Digital Transformation in Healthcare: A Comprehensive Overview
In 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology by the healthcare industry and today, the digital health market is expected to reach $170.20 billion in 2023. But while 99% of organizations are ready to explore new opportunities and tap into transformation, only 12% of the organizations are 100% digital (as per research by Salesforce).
So in what direction do healthcare organizations need to head if they want to undergo digital transformation? This article covers digital transformation of healthcare in detail.
Defining digital transformation in healthcare
In general, digital transformation implies the use of technologies to create new or modify and optimize existing processes and customer experiences in order to meet market requirements. For healthcare, it means the same and can be achieved through automation, bringing decision-makers closer to real-time data, and data integration.
In simple words, digital transformation of healthcare is about implementing technologies to make processes more efficient and to improve patient care. Note though, that it’s not only about implementing one or several technologies, but about changing the whole approach towards patient care. The main goal here is to transform existing processes on all levels, and this is where the biggest challenge lies.
Key things about digital transformation in healthcare to keep in mind
In 2021, Deloitte published an article that discusses how the adoption of technology impacts the healthcare industry and what industry leaders expect from digitization. Though it’s been two years, the key findings from the article remain relevant - let’s look at them and at healthcare digital transformation trends in more detail.
Digitization can fundamentally transform the relationship between a health system and patients
The main outcome expected by most tech leaders (92%) from digital transformation in healthcare is increased patient satisfaction and engagement. And that’s not really a surprise.
For a long time, many patients have been struggling to access certain medical services due to a number of reasons. Low income, location far from a medical facility, physical inability to visit a doctor - these and other reasons all led to low patient satisfaction and low engagement. And while a patient-centric approach was discussed before, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that forced health systems to change the way they deliver care.
Now, with people being more mobile than ever, patients expect to access certain medical services from their personal devices - and we can’t really blame them for that. Just think about the following. Before, one had to spend at least an hour not only to come to a medical facility, but to wait until their appointment (and then take all the way back home). With the rise of telemedicine, online consultations can be performed from anywhere and will take about 10–20 minutes only. And that’s just one example of how technology can not only bring medical services closer to patients, but significantly save their time too.
Focus on interim milestones is crucial
As already stated, transformation in healthcare needs to happen on multiple levels and this is what makes it a marathon, not a sprint. Since it might be hard for organizations to see the value in the long run, many tech leaders stated that their organizations focused on interim milestones to track progress and adjust the digital transformation strategy along the way.
Such an approach helps to stay focused on the primary goal, as progress tracking is a great motivator. However, an organization should have a really well-defined strategy to follow in order not to lose sight of the track during its digitization journey.
Data, KPIs, and talent are the main challenges
We will speak about the main bottlenecks preventing health systems from digitization a bit later. But for now, we can say that data, talent, and clear KPIs are the biggest challenges that healthcare organizations face and need to resolve.
The healthcare industry sees a clear lack of talent to support digital transformation. Hence, organizations see it as one of the top priorities for investment in the upcoming years. In addition to talent, organizations also need to learn to properly work with their data (including big data) and to set correct KPIs. Deloitte states that healthcare facilities need to shift from measuring general metrics to advanced ones in order to better understand their patients and identify opportunities and areas for improvement easier.
In general, organizations have a very positive attitude towards digital transformation in healthcare industry. But they also understand that it’s a long-running process and there are many areas that call for improvement.
The biggest use cases of digital transformation in healthcare
Though digital transformation of healthcare is a long-term journey, many healthcare facilities already use technology to improve their daily operations and elevate patient care. Below, we will look at the biggest examples of how digitization impacts the healthcare industry today.
Telemedicine is the process of providing healthcare services via telecommunications and within a digital environment. And in recent years, this trend has been on a big rise.
The growth of the telemedicine market is estimated to reach $101.2 billion in 2023. It’s also interesting to look at the growth of telemedicine users between 2019 and 2020. While only 11% of US citizens used telemedicine in 2019 (as per McKinsey), COVID-19 increased this number by 43% in 2020.
The simplest example of telemedicine is an online appointment via a mobile application. Other examples are:
- Virtual assistants;
- Online appointment scheduling;
- Communication between doctors and patients via various methods (chat, video calls, voice messages, etc.);
- Symptoms and disease monitoring.
The main benefit of telemedicine is speeding up the provision of medical services and facilitating the whole process for both patients and doctors.
Automation of processes
Automation plays an immensely important role in modern healthcare as it helps reduce a chance for a human error, speeds up certain processes, and boosts productivity and efficiency. Examples of automation in healthcare include:
- Digitization of paperwork: results in faster and more accurate processing;
- Drug research: automation minimizes human errors and delivers results faster;
- Communication with patients: allows patients to receive needed information faster and adds to personalized care.
