A recent study by SAP Center for Business Insight, in collaboration with Oxford Economics, found that the overwhelming majority of healthcare industry leaders believe that digital transformation is vital to the success of their business.
In a survey of 400 healthcare executives, 61% said digital transformation was critical to their mission today, rising to 86% over the next five years. Big data and analytics and cloud computing were identified as the key technologies, with the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence also likely to make a significant impact.
More than half of the businesses surveyed were piloting new digital technologies. But only a tiny fraction – just 2% – believed they had completed their transition.
But the adoption of technologies isn’t just to drive enterprise efficiency. For the healthcare industry, the true power of digital technologies will be in the form of positive outcomes they deliver to patients.
Healthcare systems under tremendous strain
Improvements in healthcare have lifted the average global life expectancy from 48 in 1950 to 72 today. Child mortality rates have dropped by half since 1990. Treatments are now available for many diseases that were once considered a death sentence, like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.
But the healthcare systems of many countries are under strain. Ageing populations, a rise in conditions linked to obesity, and increased awareness of the importance of mental health, mean resources are often stretched. The need for progress is as acute as ever.
The digital revolution is not only offering new ways of diagnosing and treating diseases, it is also providing many opportunities to reduce costs, expand access, and target care more efficiently and effectively.
For Singapore’s ageing population, the answer came in the form of the SHINE Seniors project. Recognizing that a number of elderly people lacked the family and friends network that could provide daily care, the project uses technology to redress the balance. With non-intrusive sensors monitoring for inactivity, alarms to seek emergency help, reminders to adhere to medication schedules and volunteer outreach to create a sense of community, the program has vastly improved the lonely lives of many of Singapore’s elderlies.
Enhancing outcomes through improved care
The World Health Organization has identified digitalization as a key driver of providing coordinated care to patients across the globe. In early 2018, Michigan Medicine introduced eVisits to its adult primary care patients for non-emergency conditions such as flu-like symptoms, minor infections, and sinus problems.
With a goal to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital, Michigan Medicine is leveraging telemedicine and virtual visits to simplify the process of making follow-up appointments easier for patients who can opt for live video visits with their surgeons after their operations. The TeleStroke program connects Michigan Medicine stroke and neurology experts with patients at other Michigan hospitals to provide real-time stroke diagnoses and care. And patients with a chronic health condition will soon be able to send their vitals to their care providers from the comfort of their homes.
According to Alison Neff, director of Telehealth and Ambulatory Technology, “This should have a huge impact on readmission rates, improve patient health, and lower the cost of care.”
The data dilemma
Concerns over security and patient privacy have delayed the digitalization of medical records in many jurisdictions. But attitudes are moving on as legal and technical safeguards are strengthened.
The ability for medical professionals to have access to a patient’s full record is essential to delivering the best health outcomes. Fragmented records are more likely to lead to mistakes, and to inappropriate treatments being prescribed. Many patients know too well the frustration of having to repeatedly explain their condition to different doctors. It doesn’t just waste time – patients who aren’t as capable of giving an accurate case history suffer as a result.
A digital cure
Companies like Zebra Technologies are leading the way with innovative wearables to address the problem. Zebra Technologies’ printed wristbands include RFID tags that include healthcare records, digital images, and software for image processing. Medical practitioners can scan the wristbands of patients using PDAs during the pre-surgery checks, eliminating the challenges of inaccurate or incorrect medical information.
Digital technologies and the power of data can positively influence more than just individual care.
A study by McKinsey estimates that if the US healthcare industry were to use big data creatively and effectively, it could add more than $300 billion in value every year. Efficiencies of this scale would have a dramatic impact on both the quality and cost of care.
Health analytics and analysis of medical records offer huge potential. By leveraging AI, machine learning and predictive analytics to study millions of anonymized records or focusing on data sets of patients from a particular region or demographic, researchers can gain insight into the pathology of certain diseases, spotting patterns and early warning signs. Different factors associated with different outcomes can be identified, and the efficacy of treatments quickly evaluated. People at greater risk of particular conditions can be identified so they can be targeted for preventative therapy.
Next steps: from collaboration to innovation
Innovations are emerging from within to outside the industry, from start-ups to major conglomerates constantly pushing the envelope. Leading tech giants – including Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon – are already investing heavily in their own healthcare products and services. Microsoft’s InnerEye research project uses machine learning for the automatic delineation of tumors as well as healthy anatomy and aims to enable efficient contouring for radiotherapy planning, and precise surgery planning and navigation.
Johnson & Johnson has already produced a range of digital products to help manage conditions from allergies to rheumatism and diabetes. The FDA recently approved of the use of AI-based devices to detect certain diabetes-related eye problems.
From data-driven projects that could disrupt the health insurance industry to online pharmacies and using mobile phones as diagnostic tools, the influence of technologies in healthcare will be far-reaching.
Transformations in healthcare are now a question of why but of how. Companies that are leveraging digital technologies and innovations to their advantage are able to truly deliver on the promise of care – from enabling access to improving outcomes. The rewards for getting the digital transformation in healthcare right are potentially enormous: an added value for businesses, more efficient and satisfying work for medical practitioners, and most importantly; better health for patients.
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Business & Technology Services
TCS’ Business and Technology Services organization combines the power of business excellence with digital innovations to help enterprises and leaders be purpose-driven and performance-oriented, making the shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value. By harnessing the abundance of data, talent, connectivity and capital, B&TS helps leading companies around the world build ecosystems that fuel growth and innovation, foster collaboration and engagement across ecosystems, improve health, safety, and well-being, enabling empowerment and inclusivity, and driving sustainability and positive environmental impact.