Digitalization in the healthcare industry is long overdue and requires urgency and funding. Although the current pandemic has demonstrated the need for digital transformation in many areas, including healthcare, the journey is still ahead. Technological advancements in healthcare can drastically improve patient experience, reduce the burden of clinician burnout, facilitate faster and more precise diagnostics, and decrease overall costs. More and more countries are also dealing with the consequences of an aging population, which places an even higher workload on medical personnel.
Digital transformation in healthcare is exactly what we need to bring the medical sphere to a new level and provide a better patient experience. In this article, we will talk about digital solutions in healthcare and the benefits and drawbacks associated with digitalization, and we will go over the most significant trends.
Digital transformation in healthcare refers to technological innovations that improve processes, enhance the patient experience, and streamline clinicians’ work. Acting as an intersection between technology and healthcare, this discipline uses the latest technologies to drastically increase performance metrics and improve the efficiency of the organization. The process of digital transformation takes time and resources and requires excellent expertise and know-how.
What started as putting medical records into digital form and later standardizing the electronic health record system is now pivoting towards more complex innovations. The digital health transformation involves technologies such as cloud, IoT, AI, network connectivity, and others to offer the most appropriate treatments possible.
In this section, we will focus on the top technologies that promote healthcare transformation and hugely impact the industry as a whole.
Telehealth and telemedicine have revolutionized the way patients connect and interact with doctors. Thanks to this technology, people from remote areas can get access to the appropriate medical providers and receive help. Such services have been around for a while but have become more important during the pandemic as many people can’t physically go to the hospital.
Being a cost-effective alternative to traditional face-to-face appointments, telemedicine occurs over apps and websites that connect doctors to patients at the most suitable time for both parties. Although sometimes further analyses are required which force patients to visit hospitals, these services streamline communication and data exchange which in itself accelerates the diagnostic processes.
The implementation of IoT technology took telehealth to the next level. Now doctors can not only communicate with their patients over video or text but also track their vital signs using wearables. IoT offers solutions that allow physicians to continuously monitor patients’ health data and give more accurate and timely diagnoses.
IoT devices equipped with sensors allow doctors to collect health data in real-time and under various circumstances, thus eliminating cognitive biases that might occur in research and treatments. Patients might exhibit different symptoms and abilities in various situations which plays an important role in a final diagnosis. Doctors can also evaluate treatment plans based on IoT data and adjust them accordingly.
IoT devices also help patients track their health indicator data such as heart rate, calorie intake, blood pressure, etc. Using this information, patients can take better care of their health and improve their wellbeing without frequent hospital visits. Elderly patients can use wearables to monitor their condition and alert their physicians and family members in case of emergencies.
Diagnostics is all about collecting and evaluating health data, both in individual cases and in the industry as a whole. The more information physicians obtain and use, the higher the accuracy of the diagnoses. Additionally, the ability to collect, store, and analyze large amounts of data allows researchers to create new treatments, prevent diseases, and predict emerging pandemics.
Big data also plays a practical role in hospital management. Healthcare executives can make data-driven staffing decisions and hire medical workers to provide the best healthcare services without overspending. Finally, big data analytics helps to prevent human errors and enhance the quality of diagnostics and treatment.
Virtual reality can potentially help millions with pain management and reduction. For example, VR headsets are used to help children manage pain during procedures like stitch removal or small surgeries. VR allows children to be distracted and watch or play something while physicians do their job. As a result, patients barely experience any pain or discomfort which reduces stress.
VR technology has also shown great results in physical therapy. The opportunity to immerse oneself in a simulated environment and use a gamified approach in difficult and physically challenging exercises helps patients manage their pain and achieve their goals faster. VR can be modified and personalized to suit different patients and make therapy more enjoyable.
Finally, VR is used for various types of training for doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, and even patients and their family members. Clinicians employ VR technology to fine-tune their skills when it comes to operating new medical equipment as well as performing complex surgeries. VR also allows for playing out different scenarios and helps doctors improve their soft skills. Patients’ family members can learn how to care for their loved ones and execute treatment plans using this technology.
