context and characteristics to be able to adapt to their lifestyle and deliver personalized attention and follow-up. Technology is the ideal tool to ensure a correct diagnosis and follow-up on the patient. Sometimes, it can predict the effectiveness of a treatment and at the same time determine the doses and duration of the treatment for each patient. In healthcare, time and cost can make a huge difference.

Q: What are the ideal educational actions to encourage technology use and development in Mexico?

A: Mexico has great doctors and health professionals who have even been recognized internationally. However, they are still learning traditional practices and methods. Educational programs could start introducing new practices that include technology use and development. Furthermore, I think it is key to start including innovation in academic programs regardless of the career. This would give students an early introduction to technology and they can start to think of ways to use it, improve it and develop their own tools.

Universidad Panamericana, for example, offers optional health subjects to engineering students to build their knowledge of healthcare. I think this initiative is very helpful and sets the stage for innovative developments in the healthcare sector.

 

Ernst & Young (EY) is one of the world's leading professional services firms. It offers auditing, tax, finance, accounting, legal advice, actuarial study and calculation services, as well as company management consulting

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Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst