Healthcare isn’t exempt from the trend towards digitalization – 7 key areas are already seeing benefits from adopting new technologies.
Digital transformation has reshaped how customers interact with businesses of all kinds – traditional brick-and-mortar establishments, purely online companies like streaming platforms, or anything in between. Is it reasonable to expect that these shifts won’t also be felt in the healthcare industry?
The answer has been a resounding ‘No’. A recent Experian study indicates that patients expect more control over their healthcare experience and more remote or virtual treatment options. This mimics the customer-centric mindset we’re seeing dominate marketing, customer service, and other business areas.
And like other businesses, healthcare organizations are also feeling the pressure to use strategy and data to increase productivity, decrease expenses, stave off competition, and effectively perform research and development activities. Additionally, healthcare organizations also face stricter data privacy rules and regulatory limitations.
In short, healthcare’s digital transformation has already begun. And it has accelerated over the last 18 months, thanks to COVID-19. But the transformation is by no means complete. Let’s see what we can expect in the coming years for healthcare companies.
7 Ways the Digital Transformation Will Continue to Impact Healthcare
If you strip everything down to basics, the needs of healthcare and the needs of other industries are similar: engaging with customers (patients), enabling employees (medical personnel and their support staff) to work more efficiently, facilitating the secure storage and transfer of information, and using multiple data sources to drive innovation and expansion. And the same technologies – blockchain, AI, ML, VR, etc. – are available to all. How are healthcare companies using these technologies, and where can we expect to see growth?
1. Virtualized Patient Care:
During the height of the pandemic, some doctors and patients opted for remote visits – using tools like Zoom or Skype, or even the telephone – instead of in-person care. Prior to that, services like Teledoc provided routine care online. Such virtualized care is now getting increasing coverage from insurance companies. Additionally, look for technical infrastructure improvements, like the widespread advent of 5G wireless, to support and extend the trend.
The general fondness for devices like Fitbit that track heart rates and movement seems to have influenced the acceptance wearable healthcare. For example, the Apple Watch has an optional sensor to detect heart rhythm problems; rumor has it that soon it will also be able to monitor blood sugar and blood pressure. What makes this especially interesting is that we’ve had wearable tech (i.e., for the remote testing of blood pressure, blood glucose, sleep quality, heart function, etc.) for some time now, but we’re starting to see it combined with our everyday technologies.
3. Virtualized Alternative Care:
Wearables, online visits, and remote patient monitoring have launched a new era in post-op follow-ups and remote home care; utilizing them has been shown to improve patient compliance and reduce hospital readmissions. But virtualized alternative care can also be used to reduce or replace medications in some cases; for example, a GP might use an app to help a patient learn to manage their pain or anxiety before resorting to a prescription. Virtual reality (VR) has interesting potential in this field; doctors have used it to help treat stroke victims and are looking into its applications in helping autistic children.
4. Forecasting and Research:
At some point in the past year, you probably heard or read about how AI was being used to accelerate the creation of COVID-19 vaccines (and, more recently, vaccines’ acceptance). AI has also been used to forecast infection patterns based on location, weather, and other factors; there’s even been efforts to use AI to provide personalized outcome predictions (regarding length of hospital stay, adverse events, and readmission) for individual patients.
5. AI Assistants:
AI assistants in the form of chatbots have already been introduced into healthcare settings; they can be used to gather intake information, arrange appointments, remind patients to take medication, and provide basic healthcare support (e.g., monitoring symptoms or answering COVID-19 questions). As mentioned above, AI’s pattern-recognizing abilities make it a valuable ally in research and in the lab, as well.
6. Medical Records Technology:
Blockchain has been touted for its secure and trackable record management; this has the potential to be a gamechanger in the field of medical record management. Its distributed ledger means that any conflicting information will immediately be flagged, reducing mistakes and human error. Additionally, blockchains are harder to hack while still allowing secure file sharing between providers (e.g., a general practitioner and a specialist).
7. Hospital Management:
Hospitals are complex entities, with many ‘moving parts’. Thus, cross-department communication can often be difficult, even with the current advances in information sharing. Adopting a digitalized approach to hospital management would help all departments communicate effectively, provide better patient care, and develop a more patient-centric mindset – all critical factors to success in the new decade.
Digital Transformation in 2022 and Beyond
Experts predict that the pace of digital transformation will continue in 2022 and beyond, with increased patient involvement, a shift in care provision, the adoption of digital twins, and other technology-led innovations continuing to change the customer (and provider) experience.
Right now, it’s incumbent on healthcare organizations to continue their journey into data-driven, customer-centric healthcare; as Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor of IT and Data and the University of California Irvine, stated in a Becker’s Hospital Review interview: “It’s … more about using the data we already have and can generate for each person, and start leveraging that data in a more intelligent way.”
Indeed, we expect that the next 5 to 10 years will see healthcare becoming more accessible and more appealing to patients – as long as organizations stay focused on using data and technology to enhance their industry.