As populations around the world get older, technology advances and healthcare transforms following the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals will evolve their operations starting from their structural design. While the transformation will take time, the healthcare of the future will be very different to what we know nowadays, agreed industry experts.
“The hospital plays an important role because it is the meeting point between doctors and patients. Despite the growth of telemedicine, hospitals remain important. However, hospitals will change dramatically in the future, leveraging all types of technology to improve healthcare and give patients the control of their health. Within this dynamic, interactions with patients will include complete interdisciplinary teams, not only physicians,” said Guillaume Corpart, Founder and CEO, GHI.
Today’s patients expect high levels of efficiency and transparency from their healthcare providers, said Juan Manuel Fraga, Director General, Cancer Center Tec 100. Organizations must assess their current barriers to consumer satisfaction and deploy analytics and patient-centric technologies to improve the convenience, speed and transparency of care, says the association. Currently, some patients wait months for an appointment, he added.
“The patient journey is very long from diagnosis to the reception of primary care. It is unthinkable that a patient with cancer should wait six months for an appointment. Time is critical,” said Corpart.
In addition to the digitization and streamlining of appointments and processes, personalized care has become a top trend. An ideal healthcare experience “requires a personal touch, whether that encounter occurs virtually or in person,” according to a 2020 survey of health care consumers. Patients say it is paramount that physicians take time to listen, show they care and communicate clearly.
The infrastructure and structural design of hospitals could be outdated soon, said Fraga, Director General, Cancer Center Tec 100: “Hospitals will become more versatile in the use of physical spaces, such as flexible rooms with different purposes. In addition, home care has allowed hospitals to use beds for smaller periods per patient. We must leverage these resources.” The hospital of the future, added Fraga, will be data-driven and include new talent in different disciplines, from geneticists to data managers and AI specialists. “Over time, some rooms may even be replaced with big data and analytics rooms,” said Fraga.
While AI and automation are still penetrating the health industry, telemedicine already took the spotlight during the pandemic and after it. Telemedicine was born as an alternative to face-to-face consultation and, while the model still faces several challenges, it has grown significantly. However, it will not substitute in-person healthcare, said Corpart: “Telemedicine can be a capacity buffer in times of crisis, doubling our capacity to provide healthcare access.”
Quality and efficiency in most parts of the patient journey can be improved through data analytics, AI and automation. AI is having an amazing impact in radiology, with solutions to reduce redundant tasks, eliminate bias-based reading errors, identify data patterns in images to predict risk and enhance workflow processes, said Fraga. While the positive impact of these technologies is clear, a prior step is yet to be taken: digitization and interoperability within healthcare institutions.
To date, the most common example of health data management systems and the first step to interoperability are Electronic Health Records (EHR), which compile data from multiple sources into one central hub for a comprehensive view of the patient’s history, as reported by MBN. EHRs provide patient documentation in a digital format thus allowing providers to record and store patient information in a centralized location and securely share that information with other caregivers.
Culture plays a pivotal role in the adoption of all types of technologies too, said Fraga. “Local culture heavily influences the introduction of new technologies. Local healthcare professionals must adapt to the new trends. Technology is not the barrier; the barrier is who is operating it.”
Strategic, Agile Supply Chains
The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities across healthcare organizations and in the entire ecosystem, from safety to equipment, data availability and infrastructure. Hospitals, care providers and all-level suppliers had to collaborate to address the crisis, even including collaboration with non-healthcare companies. “During the crisis, several medical device companies worked ethically, not taking advantage of the situation and consciously distributing their life-saving products,” said Corpart.
New supply chain strategies and models are required within healthcare institutions. Increasing storage and self-distribution could replace just-in-time delivery, said Corpart. In addition, deep relationships with sellers, back-up suppliers and the use of smarter, faster and predictive information through AI and ML improve the entire hospital operation, he added.
The future opportunities that technology opens are yet to be explored. However, some serious state-of-the-art disruptions are already happening. During the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, pharmaceutical companies regionalized production across the world to ethically distribute vaccines, said Fraga.
The next step that could disrupt supply chains is additive manufacturing, which offers affordability and immediate availability for surgical equipment, said Fraga: “In the future, hospitals could print surgical equipment in-house. The only supply they will need is the 3D printer and the material.”