AI automates tasks that involve a clear algorithm that can be programmed and executed by a machine much faster and more precisely than by a human. Although there is still a lot that needs to be discovered and researched in the medical field, some of the activities are approved and established. For example, AI is proven to be better in diagnosing breast cancer compared to physicians because the disease is well researched.
Additionally, AI technology is also used in vaccine creation which is highly relevant in our day and age. When identifying the target protein that is causing a certain disease, researchers go through a lengthy trial-and-error process. This can be accelerated by an AI algorithm that can identify the right protein much faster than any human. Similarly, AI technology can automate any repetitive process that doctors face in their line of work. Learn more about this technology in our brief guide to AI in healthcare.
Digital transformation in healthcare enables the creation of systems and processes for both patients and medical personnel that improves the quality of healthcare services and remove some of the workloads from physicians. Let’s discuss the benefits in more detail.
Hospitals deal with immense amounts of patient data as well as highly strict health data privacy laws. Collecting and storing patient data, insurance information, invoices, staff data, etc., takes a lot of time and effort. The process of digitization provides a centralized space where all the information can be stored and analyzed and permissions can be managed to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
Modern healthcare technologies provide patients with a way to ask for help at any time from their mobile devices. Instead of getting an appointment and waiting in lines, patients can swiftly connect to their physicians across different social channels and specialized apps and ask healthcare-related questions. This improves the trust between medical staff and patients as well as lightens the workload for busy physicians.
Medical doctors often collaborate with other physicians to provide the best diagnosis and treatment plan. To streamline this process and ensure correct and timely diagnoses, hospitals require a smooth and functioning internal communication channel. Clinicians can also get in touch with doctors that provide services for certain patients earlier to discuss possible changes, reevaluate diagnoses, and offer new treatment plans or drug therapies.
Despite initial investments, digital innovation in healthcare cuts expenses for both hospitals and patients in the long term. Hospitals can reduce costs by predicting staffing capacity using a data-driven approach, offering help via apps and websites, and minimizing human errors. Patients can get access to more affordable medical help through telemedicine applications. Residents of rural and remote areas save transportation costs by using apps and connecting to healthcare professionals from their homes.
Without big data storage in place, large amounts of data get lost in the processes. Although the data can be stored both in-house and in the cloud, the latter has been gaining more prevalence in recent years. If hospitals do not make the effort of collecting and analyzing the information, they miss out on crucial data that can help further research. Modern technologies can preserve vast amounts of data, including raw unstructured data that can be used later. Research, drug development, treatment development, etc., largely depend on data which is why keeping it alive is a vital step in improving the quality of medical care.
Digital transformation in healthcare is only at the beginning of its journey and comes with a number of considerable challenges and difficulties. Let’s talk about the most significant challenges that complicate and postpone full digitalization.
Data privacy laws affect every business and industry, especially in the digital age. This is not to say security is insignificant in other spheres, but its importance in healthcare should not be understated. Laws and regulations like HIPAA in the US force medical workers to be hypervigilant when it comes to protecting private patient information. Putting this information in a centralized system can potentially jeopardize its security and leak the data to people with bad intentions.
In the US, in the year 2021 alone, over 40 million patient records have been hacked and compromised. Cybersecurity is the largest concern for digital transformation and healthcare. With more and more healthcare facilities employing the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices, using the cloud for data storage and sharing, and conducting medical appointments over video chat and text, healthcare data becomes easier to access. Especially with many hospitals not having clear cybersecurity measures and working with weak systems, the possibility of getting hacked remains quite high.
Such large and inflexible organizations like healthcare facilities tend to be extremely resistant to changes. They usually lack the agility and motivation to undergo vast alterations as well as have budgetary constraints that make some technological implementations impossible. The system needs revamping from the bottom up and requires a comprehensive action plan that enables seamless digital transformation in healthcare.
The issues that digitalization can solve might not even be visible to the stakeholders and decision-makers. To improve transparency, healthcare executives need to conduct surveys and interviews, collect data, and create a list of issues that the organization is experiencing. This list will help executives identify possible solutions and later implement them.
Healthcare is an industry that receives funding from the government, which complicates the process of finding additional investments. Executives need to provide concrete data that shows how much money gets lost due to inefficient processes. Moreover, to receive adequate funding they need to prove which technology can solve these issues and how much money can be saved.
