Digitalization in healthcare is transforming the industry and improving services. Omda’s Chief Strategy Officer, Glenn Kenneth Bruun, discusses digitalization trends and technology, and the key concepts he believes are central to effective digital transformation and positive change within healthcare.
There is no denying that healthcare technology has undergone considerable changes in the last 50 years. The modern hospital is home to all manner of innovative and groundbreaking devices that have improved healthcare provision significantly and resulted in superior patient care. Without these technologies, medical professionals could not provide the level of treatment we have come to expect from first-rate health systems.
However, there is an argument that digital technology has not had the same impact as elsewhere in society. Digital transformation initiatives have not always been implemented effectively or wisely. In healthcare, the digital revolution has not rewritten the rules in the same way it has in our everyday lives.
Historically, the sector pursued a policy of healthcare digitization – the process of converting analogue information to a digital format. This occurred at the expense of healthcare digitalization – the process of converting analogue processes to digital format. Many hospitals continue to utilize outdated legacy systems that fail to deliver on the promise of digitally-driven healthcare.
Records may have been digitized. But the game-changing digital solutions that enable healthcare systems to benefit from the data at their disposal were not implemented.
Today, healthcare systems around the world are looking for new ways to integrate digital solutions and harness the potential of digital technology. Their decisions will shape the future of healthcare digitalization and determine the speed and extent to which we pursue it.
In this article, we discuss seven key concepts we believe are central to effective digital transformation and positive change within healthcare.
1. Recognizing healthcare has no clear boundaries
All too often, we limit our concept of healthcare to hospitals, clinics and specific medical settings. We prescribe clear boundaries and limits and think of healthcare in binary terms. We believe it is black and white. This is healthcare and that is not. In reality, healthcare touches on all aspects of society. And there are plenty of grey areas.
A great example is the treatment–prevention question. Many healthcare professionals agree preventing health issues is more effective than treating them. But where does prevention end? Does governmental dietary advice count as healthcare? What about sexual health advice outreach? Can data gathered from fitness apps and wearables play a role in healthcare provision? Are anti-pollution clean-air zones part of healthcare strategy?
The same dilemma plays out in organizational structures. University researchers are not necessarily healthcare workers but contribute to the sector. Insurance companies also play a considerable role. Are they part of the healthcare system?
There are no clear answers to these questions. Instead, we pose them to illustrate how healthcare is a broad term that resists simple definitions and strict limitations. In many cases, cultural and social norms establish the boundaries, as do political considerations. These regularly shift and are by no means fixed.
However, it is important that digital healthcare solutions are aware of these grey areas. They must account for them and will often exist within them. Failure to do so will mean we develop technologies with limited applications that cannot interact or engage with those critical healthcare services that do operate in grey areas. The health tech sector cannot restrict itself to traditional healthcare settings if it is to have a truly significant impact.
2. Switching from short-term fixes to long-term solutions
Investment in digital healthcare solutions and initiatives is a tricky issue. It is complicated by the fact that procurement processes vary significantly between countries, regions and hospitals.
That said, a common thread is a focus on short-term outcomes. This is understandable. Investment must be justified by improved healthcare outcomes. The sooner that happens, the better.
That said, it does minimize the focus on long-term goals and outcomes. In the end, this proves costly. Technology procurement is expensive and implementing technology without considering how it will grow, evolve and adapt is a surefire way to increase costs. Without a long-term technology strategy, it is difficult to grow systems in a logical, powerful and cost-effective way.
To encourage improved digitalization in healthcare environments, technology providers must focus on developing scalable solutions that evolve to meet the changing needs of medical professionals and institutions. Healthcare advances at a considerable pace. Digital solutions need to facilitate this development rather than hinder it.
Omda solutions are an excellent example of how this plays out in practice. Once implemented in the clinical setting, Omda works closely with its customers to develop new features and functions that meet their evolving needs. This is a process of continuous growth, resulting in systems that can respond to changes in the broader healthcare sector, as well as new regulations and reporting responsibilities.
3. Understanding components are not solutions
Individual components and technologies are exciting and headline-grabbing. People are more interested in the latest home-monitoring wearable than the data management systems that record and analyze the information the device collects.
These types of devices highlight the difference technology can make to healthcare provision in a very approachable and easy-to-understand manner. And that appeals to people.
However, they only make a difference if we integrate them into complex digital systems and strong organizational structures.
For instance, state-of-the-art digital components will not have a positive impact if they are not combined with other data sources. They need context. Likewise, devices cannot improve healthcare outcomes if there are not sufficient staff members or specialists to employ them. These structural issues demonstrate the problem associated with focusing too much on individual components and neglecting the broader solutions.
Platforms that connect healthcare systems, allow for multiple integrations, and facilitate data collection, retrieval and management are absolutely necessary.
Omda S7 and Omda XDS demonstrate this emphatically. While the former connects practitioners, patients and healthcare data through a single platform, the latter facilitates the sharing of medical data and documents. Both solutions are designed to improve digital healthcare infrastructure in significant and effectual ways.
To move on from this component-centric approach, we need to expand our scope beyond individual technologies and embrace the bigger picture. Healthcare solutions must integrate with a variety of technological components and incorporate them into broader systems. They must also ensure each component contributes to a more comprehensive view of the service user and their treatment.
