In recent memory, no other event has tested the healthcare sector like the COVID-19 pandemic, and like any other test, it is leaving many questions in its wake - changing stakeholders’ perspectives on several key aspects and functions, particularly within the digital transformation framework. According to an Accenture survey, 93 per cent of healthcare providers reported that they are innovating with a sense of urgency, this year.
What is the implication of such widespread technology adoption? It will impact the way hospitals deliver in-patient, out-patient, telemedicine, ambulance, and other core services. But it will also escalate costs-per-patient, requiring the management to develop new business models aimed at optimising care delivery and resources. Any new model must factor in new regulations, like the UAE’s healthcare data protection law that restricts how patients’ data is shared. Under this scenario, digital transformation will necessitate meticulous planning, expert advice, and methodical implementation. So, what do these entail?
Horizontal approach: Enhancing core competencies
As customer experience came to the forefront, in services across business and industry, it made a delayed-yet-determined entry into the healthcare sector. The corporatisation of healthcare also played into this development. Today, patient experience is the cornerstone of the sector, as it gears up for increased digitalisation across its value chain. In terms of the horizontal approach, the sector is witnessing large investments in remote clinical capabilities - including telemedicine and virtual consultations.
Patients can now access app-based on their smartphones; and the rise of immersive technologies is adding value to virtual consultations. Some of the more accessible scenarios enabled by digitalisation include:
- App based updates and communications that allow in-patients and their families to stay abreast of updates, and communicate with doctors, nursing staff, and hospital administration seamlessly.
- Patients can keep detailed and automatically updated medical records for themselves, making their medical history easily accessible.
- Patients and their caregivers can set reminders and automate notifications; including for surgery dates, recommended routines, managing pregnancies and child birth; and vaccination schedules.
- Patients can use a centralised data depository to register emergency contacts and potential donors for themselves, in case of emergencies.
From the medical staff perspective, digitised detection is helping radiologists pick up early signs of underlying diseases – especially in conjunction with Big Data analytics. Data from heart rate sensors, sweat meters, and exercise trackers in wearables, is being analysed to alert users in the event of anomalies, so that timely care can be taken. Healthcare providers are increasingly leveraging analytics for preventive care, and to give timely alerts for checkups, etc. This is translating to long-term patient engagement and good word-of-mouth marketing, which is of great consequence in healthcare.
Kumar Subramania, Senior VP at MAST Consulting
Vertical approach: Optimising management functions
In a survey, 63 per cent of respondents reported facing severe disruptions; due to internal organisational changes, cost pressures, regulation and compliance, funding, and changing patient expectations. Currently, in light of the pandemic, the emphasis is on contactless/low-contact experiences, and effective management of visitations and workflows - particularly in hospitals with a high volume of patients. Additionally, due to the risk of hospital-acquired infections (HAI), healthcare providers have scaled their sanitisation routines - adding to increased labour and associated costs.
IoT and AI-based solutions are enabling better integration and centralising of healthcare data, to increase efficiency and savings – particularly in managing supply chains and inventories; reducing errors; and facilitating collaboration. Enhancements that already being implemented include:
- Reducing patient waiting times using QR code and pre-approvals; and pre-validation of insurance, speeding up access to consultations and procedures.
- Doctor, operating from physically distant locations, can now collaborate on complex treatments - including surgeries and other critical procedures – due to real time remote access, and enhanced transparency.
- Sharing health data with government and other regulatory bodies has become easy for hospitals, with automation of such exchanges possible, with personalised and specific setting of permissions.
- Patients can set automated predictions, based on previous diagnosis and current health metrics, including the capability to alert medical responders, allied with the use of wearables.
Cloud integration of healthcare data is also making it more accessible to both patient, using mobile devices; access on-demand services; and let them decide how and with whom they choose to share their medical records, history, and test reports - which can contain sensitive information.
Value at the intersection of vertical and horisontal approaches
Digitalisation efforts not only unlock standalone value, but also bring greater value when both horizontal and vertical functions in healthcare intersect. For example, AI-powered automation and robotics process automation can replace laborious manual processes to add further efficiency. This is significant; taking into account that non-patient-care activities account for 51 per cent of a nurse’s workload and 16 per cent of a physician's activities. So, by automating and optimising their workload, the management can free up their time for more patient-centric services, and better treatment; while Big Data and analytics provision for future eventualities - like estimating future admission rates, and allocating staff accordingly.
A reliable study indicates that analytics can reduce the number of duplicated diagnostic tests, leading to 7-11 per cent savings. Such quantifiable outcomes make a non-negotiable case for accelerated digital transformation in healthcare. But it is advisable to partner with future-ready service providers and consultants; who not only explore disruptive technologies and strive for early-mover advantage, but also bear in mind emerging priorities - like patient experiences, data security, and ethical caregiving.