All advantages considered, why are we talking about healthcare transformation now? The reason for this is the increased capacity of healthcare systems during the pandemic. Emerging challenges—like shortages of masks, sanitizers, ICU space, and equipment, lack of safety protocols and practices, etc.—have forced medical staff to quickly adjust to the changing environment and adopt new regulations in a very short period of time.
Within just a few weeks, healthcare executives have developed new guidelines and frameworks to respond to different situations, implemented technology like chatbots and telemedicine, as well as effectively collaborated with other healthcare providers nearby. These rapid and efficient changes should not be eliminated once the pandemic passes—on the contrary, they should pave the way to digital transformation in the healthcare industry. Even without this critical situation, the healthcare system should strive to become more efficient, quick, and technological.
This pandemic-induced process acceleration can help bring innovation across industries but especially to hospitals and other healthcare facilities. What would have taken decades otherwise can now be implemented in a matter of months? This acceleration should be exploited and used to swiftly implement various technologies like AI, IoT, telemedicine, etc., and bring healthcare to the next level.
While the pandemic has caused millions of deaths, it has also given us the power to reshape the medical industry and avoid such tragedies in the future. A technologically-advanced healthcare system will be much better prepared for a future pandemic or any other form of a health emergency.
In this part, we will discuss the most important healthcare digital transformation trends that can potentially solve the remaining challenges and accelerate the process.
Since the biggest concern of digitalization of the healthcare industry is security, the most significant emerging trend is blockchain technology. This provides a secure framework to generate and store data records. Information cannot be altered or removed from a blockchain, and every transaction is recorded chronologically, which makes the system more secure.
Another challenge that we mentioned is data, its collection and storage. Traditional data storage systems do not provide the same capacity and scalability as cloud services. Serverless computing, on the other hand, does not require a team of specialists on your team to monitor the systems and make sure they are working well. Cloud computing can also save costs by offering pay-as-you-go pricing models that charge you only for the services you actually use. Cloud solutions also allow automated up and downscaling that adjusts to your changing needs, market situation, and peak seasons.
Machine Learning can be used to predict how patients with certain conditions will react to different drugs and treatments. ML technology analyzes large amounts of data and identifies patterns that later help physicians understand how to improve treatment plans for different patients. This can be helpful in drug testing and development to predict the efficacy of drugs and deliver targeted care to various patient groups.
Most industries are shifting to a customer-centric approach and healthcare is not an exception. At the center of the entire pipeline of the healthcare industry is patients and their health, which is why personalization of treatments is becoming increasingly more important. The means for personalization are genetic testing and consumer AI.
Genetic testing allows clinicians to predict how different people might respond to certain drugs based on their DNA profiles. Using this data, researchers can create drugs and treatment plans that are suitable for patients with certain conditions.
Consumer AI can also help healthcare workers improve patient experience and increase the level of trust between doctors and patients. Patients can use apps like Google Fit to track their health data that can later help their clinicians give accurate diagnoses.
A digital twin is a computer model of human physiology that can be used to collect and test data, prevent diseases, and offer personalized treatment plans. Such models can be used by medical researchers to study diseases, test new drugs, and develop medical devices. Clinicians can also take advantage of digital twins to monitor the efficiency of the treatment and adjust it in accordance with how patients respond.
It is worth mentioning that the process of digitization has already started and continues to grow. In an Accenture 2020 report, 66% of respondents shared that they were moving to the cloud in the next year and an overwhelming 96% in the next three years. And even the ones who have already entered the process of digital transformation are only at the beginning. Research from Deloitte in 2021 shows that 60% of respondents claim they are only halfway through the process.
Get in touch with experts from NIX United to receive a consultation and begin your transformation journey. We are a team of software developers that helps organizations go through the digital transformation process using innovative technology solutions.
Natalie is a HIPAA-certified expert with high-grade knowledge in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries with 5+ years of experience. She helps CIOs, CTOs of medical organizations, and founders of agile healthtech startups get the most valuable tech solutions for fundamental digital reinforcement in patient care, automation of operational processes, and overall business progress.
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