For most organizations, digital transformation is about improving business processes to increase efficiencies. However, in healthcare, digital transformation is driven by the underlying foundation of improving the patient experience and providing better care. Like most industries, healthcare organizations were forced to re-evaluate their processes and procedures in the wake of the pandemic, but the healthcare industry was given a unique opportunity with telehealth. Accelerated adoption and increased access paved the way for future initiatives. Now, there are endless potential applications for new technologies in the healthcare industry that focus on continuously improving the patient experience and increasing access to healthcare. These innovations are not only improving the overall patient experience, they’re saving lives.
Emerging Technologies and Life-Saving Potential
The pandemic was paramount in pushing healthcare into the future, setting up the industry for heightened innovation and improvements beneficial to both patients and providers. According to Forbes, the three cruxes of healthcare advancement include integrated data sharing, heightened transparency, and predictive analytics ꟷ or more prevention and early detection technologies. But even more important than improving healthcare, it’s necessary to ensure people can access it. Patients must be able to receive continued, high-quality healthcare for it to be worthwhile, making it essential for all industry-related technological advancements to consider how to best reach patients where they’re at to maximize the life-saving potential of 21st century changes that include remote care options.
Across the board, telehealth has become an essential technology for the success of healthcare organizations. According to the American Hospital Association, “currently, 76 percent of U.S. hospitals connect with patients and consulting practitioners at a distance through the use of video and other technology.” The interest in convenient care options and the inherent benefits of using telehealth services ꟷ removing the barriers for those in remote areas or with limited mobility, among others ꟷ creates an environment where the quality of care is greatly improved and the patient is in control.
According to the United States Census Bureau, “the baby boom generation [is] now estimated at about 73 million… by 2030, all boomers will be at least age 65.” These stats were supported by the 2020 census, which, per estimates from the Census Bureau’s National Demographic Analysis, suggest a “sharp growth divide between the old and the young in America.” To put a number on just how vast this divide is becoming, from 2010 to 2020, people aging over 55 increased by 27%, or “20 times larger than the growth rate of the collective population under 55,” largely owing to the baby boomer generation. Additionally, those surpassing the age of 65 in the past decade ꟷ within the same generational population ꟷ increased the size of the 65- to 74-year-old age group by a half.
This aging patient population comes with several chronic conditions which require ongoing medical care and further physician involvement. At-home monitoring allows for a proactive approach to disease management. With tools like in-home EKGs, Bluetooth-enabled scales, and smart medical alert systems, these patients have the opportunity to monitor their own health and are empowered to take their care into their own hands. Since this equipment is often connected to a monitoring system, patients can report back to their Primary Care Physicians (PCP), leading to fewer disruptions in continuity of care and fewer visits to the emergency room or urgent care. Physicians can respond in real time, allowing more rapid response to emergencies like falls, high blood pressure, or low glucose.
While patient portals are not new to the healthcare realm, the increased interactivity between a patient’s records and their points of contact are. For example, if a patient seeks care outside of their PCP, like a visit to urgent care, any charges to insurance (like prescriptions) are gathered and accessible to their PCP. During future visits with their PCP, there isn’t any confusion as to what care has already been provided. This, along with several other potential applications, is just one example of the new flexibility and agility of patient portals.
Taking it a step further, digital front doors are ramping up in healthcare. A digital front door goes beyond simply accessing records to engaging the patient throughout every step of their healthcare journey, thus involving them in the process and ensuring heightened patient-provider communication and improved health outcomes.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
As data is continually gathered with each patient interaction, the sheer volume of information is staggering. However, within that data lies life-saving opportunities. The possibility to identify risk factors and recommend preventative treatment is well within our grasp. With the right skills, algorithms, incentives, regulations, and data access tools in place, using AI to analyze large amounts of data and predict healthcare trends for communities is giving healthcare providers a head start.
The Road (and Road Blocks) to Digital Transformation
Although the benefits of implementing new technologies often outweigh the risks, healthcare organizations need to be cautious and thoughtful about where they place their investments.
Speed of Technology
Healthcare providers must be mindful of the speed at which technology advances if they are to remain competitive. If they don’t react quickly enough, they may find the new system or software they have installed is already outdated. There needs to be a balance between the benefits of the new systems being implemented and the potential for advancement soon after. Partnering with a knowledgeable and trustworthy healthcare technology consultant is one way healthcare providers can accurately and effectively weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each new patient care experience.
According to SecureLink, “a healthcare data record may be valued up to $250 per record on the black market, compared to $5.40 for the next highest value record (a payment card).” Patient medical records contain much more than social security numbers or credit and debit card information. Organizations must move to implement privacy and data-related provisions including:
- Privacy exceptions around “information blocking”
- Privacy and security transparency attestation criteria
- Appropriate means of disclosing patient data under the HIPAA Privacy Rule
- Privacy best practice recommendations for third-party app developers interfacing with HIPAA-covered Electronic Health Information (EHI)
Security must be at the heart of every digital transformation initiative.
How to Pave the Way
There are many factors to consider when embarking on a digital transformation initiative, whether that’s the continuous journey to update and maintain your new technology or obtaining buy-in from those within the organization. Thorough, strategic planning is a great place to start. Additionally, having the right expertise on your side is the most reliable way to ensure your chosen digital transformation project will be successful.
Years ago, the biggest transition for healthcare providers was from paper to digital records. Now, opportunities are limitless, and the rate of change in the technological landscape means the potential will only continue to grow. It is for the individual organization to determine what path to take based on strategic planning and a core focus on the needs of their patients.