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Digital transformation prescribed for better healthcare

There is no industry not being digitally transformed. Digital transformation has been a hot topic for years, and an oft-repeated warning from the pundits has been along the lines “organisations that fail to embrace digital transformation are doomed to fail.” 

That might be true in those areas of human endeavour where competition thrives. The inefficient, the digital laggards, will die or be consumed. Healthcare is somewhat different: failure to obtain the benefits of digital transformation are more likely to lead to increasing costs, decreasing efficiency and lower quality of patient care. 

All this begs the question, or rather two questions: “What exactly is digital transformation?” and “What does digital transformation mean for healthcare organisations?” 

An internet search will throw up many definitions, not all of which really hit the mark. According to Salesforce, “Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.” The trouble with this one is that it is reactive (“meet changing … requirements”), not proactive.  

This one, from the World Economic Forum(WEF), is much better. Digital transformation is “a series of deep and coordinated culture, workforce and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution’s operations, strategic directions and value proposition.” 

That came from a WEF article How digital transformation is driving action in healthcare. It gave several examples of what the authors considered to be digital transformations of healthcare systems, and asserted: “Digital transformation has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry in recent years.” 

This assertion is reinforced by Josh Wildstein, CEO of Fig.1, the company behind a case-based knowledge-sharing platform it claims is used by more than three million healthcare professionals in 190 countries. In a blog post Wildstein says digital transformation in healthcare is on the cusp of explosive growth as providers face mounting challenges and are hungry for better tools that make it easier for them to do their job and to share, discuss and collaborate to better diagnose and treat their patients. 

The imperative for digital transformation in healthcare is clear, as are the benefits of specific initiatives. The challenge is to prioritise transformation initiatives, to identify those that will address the most important issues, and those that will deliver the biggest “bang for buck”. 

The answers are likely to be particular to individual health organisations. However, some underlying principles have been identified by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in collaboration with the Scottsdale Institute, a not-for-profit membership organisation of US healthcare systems. They conducted research with technology leaders at 25 US healthcare systems and found digital transformation requiring changes in organisational culture and employee engagement and “an enterprise-wide investment that requires enterprise-wide participation.” 

They identified six key principles: 

– Digital leadership and governance 

– A digital culture 

– next generation talent 

– cybersecurity 

– flexibility and scalability of implementation 

– measurable, accountable and scalable KPIs. 

When respondents were asked about the focus of digital transformation efforts, patient experience/engagement came out top (88 percent). This was followed by IT/digital/cyber (80 percent). That figure is rather meaningless as any digital transformation initiative inevitably requires investment in IT and digital technologies. Clinical care delivery was cited by 68 percent as the driver of digital transformation.  

A much more useful indication of healthcare digital transformation priorities can be found in The Science of Digital Transformation in Healthcare, the report from a survey of more than 4,000 US healthcare professionals on healthcare’s digital transformation progress. It was undertaken in 2021 by Innovaccer, a provider of cloud computing services to the healthcare sector. 

The top five digital transformation priorities to emerge from that survey were: 

Improving clinical operations (68 percent) 

Establishing a data-driven culture (51 percent) 

Modernising the data platform (38 percent) 

Integrating disparate systems (35 percent) 

Rationalising IT expenditures (25 percent)

Whatever the priorities a health organisation assigns to specific digital transformation initiatives, it will not be able to execute them successfully without the requisite skills. In 2021 global electronics company, Philips surveyed 3,000 healthcare leaders in 14 countries in what it claimed to be the largest survey of its kind. Thirty two percent of respondents considered lack of the training needed to make full use of digital health technology to be a barrier to its adoption in their hospital or healthcare facility. 

“To keep pace with digital transformation in healthcare, national health systems must prioritise the latest developments in AI, data science, and digital health in their education curricula,” Philips said. It identified “seven critical success factors that can make or break digital transformation in healthcare.” 

They were: 

– Solutions must be designed to improve the user experience. 

– Steps must be taken to ensure comprehensive support across the organisation. 

– Staff must be fully trained in any new tools and technologies. 

– Benefits to patients must be universal. 

– Cloud platforms should be used for data. 

– Privacy and security must be rock solid. 

– Strategic partnerships and ecosystem collaboration should be sought. 

Digital transformation of healthcare organisations is essential, but bring many challenges: firstly, to identify and prioritise objectives, and then to ensure all the people, culture, processes and technologies to achieve the desired outcome are in place. 

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