Digital health ecosystems are changing the way we think about healthcare infrastructure. They drive efficiencies, facilitate professional collaboration and improve patient access to services.
In this article, we examine why connected healthcare is such a powerful concept. In doing so, we provide a comprehensive definition, explore how the concept has developed and analyse the benefits of well-designed digital ecosystems. We also look at how connected Omda solutions improve healthcare outcomes and contribute to the development of effective digital health ecosystems.
What is a digital health ecosystem?
While the precise definition of a digital health ecosystem differs slightly depending on each individual or organisation’s perspective, several characteristics reoccur. These include:
- A digital network that facilitates cross-care collaboration and connects various aspects of healthcare provision.
- The integration and connection of workflows, tools, devices, and data.
- A focus on transforming healthcare provision from an organisation-centred model to a patient-centred model.
Much like other industries, the healthcare sector is quickly realising that digital technology will have a pronounced effect on how we design healthcare systems, engage with patients and deliver care and treatment. While digital solutions have played a critical role in healthcare for several decades, there is a growing emphasis on ensuring these solutions work together to deliver benefits across the entire healthcare system.
Investigating modern digital health ecosystems
Digital healthcare solutions have historically focused on digitisation – the process of converting analogue information to a digital format. This occurred at the expense of digitalisation – converting analogue processes to their digital equivalents. While digitisation benefits organisations in many ways, it lacks the transformative power of digitalisation. This is something digital health ecosystems attempt to address.
Writing about digital health ecosystems in 2020, McKinsey defined an ecosystem as:
“A set of capabilities and services that integrate value chain participants (customers, suppliers, and platform and service providers) through a common commercial model and virtual data backbone (enabled by seamless data capture, management, and exchange) to create improved and efficient consumer and stakeholder experiences, and to solve significant pain points or inefficiencies.”
In the healthcare context, several aspects of this definition are worth highlighting.
- Digital health ecosystems facilitate collaboration from diverse healthcare stakeholders and actors.
- Easy data exchange is essential. The clearest example is virtual health records that provide a 360 view of the patient. However, all solutions involved in a digital healthcare ecosystem must simplify data collection, storage and sharing.
- Digital health ecosystems emphasise the patient experience and improve access to services via digital channels.
- Digital health ecosystems also enable providers to identify and leverage efficiency gains to maximise value from limited resources.
Why are digital health ecosystems emerging now?
Digital health ecosystems are becoming an increasingly influential concept in the healthcare system. Many industry experts believe they will define digital health development over the next decade. We can partly attribute this to the emergence of innovative digital solutions that facilitate a more connected approach to healthcare provision. However, a range of other factors are also contributing to the emergence of these ecosystems.
For instance, digital healthcare ecosystems have become increasingly relevant since the COVID-19 pandemic. Spurred by the pandemic-enforced growth in demand for virtual healthcare delivery, providers were forced to look for adequate digital solutions (McKinsey). Unlike previous digital initiatives, these solutions were not just supplemental. They needed to replace traditional in-person processes and service provision.
It is also important to note that many healthcare systems across Europe are struggling in a challenging political and financial climate. Questions over staffing, financing, and the future of socially-funded healthcare systems are widespread. Within this context, there is a high, urgent demand for solutions to the problems healthcare providers face. In this context, digitalisation and digital health ecosystems appear to be a way forward.
Changing patient perspectives and evolving digital approaches
Today, most providers recognise that patients want joined-up healthcare journeys, not isolated services. Though not entirely comparable, there are similarities between the digital health ecosystem’s patient-centred approach and the private sector’s emphasis on the customer journey. While businesses work to optimise the customer experience, healthcare providers seek to deliver connected, holistic patient experiences.
Patient attitudes appear to support this approach. Research shows that the most significant factor driving digital adoption by patients is ‘convenience,’ rather than ‘improved healthcare outcomes’ (McKinsey). This reflects a focus on experience rather than outcome and suggests that patients believe this is where digital technology will have the greatest impact. However, most healthcare providers recognise digital technology also substantially improves healthcare outcomes.
For technology providers, solutions that boast both experiential and outcome benefits are the answer. For instance, the Finnish healthcare system utilises the Omda iPana Hospital maternity information solution to improve healthcare outcomes in all aspects of maternity care. They complement the solution with Omda iPana Maternity – a virtual maternity application that empowers expectant parents to participate in their own care provision, improves access to information, and allows for extensive data collection. Together, the Omda iPana solutions improve both the expectant mother’s experience and healthcare outcomes.