The best part about automation is that you don’t have to automate everything at once. Even by starting with the smallest processes, you will already be taking a big step towards future digital transformation and will very soon see the benefits that automation brings.
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Healthcare portals for patients and doctors
Another great thing that digital transformation has brought to healthcare is the development of portals where patients can communicate with doctors and manage their health and appointments in general. Such portals usually allow to:
- Schedule, make, and track appointments;
- View health records;
- View prescriptions;
- Contact doctors for a consultation;
- Receive and view laboratory results.
As you can see, such portals serve as a centralized space where patients can easily access all their health-related data. It is beneficial for doctors too, as these centralized data storages significantly facilitate and speed up data exchange.
However, such portals are used by a few organizations only and the majority of users claim that the systems are too confusing and are not really user-centric. This is something to be kept in mind when a healthcare organization decides to develop a patient portal and it’s highly recommended to contact experienced providers to handle the challenge.
On-demand care is a really interesting and recent trend of digital transformation for healthcare. While it has not yet gained massive traction, it is certainly something to keep an eye on.
The Nomad Health company launched an online marketplace similar to a freelance marketplace. The idea behind the platform is to connect medical professionals with healthcare units, so doctors can provide short-time medical services in accordance with their expertise and working schedule. Think of it as of freelance gigs, where doctors decide how and when they want to work and patients can select the most suitable professional for their needs.
Though the traditional healthcare model is not going anywhere (at least, for now), on-demand care is slowly becoming an integral part of digital transformation. This approach grants doctors flexibility in managing their schedule, while patients receive highly personalized care.
Wearables like smartwatches or fitness trackers are nothing new, but in recent years, they’ve been on a rise, especially in the healthcare domain. There are several reasons for that. First, wearable medical devices allow users to independently monitor and manage their health - think of reminders for medicine intake as an example. Second, the real-time data collected from such devices can be efficiently used for making a diagnosis or for better understanding one’s condition.
The use cases for wearable devices in healthcare include:
- Health monitoring (i.e., blood pressure);
- Exercising and nutrition;
- Sweat meters (for tracking blood sugar);
- Patient rehabilitation;
- Diagnostics of diseases.
As healthcare facilities shift towards proper collection and processing of big data, information received from patients’ wearable devices can play a crucial role in outlining a proper and personalized treatment plan.
The main bottlenecks of adopting digital transformation in healthcare
As numerous researches state, the healthcare industry is ready for digitization and acknowledges the benefits that it will bring. However, only a few healthcare facilities have started taking steps towards digital transformation. Why is that?
Lack of tech talent
We’ve already mentioned this point above. Healthcare organizations lack in people who can manage and support the implementation of new technologies. Thus, health systems may want to consider expanding their talent pool both geographically (i.e., hiring experts from different locations) and outside the healthcare industry (this may mean collaborating with software providers). According to Deloitte, hiring needed tech talents was a top investment priority for one third of survey respondents, which means health systems understand the bottleneck and aim to eliminate it.
Any healthcare organization processes massive amounts of sensitive information on a daily basis. In order to effectively store and process PHI (protected health information), health systems need to have robust security policies in place.
However, implementation of cybersecurity policies requires a significant amount of time and resources. This might be a big stopper for many health systems. The good news is, health systems can contact consultants for advice and delegate cybersecurity-related issues to experts.
Lack of resources
Implementation of innovative technologies always calls for corresponding infrastructure, which many organizations lack. As well, these technologies need to be integrated with current systems in use. The problem is, many organizations use outdated software that is not compatible with modern industry standards and market demands. This creates a big bottleneck that many health facilities are not yet ready to address.
Lack of clear KPIs
In order to successfully undergo digital transformation, a health organization needs to clearly understand what exactly needs to be improved in the first place. It’s not enough to just list down several big technologies and implement them - it is important to outline a strategy and define milestones and goals to achieve.
Unfortunately, not all healthcare organizations do thorough planning when it comes to digitization. And since they don’t see immediate ROI and value, they might negatively view the adoption of new technologies.
Thus, it is important to set clear KPIs and milestones and select technologies that would meet the outlined needs. In this way, an organization will be able to track down progress, see tangible improvements and adjust the digitization strategy accordingly.
Digital transformation of healthcare is steadily gaining traction, but there is still a long way to go. Probably the best way to start the process is for healthcare facilities to partner with software vendors since the latter ones have needed tech experience and skills. And obviously, the adoption of every new technology should be performed in correspondence with the well-defined implementation plan. By taking one step at a time, health systems will be able to grow needed expertise and meet their goals within a defined timeline.
Irina is a professional copywriter with over 7 years of experience in this domain. She loves creating compelling and informative copy that provides readers with all the needed information. Irina is also a frequent contributor to different blogs and websites across different domains.View all articles by this author.
very nice and Knowledgeable