The healthcare industry is changing. It held off for as long as it could, but 2020 has provided a much-needed catalyst for implementing digital changes across healthcare departments– both in public and private organizations. But why is this change important, and what does digital transformation offer to hospitals?
How healthcare met digital transformation
Even before this pivotal year, healthcare was slowly beginning to turn towards digitization. The development of the internet led to changes in how healthcare information was sought, from individuals relying on respected practitioners and authorized healthcare bodies for their medical advice to searching Google for symptoms and public health information. The advent of social media has provided a further angle to this, with healthcare providers and individuals using their platforms to share and spread healthcare information.
Options to access healthcare information online are seldom without difficulties, however, as the wide variety of online information brings with it an increasing need for skepticism, clear evidence, and proof of authority, to ensure that information provided is trustworthy, safe, and causes no harm. Healthcare information has been digitally transforming for some time, in conjunction with the development of digital platforms, yet it’s only recently that healthcare technology has also begun to digitally transform.
Barriers to the adoption of healthcare technology
The difficulties of digital healthcare technology are slightly more varied that those relating to online healthcare content. Developments in technology have created healthcare solutions that are wide-ranging, such as wearable health technology, including a cushion connected to an app that notifies you if your posture is incorrect, AI hospital droids, and chatbot therapists.
Some of these 'health technologies' tend even further towards the weird and wonderful, such as a smart vest to help predict health problems, a hands-off mouth-shaped gumshield style toothbrush and maggot technology that genetically modifies maggots to help the body’s healing process. Unsurprisingly, examples such as this help frame health technology as a pricey addition that doesn’t necessarily improve healthcare. Or, at best, a trend that is only for the most exclusive of private clinics.
This provides one reason for why health technology was slowly adopted – other reasons include tight budgets in healthcare organizations, particularly public ones. There’s also the fundamental psychological shift which is necessary for any major change to take place; people are used to visiting healthcare providers and knowing what to expect from in-person treatment whereas technology is an entirely different experience. Especially for elderly patients, there are also difficulties with accessibility and understanding how to use healthcare technology.
Removing barriers to the digitization of healthcare
Yet all these objections have come to the same reckoning: 2020. With the global pandemic causing havoc and uncertainty around the globe, digital technologies previously dismissed as unnecessary and overly costly have quickly returned to the arena. Previous barriers have now been overcome as a result of the sheer need to provide care in unprecedented circumstances. Where the traditional ways of healthcare can’t safely occur, technology has created space for new platforms and methods of providing care to patients.
The reasons for this include a need for healthcare to work around a high-contagious pandemic, which has resulted in a need to minimize in-person contact and led to busy hospitals and medical practices having to invest in new technology to treat patients.
New developments in healthcare technology
Some of the developments in health technology which have come about as a response to COVID-19 measures include:
- Virtual cancer screening through photos uploaded to skin cancer screening services.
- Video consultation platforms serving global audiences.
- Case identification by online symptom reporting.
- Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing via smartphone apps.
- Digital triage systems that tackle consultation backlogs.
All these developments are a far cry from the view of digital transformation in healthcare as an unnecessary form of technology development. Instead, the opposite is true – they show the very real and relevant need of different forms of patient communication and contact to ensure the best care is provided to patients, regardless of barriers.
There are many concerns regarding whether these technologies will retain popularity or continue to be used after the pandemic. Among these concerns are the costs, data worries, accessibility difficulties for those who are not connected to the internet or cannot afford to be, and the fact that those in vulnerable positions needing care feel more comfortable interacting with professionals in a real-life setting. We do not yet know what the result of this rise in patient-facing healthcare technology will be, and how long it will last in everyday settings.
However, the pandemic has also exposed the need for digital transformation in other areas of healthcare, where the likelihood of new technologies staying is much more likely.
Digital transformation in internal systems
Although the days of storing patients' files in physical paper form are long gone, there’s still a lot that healthcare organizations can do to digitally transform how they work with patient data and patient communication.
The communication needs of healthcare organizations are varied and complex. Examples of common communication types include patient notes, internal referral information, external referral information, prescriptions, requests for information, details about treatment plans, requests for further testing, consent forms, patient history questionnaires, discharge summary forms, and many more.
Digital transformation offers newer and better ways to handle these large volumes of content. Whether it’s switching from paper letters sent through the postal system to emails, or changing from accessing templates for request forms on an on-premise server to accessing them from a secure solution located in the cloud, digital transformation offers better solutions.
Technology has also been developed that allows integration into the systems that store patient data, providing a more seamless workflow for those filling inpatient details. The types of internal admin solutions offered by digital transformation are many and varied, proving arguably vital improvements for busy healthcare organizations. Through ensuring all systems involved in an organization are digitally optimized for the future, the healthcare organization will run much more smoothly and secure a competitive advantage.
Behind the scenes: healthcare organizations working from home
Healthcare organizations also face the same difficulties that most industries have faced lately: the need to be sure their infrastructure set-up can be supported when employees are working from home, and all content types can still be accessed. Although many members of healthcare organizations are not included in those working from home, due to the fact that they need to conduct in-person healthcare, it’s vital to remember that not all employees of healthcare organizations are not all healthcare professionals. Every healthcare organization also has people working in HR departments, communication teams, marketing teams, finance teams, executive teams, and so on.
These teams may not be at the forefront of patient care, but it is only through them that patient care can occur. Digital transformation that impacts the infrastructure of how these key departments in the organization work will beneficially impact the entire organization – right down to the healthcare that can be provided.
It’s in the best interest of every organization to ensure that employees are equipped to work from wherever they need and that they can access all the information needed to do their job from any location. Investing in administrative systems made possible through digital transformation often provides more efficient workflows and ensures every aspect of ‘behind the scenes’ healthcare is working in a manner to ensure the organization itself is operating as smoothly as possible.
When new digital systems are successfully integrated into workflows and implemented successfully, they have a much greater likelihood of continuing in use, even once the pandemic has lessened. Where healthcare technology that reduces patient-facing contact may be time-limited due to resourcing difficulties and trust and accessibility barriers, technology that improves internal workflows provides assistance to the organization and offers a future-proof manner of working.
Find out more about how digital transformation can improve communication in healthcare organizations, as shown by global healthcare supplier Coloplast. Read their customer case to find out more about their insights.