What are the benefits of digital health ecosystems?
Digital health ecosystems benefit both healthcare providers and patients.
Enhanced service access
For most healthcare providers, the most readily apparent benefit of digital healthcare ecosystems is improved patient access to services. Digital technology enables patients to access services from any location, at any time, liberating them from the restrictions of traditional in-person treatment. This type of digital service provision also tends to be more efficient for healthcare professionals.
However, while ‘telehealth’ solutions are undoubtedly valuable and any technology that improves access to healthcare is beneficial, digital technology can play a far more critical role in improving healthcare provider processes and care provision. While they may be less glamorous, the most significant gains come from digital solutions that automate workflows and facilitate better patient data management.
Connected solutions and greater collaboration
Healthcare provision is often complex and fragmented, with multiple individuals, teams, and departments working together to care for an individual. Historically, paper-based systems resulted in lost information, inefficiencies, human error, and difficulties collaborating. Early digital systems improved on this, but data remained siloed. Teams using different digital solutions could not exchange information or communicate effectively.
Digital health ecosystems seek to connect all healthcare professionals involved in a service user’s care, making information collection, sharing, and retrieval quick, easy, and intuitive.
Omda Cytodose is the Nordics’ leading oncology management solution and an excellent example of the power of digital collaboration. The solution ensures safe, speedy, and effective medication management for cancer patients by connecting prescribers, pharmacies, and nurses, while automating processes that would otherwise consume valuable time and resources.
Automating time-intensive manual tasks
Healthcare employees are highly skilled individuals capable of providing specialist care and treatment. Despite this, much of their time is consumed by relatively simple manual processes that could be automated. Inefficiencies in communication, data entry, and workflow processing mean healthcare professionals are not making optimal use of their time.
Digital healthcare solutions and connected ecosystems can streamline processes, allowing employees to devote more time to tasks that deliver true value. For instance, Omda ProSang, Scandinavia’s leading blood, cell, and tissue management system, automates testing requests. In doing so, it speeds up the testing process, limits the potential for disruption and delay, and simplifies the work of healthcare professionals. It also improves the quality of collected data by minimising the opportunities for human error.
Improved patient safety
Finally, by consolidating data collected from diverse sources into a single solution, digital health ecosystems improve patient safety, ensuring providers benefit from a wider array of checks and balances. Several Omda solutions demonstrate the potential for improved patient safety. For example, Omda Cytodose incorporates over 200 clinically-validated protocols based on national and international guidelines. It also provides a comprehensive view of patient health records, ensuring physicians have a complete picture of the care provided and can prescribe and adjust medication appropriately.
The challenges facing digital health ecosystems
Though building and developing digital health ecosystems is beneficial in countless ways, there are more than a few challenges, too. How the sector approaches these questions and attempts to overcome obstacles will determine the extent to which digital health ecosystems will grow.
One of the principal challenges digital healthcare ecosystems face is establishing a clear strategic direction. The healthcare sector is large and fragmented, making it difficult to coordinate its efforts. Similarly, digital innovation is typically driven by competing private sector companies with an interest in succeeding at the expense of key competitors. Determining a clear, comprehensive, and coordinated strategy will be essential to creating the most effective digital health ecosystem possible. But it is also likely to be challenging.
In many countries, health providers are organisations with well-established cultures and processes. It can be challenging to adapt to digital developments and difficult to implement change quickly. At the same time, technology providers need to ensure they can demonstrate the value of digital health ecosystems and the solutions that facilitate them. Healthcare providers are always interested in doing more with less. But they are also reluctant to take risks on projects that require considerable investment. Uptake and digital growth in healthcare may depend on technology companies’ ability to make an effective business case and help healthcare providers justify the investment.
Digital health ecosystems – the future is already here
As in almost every other industry, digital technology is revolutionising the healthcare sector. Though digital solutions have played a critical role in the development of modern healthcare systems, digital health ecosystems represent the next step in their evolution. Better connected, patient-centred systems improve access, make care safer, drive efficiencies and facilitate collaboration between previously disparate healthcare teams and professionals.
At Omda, we believe our solutions are helping healthcare providers build digital systems that enable them to deliver superior care at a lower cost. With a growing number of providers looking for innovative digital platforms that meet the needs of patients and healthcare professionals, Omda is well-positioned to provide its expertise, experience, and world-class healthcare products to an expanding market.
To learn more about Omda technology and the role it can play in creating connected digital ecosystems and enhancing healthcare provision, take a look at our Software Solutions.