Healthcare Digital Transformation, Trends and Challenges

By Richard Roy Mendonce, Head of Digital Strategy at Sakra World Hospital

With an aim to provide better customer experience, healthcare providers recently have been trying to follow other industries and to bring a fundamental shift focused towards a value-based care.

The rapid innovation in data, mobile and cloud technologies has begun to disrupt the health care industry, forcing healthcare providers to move from a provider model to customer-centered model catering to the needs of a modern customer who wants both choice and control. Also, organizations are ensuring that the employees both clinical and non-clinical have a highly efficient work environment with information and decision control at their fingertips.

Digitization v/s Digitalization

The first thing that comes to our mind when we say healthcare digi­tal transformation or a Digital Hos­pital is to go paperless. Hav­ing an integrated Hospital Information System (HIS), and electronic medical re­cords (EMR) alone does not qualify as a digital hospital. For a truly digi­tal hospital, integrated in­formation system has to be the base for all systems and process.

Digital transforma­tion is an extraordinary and accelerating trans­formation of business processes, activities, models, and compe­tencies to leverage the advantages of digital technologies and their strategic impact on the or­ganizational environments, both internal and external in a prioritized manner, keeping in mind the present and fu­ture shifts.

Every touch point that a customer or employee interacts with has got to be in sync. From search-to-surgery; websites, call center, registration, consultation, billing, admission, inpatient services, pharmacy, cafeteria, discharge and post-discharge follow-ups, and the entire journey has to be taken into account while strategizing towards digital transformation.

Where to Start?

Digital transformation sounds all glorious, but in reality, it becomes a daunting task to decide on what to do and where to start?

As in any industry, any change has to start from the basics, like starting from ABCD. As a metaphor, ABCD means the foundational elements, but here it is also an acronym for the four critical elements of patient care experience and these form the most common areas of patient and employee dissatisfaction.

1. Appointment and Admission: Integrating all user acquisition touch points, such as websites, social media, call center, mobile app, etc. to seamlessly facilitate appointment booking and one-time consultation or admission, without the need to fill multiple forms or redundant processes causing unnecessary delays.

2. Billing: Hospitals have somehow made this one single process the most complex for the patient, making the patients brand hospitals as money minded machines. Every business needs to ask money from its customers, but how and when to ask makes a greater difference. Integrated Multipoint billing, self-pay cash kiosks, mobile-pay, etc. are few options to simplify this out.

The estimates given before the procedure mostly never match the final bill (i know they are only estimates) and the patient are always unhappy while clearing the final bill. Hospitals have to use advanced analytics and real-time predictive data modeling to provide near-accurate estimates and thus help in better expectation management.

3. Clinical Records: Every hospital nowadays claims to have 100 percent electronic medical records, but in reality, the quality of data they capture is pathetic, mostly EMR is just scanned copies handwritten documents. Hospitals have to realize the importance of maintaining accurate patient medical records from day 1, along with strategic clinical and business insights, such data importantly benefits the patient and the doctor.

4. Discharge: Discharge is one of the processes in a hospital which as per protocols has to work fine but never does; it would be hard to find a single patient who was delighted with the discharge experience. Because discharge is a combined activity of multiple departments/ processes, a delay or flaw in one of them, snowballs and delays the entire process. Integrated use of HIS, EMR, Inventory, Billing, and Insurance systems is the key. Handheld connected devices can ensure real-time updating of treatment progress notes, indenting, billing, etc. ideally, the discharge should be a single click of a button.

Challenges in Hospital Digital Transformation

As with any change management, Digital Transformation has its own set of challenges. I would categorize these into three areas, Technology, Operations, and Cost.

Technology: Integrating with multiple IT systems, finding a qualified implementation partner, legacy issues, and very few single platform solutions in the market.

Operations: cultural change, especially with senior doctors, ground staff, and as an irony the IT department who have to drive this initiative, have a tough time in subscribing to this concept.

Cost: Digital Transformation is cost intensive and has to be considered as an expense towards digital infrastructure, both to develop, maintain and upgrade

Future trends in healthcare digital transformation

It is evident that technology enables us all to lead healthier lives. From robotic surgery to “smart digital hospitals,” digital transformation is revolutionizing healthcare for good.

Digital revolution can save billions in spending in the industry, especially in the area of chronic diseases. Certainly, there is a trend set and following are just a few ways that will shape the future of healthcare digital transformation

Telemedicine: lot of work has already gone into telemedicine and a lot more to do. Patient care is not limited by geographic location, even patients in rural areas can receive a decent quality of care via internet enabled devices or even with basic SMS. There are Mobile apps based on Artificial intelligence through which patients can input their condition, and the app makes the preliminary diagnosis with the help of machine learning and connects with an appropriate doctor for further advice.

2. Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Connected Devices: These are buzz words in most of the industries and healthcare is no exception. Solutions like IBM's Watson are a testimony of how digital technology can assist doctors to provide, predictable and evidence-based medical care confidently. Even more interesting, is the rise of connected healthcare devices and wearables that are always adding data into the pool to create a holistic health information database. This data is not only useful for patients but can also be used to gain insights and predict trends at a global scale.

3. Cloud access and Mobility: Data is of less importance if it cannot be accessed in real-time. With digitization the quantity of data captured is enormous, and the dependency on this data is high too. Mobility and Cloud access makes data storage and access very efficient. Doctors and patients are becoming more and more comfortable in accessing healthcare information on the mobile devices. Paper charts and document rooms will soon be history. Patients, Hospitals, and Insurance companies are now storing medical records in the cloud, with the ability to access data online 24/7.

Digitalization has led to an entirely new trend in healthcare: Patient empowerment. Till recently we associated health care with high costs and long waits, but now, patients are calling the shots, with access to higher-quality doctors, and higher satisfaction levels overall. It’s a healthy new way to look at the healthcare industry and one that holds high hopes for all of us with better access to the digital landscape.

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