4. Facilitating specialized healthcare technologies
General healthcare solutions are often cheaper and easier to produce. But they do not deliver the best outcomes for hospitals and medical establishments that use them. Healthcare professionals, hospitals, regions and countries have different needs and requirements.
Healthcare digital technology providers should not force customers to conform to their software’s limitations. Instead, modern digital solutions must facilitate these diverse requirements.
Healthcare itself is also increasingly specialized. As our medical capabilities develop, professional roles, departments and technologies must become more specialized to reflect the depth of knowledge required to keep pace with pioneering medical fields.
The solution is digital healthcare technology that makes specialization, personalization and configuration easier to achieve. Modular designs are a good indicator of how we can achieve this.
As an example, Omda’s Women & Children’s Health solutions utilize modular designs to ensure every platform’s interface can be tailored to the needs of individual organisations. This guarantees that healthcare teams do not have to alter existing workflows to accommodate the solutions. It also means each organisation can adapt its set-up in response to new technological developments, best practices and regulations.
In many fields, healthcare research moves at an astounding pace. But the complex nature of healthcare bureaucracy means the wider system reacts slowly. Technology can help bridge that gap by being flexible, agile and customizable. This ensures healthcare infrastructure is quick to adapt.
5. Focusing on the value chain in healthcare digitalization
As we digitalise healthcare, identifying ways we can deliver benefits across the entire value chain becomes increasingly important.
In many instances, new digital solutions represent a sideways step (rather than a significant leap forward) because they are not sufficiently focused on providing value and resolving major issues. One solution is swapped out for another and there is no real development.
Considering the expense of the procurement process, the healthcare sector must maximize the value of each investment. This means investigating the value chain to establish how we can extract more value from solutions over their lifespan.
Can we connect solutions to provide superior healthcare? Where can we make additional investments to improve solutions’ performance? What is required to get the most from the technology we have at our disposal?
Switching solutions and adopting new technologies is not always the answer. Focusing on ways we can adapt, evolve and improve solutions and systems to ensure they function to their full potential is often a more effective way of realizing additional value.
Healthcare technology providers must also actively examine healthcare processes and identify those areas that, when improved, deliver the most value. If digitalization is to revolutionize the healthcare sector, it will be through targeted technological solutions built on an intimate understanding of healthcare systems and processes. Only then can we deliver true value.
6. Adopting efficient feedback mechanisms
While there is considerable crossover between the healthcare technology sector and healthcare provision itself (many of those working on the tech side have previous experience delivering care), we need to ensure that we are constantly striving to provide value to those on the front lines. The first step in achieving this is establishing what healthcare workers need. That means requesting feedback and seeking informed opinions.
Often, the people on the front lines of healthcare provision are best-placed to evaluate technological needs and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in digital solutions. Though they may not know how digital technology can resolve their problems and pain points, they can offer invaluable insight into the nature of those challenges. Digital healthcare solutions must be built with these challenges in mind.
Resource allocation is one of healthcare’s most stubborn problems. Finding, training and retaining the staff required to deliver healthcare is a constant struggle and expensive equipment, vehicles and technology must be deployed as carefully as possible to justify the investment. Digital solutions that streamline workflows and free the existing workforce to focus on more valuable tasks will help create a better-optimized healthcare system that utilizes the resources at its disposal in increasingly efficient ways.
Intuitive and easy-to-use solutions that have a real impact on day-to-day operations are one of the best ways to achieve this. By building long-term relationships with customers and developing solutions that incorporate suggestions and requests from end-users as quickly as possible, healthcare technology providers can ease pressure on frontline staff and maximize their value in the broader healthcare system.
7. Embracing holistic, end-to-end solutions
Finally, healthcare solutions must begin to accommodate every aspect of healthcare delivery. Not just clinical decision-making. Hospitals and clinics are complex and multifaceted organizations. They incorporate doctors, nurses, managers, administrators, researchers and commercial interests, to name just a few.
While these roles may involve varied responsibilities, they all exist within a shared environment, where collaboration and communication are crucial. Going forwards, healthcare technology providers should embrace end-to-end solutions that empower these diverse elements to work together more efficiently.
For instance, clinical data is critical to ward management and staffing. Shared access to this information would allow for more effective planning and organization. Likewise, easily exportable patient data that is centralized in a highly searchable software solution benefits researchers enormously. In turn, this research provides clinicians with cutting-edge insight into treatments.
Digital healthcare solutions must reflect the broader hospital ecosystem and respect and enable the cross-discipline collaboration required to successfully operate modern medical institutions. In this sense, holistic, end-to-end solutions are an increasingly powerful tool.
Digitization of healthcare in the future
In this article, we examined seven ideas we believe will help push healthcare digitalization in the right direction. While the healthcare sector is extraordinarily complex and multiple interests and parties are involved in decision-making processes, we believe technology providers can affect positive change.
To do so, we need to create solutions that focus on delivering value, that grow and evolve, and that are carefully and thoughtfully integrated into the wider healthcare environment. Digital technology can play a significant role in helping modern healthcare systems overcome many of the challenges they face. The extent to which it achieves this goal depends on how technology providers build solutions and what type of digitalization the healthcare sector chooses to pursue.