Healthcare organizations are embracing breakthrough technology and digitization that will drive down costs, change care delivery, and personalize the patient experience.
For decades, doctors have painstakingly recorded patient data on dead trees, writing down every detail from family history to vital stats to symptoms and treatment. Those days fortunately are coming to an end, as almost every healthcare organization has moved to electronic health records (EHRs). But what’s the next giant leap that will transform healthcare?
Breakthrough technologies such as Big Data and analytics, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence have matured and are finding broader adoption in pilot programs and new initiatives among healthcare organizations. Digital transformation that will shape the future of healthcare has finally begun, and organizations in 2018 are starting to see ripples of change, including streamlined business workflows, new digital health networks, and empowered—and connected—patients.
According to a recent study by SAP Center for Business Insight, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, healthcare organizations have high hopes that digital transformation will bring about positive changes, such as driving down costs and improving patient outcomes. The survey, based on a study of 400 global C-level healthcare executives, identified the impact—and progress to date—of digitalization efforts. In addition, healthcare organizations offered insights into the key technology investments in use today as well as their anticipated investments in the next two years.
The findings from the study reveal several trends about digital transformation: why it is necessary; where the largest investments will occur; and how digitization can improve healthcare.
What is Driving the Switch?
Several factors are converging in the healthcare industry and becoming catalysts for organizations to embark on digital transformation initiatives. The goal of every organization is of course to be successful financially and stay competitive. To do that, organizations have to create value for patients along the full continuum of care.
In the survey, 63 percent of healthcare organizations reported that digital transformation efforts allow them to compete more effectively with large companies. And 60 percent of companies list it as core business goal. The key factors that are fueling digital transformation efforts include:
Cost pressures. The rise of chronic diseases and an aging population are putting new stress on the existing healthcare system. Healthcare organizations are striving to standardize and streamline their administrative and business processes to achieve greater efficiency and improved operations.
An empowered, connected patient. On an increasing basis, patients are now digitally connected and involved in managing their healthcare. Valuable patient data is no longer stuck in a file cabinet, but stored in the cloud, so it can be more easily shared with the wider healthcare community. With fitness wearables and health-related mobile apps, patients and physicians can monitor and access data from anywhere and have a 360-degree view. As telehealth solutions and virtual visits to physicians become more commonplace, healthcare providers will need a full suite of digital tools to accommodate the connected patient and respond to his or her needs.
Automated data-gathering tools. Mobile data collection is the new normal. The emergence of advanced medical devices, sensors, and wearables are offering help for extended patient health monitoring and prevention. An individual’s health profile can have hundreds of data points collected regularly, which can be critical in management of diseases such as diabetes. With access to this type of shared data via the cloud, healthcare teams equipped with analytics platforms can be responsive to changes in a patient’s health and make informed, fact-based care decisions.
New Technology, Smart Investments
The survey showed that technology is clearly viewed as essential to healthcare organizations’ growth, retaining competitive advantage, and improving customer/patient experience. The organizations believe that their greatest competitive advantage in the digital economy will come from using the latest technology (82 percent).
Technology spending will be shifting somewhat over the next two years, with organizations investing in Big Data and analytics, cloud, and mobile. The shift to connected digital health networks is also elevating the need for improved security investments. Other technologies on the radar for investment include IoT technology, machine learning/AI, robotics, and virtual reality. Organizations don’t have to manage each of these in-house, as they can opt for shared platforms used on an as-needed basis.
New technologies such as AI and machine learning will help healthcare organizations stay competitive. AI is coming into play in many different areas of healthcare, including in the physician’s office, where it can rapidly scan images and provide data that leads to a more accurate and timely diagnosis of difficult diseases, such as skin cancer and chronic ailments. AI is also at the front lines of patient care, as cognitive virtual agents, or medical chatbots, use embedded AI technology to augment patient management, helping to determine whether a sick patient needs immediate care.
Approximately 76 percent of healthcare organizations plan to invest heavily in Big Data and analytics in the next two years. As they have already started collecting and sharing all types of digital data—including research, diagnostic, clinical, imaging, and genomic information—the next step is to gain value from that data that they didn’t have before.
As organizations remove the data siloes with transformation solutions, they can more easily share and analyze data. The end goal is to use integrated applications that provide the analytics needed for real-time clinical decision support at the point of care.
Improving Care with Digital Transformation
The transition to digital healthcare offers many opportunities for established organizations as well as new players. Future healthcare services will need to be designed in a way that promotes two key concepts: value-based care and personalized medicine.
Digital transformation is necessary for the shift to value-based care. Providers can’t manage what they can’t measure. Democratization of data analytics will empower providers in every segment, from the business operations group to the care teams. Digital transformation will help healthcare organizations—large and small—raise their reputation and visibility in their communities.
The survey confirmed that in the next two years, healthcare organizations expect technology investments to provide value in customer satisfaction and engagement as well as innovation. Organizations can focus on providing optimal patient outcomes at the lowest possible cost.
Digital transformation will also move the meter toward personalized medicine. Advanced analytics platforms can help researchers gain groundbreaking insights into the human body and understand diseases at unprecedented, highly granular levels. A secondary benefit is that digital tools can open the door for more participatory research and clinical trials, so healthcare providers can include more stakeholders and a higher number of participants.
And finally, digital transformation will facilitate balanced demand and supply. By basing decisions on real-time insights and predictive analytics, providers can optimize service offerings and treatment plans, and eliminate wasted efforts and pharmaceutical guesswork.