What is digital healthcare?
Every great innovation sets a ripple effect in motion. It affects the parent industry, other sectors, and ultimately, how people live. Digitalization today is seen everywhere, and it's high time the healthcare sector took to it as the other sectors have.
Every industry is utilizing evolving technologies to address the issues, grow, and serve its customers better. Healthcare and pharma companies need to catch up with the pace in implementing digital solutions in healthcare. The healthcare industry can optimally use digital solutions and emerging technologies to improve the patient's experience and reorganize procedures with digitalization. Technology solutions like electronic health records(EHR), telemedicine, smartphone apps, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence-enabled devices have set the premise for digitalization in the healthcare sector.
What is the need for digitalization in the healthcare industry?
The Healthcare Industry is a complex system involving patients, doctors, hospitals, manufacturers, insurance companies, distributors, regulators, and government organizations. It has evolved from what it was said a decade ago and its needs. The current system needs solutions that address:
Chronic and lifestyle diseases are putting an enormous burden on the healthcare industry all over the world. The recent pandemic just exposed how under-prepared the world is when it comes to handling global emergencies. The doctor-to-patient ratio is not something many countries would be proud of. Amidst the pandemic, the staff shortages across the globe raised more concerns than the pandemic itself. Additionally, the available staff was overburdened with the dreary process of maintaining medical records.
An increase in technological advancement is leading to an increase in patients’ expectations. They now expect convenient and personalized care at the hospitals round the clock. Armed with the internet and the knowledge that it bestows them, they need more clarity in the medical procedures involved. They like to question and receive a satisfactory response. They are ready to spend but need the services and standards to meet the price. The patient population in the rural areas requires more accessible healthcare facilities that treat them at par with the urban population.
Care, not just Treatment
Digitalization is a top priority to help the healthcare industry stay sustainable and meet growing demands. This is not just to treat diseases but also to provide better quality care irrespective of physical boundaries. The digital solution in healthcare can make information and treatment easily accessible, improving overall care delivery. It can reduce medical errors via regular communication among everyone involved in the healthcare ecosystem. Health data is captured and communicated over the cloud infrastructure, making it easily and safely accessible to everyone in the ecosystem.
Better Integrated Services
Digital solutions can help patients to access healthcare and choose doctors or specialists among healthcare providers. Electronic health cards, including the details of the patient’s overall health, immunization records, and medicinal drug requirements, can be made available online to be accessed anytime by the patient or the chosen doctor. Services like prescription renewals and brief consultations for acute problems can be done over the telephone or via video calls. Technology can optimize the entire process and reduce costs, thus increasing efficiency and productivity. This enables the healthcare staff to focus more on patient care and less on administrative work.
What benefits does digitalization offer future hospitals?
Digitalization offers great potential for hospitals in various areas such as:
- Improved patient experience: Patients can send electronic messages to the doctor to book or reschedule appointments. They can even book a video consultation. With the help of telemedicine and mobile apps, patients can assess their health status, make payments and take note of the preventive plans instead of physically visiting the hospitals or clinics.
- Taking a second opinion: In case of dissatisfaction, a patient can easily look for a second opinion and transfer their care to another healthcare provider. The patient’s electronic health card can then be transferred to the new healthcare provider, thereby reducing redundancy and chances of errors.
- Improved delivery to patients: Health care professionals can focus more on patient care than documenting it, which can be done using process automation. Instead of entering patient data and details manually, the readings from wearable devices and data shared from electronic records can be used. Automated reminders for the next round of treatment to both patient and care provider can be sent for timely care.
- Redefined patient health monitoring and recording: The innovations in tracking devices with biosensors - such as heart-rate sensors, exercise trackers, sweat meters, and oximeters - are giving patients more insights into their health. These can guide the patients through exercise and diet, allowing them to make better decisions for themselves. They can also raise alarms and notify the health provider and family for timely care.
- Driven by analytics and data: Integration of the digital solution can reshape the interaction with the health professionals. Patient data can be shared among providers, and based on the data, the decision can be made for the treatment plans. A digital solution can flag any inconsistencies between the patient’s health and the prescribed drug. It can alert the healthcare professionals and help them monitor whether the patient is receiving the needed care and required medicines.
- Integrated with the entire health ecosystem: Hospitals purchase goods from manufacturers or distributors and use them to deliver services to the patients. Hospitals have to ensure that they get prior approvals from the government organizations and payments from buyers while meeting the quality standards set by the regulators. The digital solution helps in real-time communication between all the involved entities in the ecosystem. It helps them to coordinate and provide clear diagnostic and care solutions. Insurance companies can obtain health information from wearable devices to assess a patient’s risk for illness. They can also offer a lower insurance premium to those who take preventive measures to improve health.
How can hospitals build a digital strategy?
Many solutions are available in the market, but most hospitals know nothing about them. Instead of jumping in the fray and taking up everything every other hospital is trying to get, a hospital needs to develop a strategy for digitalization.
Here’s how hospitals can build a strategy to prepare for the future.
- Understand the requirement: Every hospital is unique in its requirement. Though digitalization leads to optimized processes and an increase in efficiency, it is not a one-time project but a mindset. The change does not come with the new technology and its benefits. It involves thinking in a new direction and being transparent to the users. Every solution in the market is not the best fit for every hospital.
- Every opinion matters: Multi-lateral analysis of business should be done to implement a technology. Involve the entire staff while making the digital strategy. Train and educate the staff to use the new technology and collect their feedback. Then, decide which device to buy because it is challenging to get the team on board with any change. It is important to involve those who would be using the new healthcare technology in the future.
- Zeroing down on technology: Choosing the right technology is very important because the technologies are ever-evolving. Management should research the market, consider the upgradation cost, the integration with other technologies, and scalability before buying any new technology. Before purchasing any cloud computing service, decide what package best fits the current setup.
- Security: Since critical data is available across the channel, cyber breaches can be the biggest threat to the healthcare industry. How secure is the solution you are opting for? What security controls and resources need to be prepared to avoid a data breach? Is role-based access control an option? Who can view information and how much? All these questions must be kept in mind.
Challenges with digitalization in healthcare
Innovative technologies come with their challenges. Implementing new digital solutions is expensive, and keeping up with the pace of evolving technology can be overwhelming.
The other big challenge is data privacy. All entities in the healthcare ecosystem are collaborating and sharing data, which is stored on the cloud. Though the data is easily accessible for efficient workflow, the risk of violating patients’ data privacy is huge. The healthcare industry should have robust data security and privacy controls to avoid the loss or theft of patients’ information.
These digital solutions should meet stringent privacy and security standards, enabling the secure exchange of patient information across the channel. In many countries, insurance is mandatory, and the patient can seek medical professionals only under their insurance network. Finding a specialist is a challenging task for many patients in this scenario.
Final words on digital hospitals of the future
The main goal to implement the digital solution in the healthcare industry is to restructure the complete process, reduce administrative work, improve patient care, reduce human error, and lower costs. Patients can get better treatment and services with mobile apps, virtual reality tools, telemedicine, and wearable devices. Doctors, on the other hand, can focus more on patient care and streamline their workflows.
However, the healthcare provider should choose the digital solution after analyzing their business needs, cost of the digital solution, and current operating needs. The recent acquisition of healthcare made by big software firms like Microsoft and Oracle shows that digitalization in healthcare is set to soar.