From mobile apps to software that supports physicians’ clinical decisions, from artificial intelligence to machine learning, from telemedicine to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT): it’s now clear that digital transformation in the Healthcare sector is concretely increasing the ability to diagnose and treat, and at the same time improving the delivery of healthcare to citizens and patients.
Digital health technologies use computing platforms, connectivity, software, and sensors to pursue a wide range of goals: from achieving and maintaining a general level of well-being to developing actual medical and diagnostic devices.
In the original ecosystem of care that digitization is reshaping, the availability of huge amounts of data translates into a new approach to health information and health marketing. This is Digital Health, to which all players in the field, both public organizations and companies, are now striving.
What makes this paradigm shift possible is the collection and monitoring of patient information that comes from a wide variety of sources: from hospitals, from the digitized systems of medical practices and institutional bodies, from healthcare apps, from medical devices, from digital brand channels such as websites, customer support and CRM, ad hoc apps, social networks, and email campaigns. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of this new model of care.
Connected Care, Health IT, and Mobile Health: a new model of care
The expression “Digital Health” is an umbrella term that refers both to the technologies that can be used to treat patients and to the technologies used to collect and share patients’ health information: mobile applications, wearables, telemedicine, big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
The impact of digital transformation in healthcare is immediate:
- medical records and prescriptions are dematerialized and become electronic;
- therapy also takes place through virtual channels (e.g. smartphones), which can save valuable time;
- voice interfaces handle less urgent and complicated requests in real time, easing the workload of counter operators.
These are just some of the practical consequences that can result from a radical rethinking of the care model: digital transformation enables the construction of a “Connected Care” system within which, thanks to the latest advances in mobility and connectivity, health services are increasingly connected and the communication distances between patients, doctors, and operators are increasingly reduced. In such a system, many medical devices already have the ability to connect and communicate with other devices or systems, and devices that are approved and authorized by institutions in individual countries are continually updated to add digital functionality.
Instead, the term “Health IT” specifically refers to health information technologies – hardware, software, and infrastructure – that are used to electronically create, maintain, access, and exchange clinical, administrative, or financial information.
Health IT is a branch of Digital Health, the framework that enables the management of health information across multiple electronic systems and devices. The broad scope of digital health also includes categories such as mobile health (mHealth), wearable devices, telemedicine, and personalized medicine.
What are the benefits of digital transformation in Healthcare?
The digital transformation in healthcare involves many stakeholders in digital health activities: patients, healthcare providers, researchers, traditional medical device companies, and, last but not least, software companies and mobile app developers. With access to data, digital tools offer all players in the industry a more holistic view of patient health while simultaneously allowing patients to exercise greater control over their own health.
On the one hand, new technologies:
- enable consumers to make more informed decisions;
- provide new options to facilitate prevention and early detection of life-threatening diseases and management of chronic conditions outside of traditional health care settings;
- allow for better monitoring of activities related to wellness and quality of life.
On the other hand, providers and other stakeholders can use digital health technologies to:
- reduce inefficiencies;
- reduce costs;
- improve access to health information;
- increase the quality and personalization of care services.
The major applications of digital technologies to healthcare
Any company operating in the various healthcare capacities cannot afford to ignore the undeniable benefits of digital transformation in healthcare sector. To stay ahead of the curve, companies will need to simultaneously abandon outdated business processes and encourage a shift toward a more flexible mindset within its team. It will also need to decide which emerging technologies are worth investing in. Below is a brief list of key digital applications in the medical and healthcare fields
1. Software as a medical device
Software as a medical device refers to software intended for one or more medical purposes that is not part of a hardware medical device.
2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Medical device manufacturers are using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to innovate their products. Indeed, tools incorporating these technologies have the potential to profoundly transform healthcare as they can extract genuinely useful and meaningful insights from the mass of data generated every day during service delivery.
Medical devices are increasingly connected to the internet, hospital networks, and other medical devices. As connectivity and interactivity increase, so do potential cybersecurity risks. This is because medical devices, as well as other computer systems, can be vulnerable to breaches and violations.
Cybersecurity in healthcare involves protecting electronic information and resources from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure. The goals of cybersecurity are essentially threefold: to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. The healthcare environment is complex, so it becomes very difficult to completely eliminate threats to the security and privacy of health and clinical information. Collaboration between vendors, hospitals, and facilities is essential to implement effective solutions to manage and mitigate potential risks.
