Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 22, 2016

Digital Healthcare: Five Key Elements to Consider (Part One)



Going digital is not as easy as it may seem. Industry players have to take a deep breath and dive into careful analysis and strategy development. It is exceptionally important for industries, such as healthcare, where the cost of failure is incredibly high.

For years I’ve been working with healthcare providers and have gained a good understanding of how much value digital solutions may bring to them.  At the same time, it isn’t an easy task to implement a solution which will move services they provide to the next level. The ultimate key to success is the development and implementation of the appropriate digital strategy.  My hope is that this article will help digital change executives and others involved in a digital transformation of healthcare businesses to consider five major elements of getting a successful digital strategy off the ground. Using my years of experience, I’ve developed a roadmap for the development of the digital strategy.

This roadmap is applicable to any industry. However, I will focus specifically on healthcare below. The roadmap includes five major elements for industry decision makers’ consideration:

  1. Clients or patients (in the case of healthcare)
  2. Medical staff and doctors
  3. Competitors
  4. Data
  5. Value

CLIENTS AND PATIENTS

Informational support

Patients are your primary audience, therefore when developing the strategy think of them first with the following point in mind: today’s patients want more information.

They have acquired quite profound medical knowledge these days and want more information about the treatment. Continuously, they ask how they are being treated, what medications are used and why, how patients with similar diagnoses were treated and what the result was. Searching for this information, they create communities to discuss the issues, treatment methods, physicians and medications. Sometimes patients’ communities save lives, like what happened with e-Patient Dave, who managed to find the medical treatment by turning to a group of fellow patients.

In a world where patients demand more information, delivery of relevant content becomes one of the essential points in the development of digital strategy.

Access to medical services

Access to medical services goes hand in hand with the delivery of relevant information. Awareness triggers asking more questions and raising more patient cases, hence the lines at clinics get longer. However, physicians have about 15 – 20 minutes to examine a patient and write prescriptions, which is quite a limited time slot. Implementing telemedicine technologies would notably improve the situation. Telemedicine is not the panacea, but it provides physicians with multiple opportunities like remote monitoring of chronic patients, support systems, accelerated feedback and provides better experiences for patients in rural areas. All kinds of digital tools to speed up and automate scheduling a doctor appointment can be a great help for patients.

Medical adherence management

Digital technologies are also valuable in monitoring chronic patients. Quite often, these people require more doctors’ attention, but the limited time for an appointment is a real problem. Digital technologies can facilitate the process. With applications serving for control medical adherence, doctors can be sure their patients won’t forget to take a pill or miss an appointment. The same applications may help to exchange information between patients and doctors in real time. This exchange may include symptoms collected via a patient’s device, medical test data sent to the patient’s device and information about pills taken (or not) by a patient. This exchange can help doctors to take corrective steps when required, like giving a call to a patient or a caregiver when a problem with medical adherence has been detected. 

Treatment process management

The adoption of digital technologies can help not only manage medical adherence but also the whole treatment process itself. Digital technologies provide physicians with opportunities to adjust the treatment on the basis of the received tests, and make the changes if there are improvements or if something goes wrong. Patients can see a treatment schedule in their devices as well as an associated medication schedule, and receive notifications in order to not miss an appointment or a pill. And again, the option to share symptoms history works well in this process as it allows quick changes based on a real patients’ feedback.

User experience optimization

The quality of services at hospitals can be considerably improved by digital technologies. Simple things like registering appointments online, appointment reminders, to-do lists, mobile payments, QR codes, quick patient access to EHR (electronic health records) or sending the result analysis to smartphones can advance the level of healthcare services and optimize user experience.

Connecting patients and HCPs

For years, quick connection between patients and doctors was one of the most important and sometimes difficult things in healthcare. By implementing digital technologies, doctors and patients can have a close connection. Be it a smartphone or a web app, it would allow a patient to consult or call a doctor when it is really necessary. Digital technologies cut the distance; that is what hospitals really need. Connecting doctors, medical staff and patients better organizes the whole process. Tools mentioned above, such as apps for real-time communication, sharing symptoms, sending medical test results to patients’ devices and telemedicine are excellent examples of how digital technologies can help doctors to provide a better outcome to patients.

MEDICAL STAFF AND DOCTORS

When considering a digital strategy, you should think about those who will be using the digital tools in everyday practice. Are they ready for that? Will they welcome the transition to digital? How will this transition impact them?

Digital skills of your employees

As Accenture states in its report, the major barrier to digital transformation is the lack of digital skills; 44 percent of business leaders agree with that opinion. Therefore, staff training should not be omitted.

It is interesting that many doctors are already using smartphones and tablets to facilitate the process of communication and interaction with patients. Physicians are really interested in digital tools and services. According to the JournalMTM research, 94 percent of surveyed respondents had smartphones (95.2 percent students vs. 92.5 percent physicians). Of those with the technology, 82.9 percent stated they have used it at least once in a clinical setting. Respondents perceived fast access to information to be the greatest benefit to mobile medical technology (96.6 percent), as well as simplified access (75.5 percent) and easier medical calculations (70.8 percent).

As you can see, doctors are already trying to go digital. What you need is to perform thorough research, check the skills of the staff and teach them to use the digital technologies. They are ready to accept the digital challenge.  

Workload optimization

In hospitals all over, doctors need new processes and workflows that allow them to increase work efficiency, improve diagnostics and treatment, and what is more, advance their relationships with patients.

Therefore, optimization of workload is an important benefit digital technologies provide. Thinking about your future digital strategy, you may want to consider a paperless data exchange – a mobile doctor’s dashboard where they can check their patients’ data and manage treatment plans, apps for nurses to help with task management and urgent requests processing, and many other tools to digitize and therefore optimize business processes efficiency.  All of that quickens the pace, reduces workflow disruptions and increases productivity. Hence, hospitals and clinics can work with more patients without the negative impact on the quality of treatment.  

How can your medical staff and doctors benefit from going digital

Implementation of digital tools brings tangible advantages, like reducing paperwork time and increasing patients’ face time. Moreover, with digital tools, physicians can receive symptoms and medical conditions data prior to meeting with a patient in-person, thus decreasing the time for recollecting a case history.

“Doctors today face two important issues,” says Todd Skrinar, a partner in the Life Sciences Advisory Practice at Ernst & Young. “They’re working in a more constrained cost environment, doing more with less. And they’re being forced to change the way they deliver services because of that. Digital technology will enable more mobility of the healthcare practitioner, and health records will be more readily available.”

Having “digital assistants” in their hands, doctors get more opportunities to deliver better treatment. Digital tools broaden the limits that have prevented the improvement of service delivery.

Stay tuned for part two, in which I will cover the remaining three elements: competitors, data and value.             




Edited by Alicia Young



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