Digital transformation in healthcare
Mar 15, 2022
Digital transformation in the healthcare industry facilitates the streamlining of workflows for clinicians, the coordination of electronic health records (EHR) across providers, and the optimization of all systems. This improves care delivery for patients, reduces the chance of human error, and results in lower costs.
Healthcare is no different to any other sector feeling the need for digital transformation, particularly in the wake of the global pandemic. Before the arrival of coronavirus, the main way we may have experienced digital transformation was through the sharing of electronic medical records (EMR) between practitioners and healthcare providers. However, the restrictions of lockdowns and social distancing have galvanized the healthcare industry to consider digital health initiatives that include telemedicine, the protection of EHR via blockchain, and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled healthcare that goes beyond chatbots.
Precision medicine is an area in which AI has been particularly effective for treating patients with cancer. By utilizing information from the Human Genome Project, researchers were able to map the entire human genome, thereby shaping the field of genomics. This in turn has allowed more personalized cancer diagnosis and treatment rather than simply prescribing routine regimens based on cancer type and stage.
Amassing data in this way has also helped in understanding the various ways in which coronavirus affects individuals. The number of people who are interested in learning about their genetic make-up so they can better understand their health has led to an increase of genetic information contributing to research via services such as 23andMe. This kind of big data has helped us gain knowledge of how genetics contribute to the possibility of losing sense of smell and taste when Covid-19 is contracted. It has also helped in research on long Covid and the genetic sequencing of those who may be susceptible to long-term symptoms.
With more wearable healthcare tech and digital tools available, and more patient data willingly contributed to science, the possibility for 100% personalized diagnosis and treatment is growing. However, the World Economic Forum recognizes that there are major challenges to overcome including genomic data privacy, clinical trial design, and equitable therapeutic delivery.
It’s also worth noting that according to a 2020 report from Deloitte, 80 million Europeans never use the internet because they don’t have a computer or due to the cost. Approximately 29% of Europeans lack basic digital skills, which increases to 70% in retired adults. Access to fast and reliable broadband is also an issue, especially in rural areas.
Many healthcare startups and medical device manufacturers are realizing that people want to take their health into their own hands and receive medical advice in a way and at a time that is convenient to them.
Positive healthcare experiences are dependent upon feeling comfortable in the healthcare environment and are increasingly recognized as being key to recovery as well as overall health and wellbeing. Seeking medical care in itself can be stressful and sometimes the patient being in their own home space is preferable to being in a hospital or clinic. For this reason, virtual care is acknowledged as a helpful support for monitoring chronic conditions and to improve patient engagement after initial face-to-face diagnosis. It is also an extremely helpful form of real-time patient care for those who have mobility issues.
During periods of the pandemic when frontline workers have been overwhelmed, remote healthcare support between healthcare professionals has also been integral to assessing patient’s health and implementing successful treatment in hospitals. The benefits of remote surgery using robotics have been clear during the coronavirus crisis, allowing surgeons to operate from a different room or even a different country.
Virtual health has been around since the 1970s when NASA pioneered medical monitoring for astronauts and has long been seen as a potential game changer. However, while ever-more sophisticated technology has made advanced virtual health possible, healthcare providers and payers of health services have been slower to adopt it than was anticipated. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies with McKinsey reporting in 2021 that telehealth use in US healthcare increased to 38 times the pre-Covid-19 baseline.
Virtual reality healthcare
Virtual reality (VR) has always been a valuable tool in healthcare organizations for training, particularly in creating life-like scenarios, such as surgery. Medical Realities is a company which films real-life surgical procedures in 4K 360-degree video from multiple angles. This footage is combined with CGI anatomical models to create immersive and interactive training experiences.
It’s not just physical treatment that VR can help medical professionals with. Insight into patient experience of anxiety and PTSD can be offered from simulations in which the medical professional is on-hand to offer in-situ advice and support. This gives a clearer understanding of the physiological and psychological responses that the patient has and under what conditions.
Virtual reality is also being used to better understand the experiences of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, helping care-givers to empathize and literally walk in the shoes of those they care for. A VR game called Sea Hero Quest was created in 2017 to collect anonymized data that is leading to further research into early diagnosis of dementia.
VR has been used to successfully provide pain distraction in recovering patients. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California, some patients were given VR headsets that featured immersive 3D nature experiences, while some simply watched nature videos on a bedside TV. Researchers compared pain scores for both sets of patients and concluded that the “use of VR in hospitalized patients significantly reduces pain versus a control distraction condition.” A study by the University of Washington, Seattle, showed that full VR immersion for those undergoing physical therapy after a skin graft for burn injuries acted as a distraction and reduced pain levels for the patients.
Discover more about digital transformation with an MBA
The possibilities presented by healthcare digital transformation and new technologies are many. From decision-making in treatment regimens to strategic planning, balancing budgets, and operational decisions that support staffing, the use of data management and analysis is paving the way for improved healthcare systems and health solutions. Introducing automation and optimization into operational decision-making cuts down on administrative tasks. This means that clinicians have more time to offer patients a higher quality of care as they are able to listen more carefully and discuss treatment more clearly without being rushed.
There are still hurdles on the road to digital transformation and equitable health solutions for all as this assumes that everyone has access to digital devices and the internet. Pricing and user experience are key considerations for driving things forwards as is interoperability. This requires the development of a system for sharing local or national records with a single patient identifier and a transparent consent process. It also demands secure cloud technology, the encryption of sensitive data using blockchain, and agreed interoperability standards.
If you’re interested in the many advantages of digital transformation in all sectors, an online MBA with Digital Transformation from the Alba Graduate Business School, The American College Greece, could be for you. Find out more and how to register today.