4. Mobile medical apps
The adoption and deployment of software technologies are opening up new avenues for improving health and healthcare delivery. Medical apps, also referred to as mobile medical apps, are applications for mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets that support medical professionals or patients in diagnosing, treating, or monitoring an illness or injury. There are several categories of apps that have been developed for the healthcare industry:
- apps that are an accessory or extension to a medical device, for example, those that directly control blood pressure measurement or apps that remotely display medical device values;
- apps that provide support to patients, for example, that calculate drug doses or detect drug interactions and contraindications;
- software for analyzing or processing radiological images (for diagnostic purposes);
- apps that support patients in coping with their daily lives, e.g. by reminding them to take their prescribed medications at regular intervals;
- apps that allow patients to document their values and monitor their blood pressure, pain, or other routine activities;
- apps that give patients disease-specific information;
- apps that patients can use to communicate with their physicians;
- apps that provide access to clinical information systems;
- apps that perform simple calculations such as a body mass index (BMI) calculation.
In Italy, high investments in medical apps do not seem to ensure an adequate return. According to a recent study by Iqvia (source: Digital Health Trends 2021-Innovation, evidence, regulation and adoption), apps in this sector are growing at the rate of 250 new entries per day, but they are not succeeding in substantially changing the dynamics of adoption. This picture, while presenting many shadows, also leaves ample room for improvement.
Telemedicine employs electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, professional education, patient information, public health, and health systems administration. These technologies include video conferencing, streaming media, and wireless communications.
Trends and prospects for digital transformation of health systems
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the convergence of important trends in healthcare:
- changing user preferences, which increasingly prioritize ease of access to care;
- major health systems changing operations, culture, and technology use to become increasingly patient-friendly;
- the rapid evolution of technologies.
This is the conclusion of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in a study that examines the situation from the perspective of those responsible for technological innovation in a number of companies operating in the healthcare sector. The research aims to understand the path of digital transformation of healthcare systems.
The vast majority of respondents (92%) said they want to deliver a better patient experience and intend to achieve this by redesigning processes from the patient’s perspective using the resources made available by digitization. Such an approach is necessary to build a relationship based on trust and loyalty.
A majority of respondents (60%) place their organization in the middle of the digital transformation journey and recognize the need to create frequent checkpoints to measure the value of initiatives in terms of budget, human resources involved, and data management. Among the most urgent investments, a top priority for the next 3 years are those around data interoperability and for defining specific key performance indicators (KPIs).
Regarding users (citizens and patients) of the health sector, the report describes them as particularly active, aware, and involved in exercising most of the decisions that affect their health and well-being. To reach these users and offer them a positive experience, institutions and brands must accelerate their efforts:
- establish a sustainable governance model;
- create a digital culture predisposed to innovation;
- develop healthcare marketing strategies that are effective and measurable.
Focus: the Italian context
In line with what has been observed in the rest of Europe, the Italian context is also marked by increasing pressure on healthcare systems due to the great impact of the demographic changes underway. In a society that is becoming increasingly elderly and fragile, digital transformation has become invaluable not only to cope with extraordinary circumstances, such as those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to govern the ordinary management of care services.
Digital transformation is therefore also taking place in our country’s healthcare sector. A Deloitte survey conducted between March and April 2020 identified some key trends that characterize the change:
- although electronic medical records and electronic prescribing systems remain the most widely used technologies, 5% to 8% of healthcare professionals surveyed say they are using AI and robotics, respectively;
- COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital for patients and healthcare professionals: 65% of healthcare professionals surveyed confirm this;
- bureaucracy is holding back the digital transformation process according to 64% of surveyed healthcare professionals.
The goal of digital transformation in Healthcare? Improving the patient experience
We’ve already mentioned the latest trend that is revolutionizing the dynamics within the healthcare sector: patient expectations, when it comes to health, care, and well-being, are now higher than ever.
Therefore, it’s inevitable that the effort required of all those involved – from providers to final service suppliers – is aimed not only adopting new technologies thanks to which they can unite forces that are still compartmentalized, but also at developing more effective communication that is capable of reaching patients wherever they are and at the most opportune moment, with content that is actually useful. The goal is to build an engaging and satisfying experience for them, throughout their care path. A patient experience where the patient journey is fluid across all touch points and channels, personalized, and safe.