Digital’s Imprint in Health Care: Changing Lives for the Better

July 17, 2019 by Stefanini

Technology’s ability to change the world is no longer a foreign concept – it’s a reality that is unfolding before our very eyes. 

Whether it’s in the business world or the personal lives of consumers, there’s no denying technology’s impact. Since the initial stages of the digital transformation, we’ve witnessed technology facilitating certain tasks, boosting efficiency and productivity in the workplace, transforming business operations, and affecting people’s lives. 

Once digital entered our lives, the world would never be the same. Needless to say, the world will only become more digitized in the future, leaving us with little to no choice but to adapt to the new ways of the world. This is the current challenge that innumerable businesses around the world are facing. No matter the industry, digital transformation is a reality. But while it may be difficult for industry leaders to adjust to changes of this magnitude, the number of lives that will benefit outweighs this hefty challenge. The healthcare industry is already leaving an impact. 

The digitization of health care has given birth to numerous tools and resources that improve healthcare services, including software that makes health information more accessible to patients, and keeps patient data secure in one place. Gone are the days when people waited for a phone call from their doctor just to hear their test results, thanks to healthcare information technology (IT) enabled by special software such as electronic health records (EHR), one of the many types of software used by healthcare professionals. For example, patients now enjoy the convenience of the patient portal where they can easily view test results, bills, medical history and more, whether on a desktop or mobile device. 

Digital has reshaped the doctor-patient experience. With healthcare providers having more tools and resources at their disposal, patients now receive better care and more accessible treatment. According to an article by the University of Illinois at Chicago, industry analysts found this to be “one of the most tangible ways that technology has changed healthcare.” Furthermore, the use of information technology and special software has provided tremendous value across the healthcare industry. For instance, medical professionals and researchers can benefit from a large database that contains classifications of illnesses along with their causes and symptoms, aiding in disease control and overall better health care. Furthermore, “patients enjoy the fact that software has created a greater degree of transparency in the healthcare system.”¹

 

Market Forces Impacting Health Care

According to Gartner, there are five categories of market forces affecting health care²:

  • Social – The healthcare industry must address social factors (e.g., aging populations, lifestyle changes, economic status) affecting the market, taking a more holistic approach to treating patients. 
  • Technological – Innovations in technology are drastically changing the healthcare scene, from advanced treatments to massive amounts of accessible data. Past technological advancements along with the ones underway can be quite overwhelming to digest, making it tough to decide which ones are the most affective.
  • Economic – With healthcare costs skyrocketing, funding is a constant challenge. Certain pressures and expectations on healthcare costs vary depending on economic needs and conditions. Therefore, it’s important to “scale and bend the cost curve.” Ultimately, “the economic need is to consider health and social care expenditures together.”²
  • Environmental – The environment plays a major role in people’s health conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 12.6 million deaths occur every year due to environmental risk factors. These types of issues are more prevalent in low-income cities and are influencing healthcare decisions, sparking “new relationships with community partners and programs.”⁴
  • Political – Politics is one of the most significant forces impacting the health sector. Health care is a hot topic globally, and despite people’s growing needs, funds are scarce. There’s also “tension between consumer/employer affordability versus high premium costs in private models.”²

Factors Driving Digital Transformation in Health Care

After defining the market forces in health care, it’s easier to understand why digital transformation will play a critical role in significant change. Here are some of the factors driving digital transformation in health care:

  • Disease prevention
  • Improved quality of life
  • Health maintenance
  • Cost efficiency
  • Personalization
  • More accessibility
  • Convenience
  • Better health outcomes

Technology Trends in Health Care

From robotics to big data and analytics, there are a plethora of digital transformation trends that will change the face of health care while addressing concerns such as cost, disease prevention, convenience and more. According to McKinsey, here are the trends we could see in the near future³:

  1. Connected and Cognitive Devices

People want to be more in tune with their health. One way to do this is by utilizing connected and cognitive devices, including portable, wearable, and ingestible devices. This enables patients to monitor their health whenever, wherever. Being able to track health information with connected and cognitive devices keeps patients engaged in their journey to better health.

  1. Robotics

Robots are already making a dent in health care. Robots have become so sophisticated that they’re working alongside medical staff at hospitals, automating routine tasks (robotic process automation) such as claims processing, taking patients’ vitals, and more. Medical robotics is also present in the operating room, as robots are being utilized to “enable minimally invasive approaches and ease the physical burden of surgeries.”³ The use of robots in the medical field improves productivity and the quality of care that patients receive. 

  1. Data Analytics

Data analytics is one of the biggest game changers in health care. To say that data analytics has changed health care is an understatement. Actionable insights derived from massive amounts of data leads to better patient outcomes. For instance, “platforms and applications that store, transmit, and analyze” medical data “can be used to identify patients who are candidates for highly targeted therapies.”³ Furthermore, big data and analytics is becoming so advanced that robots will be able to record physiological data during medical procedures, enhancing the planning process of surgeries and improving medical education overall.

  1. AI

With all the valuable insights derived from data analytics, it’s important to have technologies in place that convert those insights “into cognitive engagement solutions” that “enhance diagnosis, improve predictive interventions, and optimize clinical productivity.”³ Much like robotics, the use of AI technology can increase productivity, cost efficiency, and improve quality of care. AI is also providing convenient and personalized experiences to patients. For example, virtual nursing assistants can practically act as doctors by interacting with patients, gathering information on their symptoms, identifying illnesses, and even scheduling appointments.

  1. Blockchain

Blockchain technology is only in its infancy stages, but businesses across all industries are delving into it, including health care. Blockchain, a series of blocks linked together in a chain with each one storing records of economic transactions, has growing potential in the healthcare sector. Blockchain allows for safer transactions, and patients can feel better about sharing their data as the process is more confidential. Moreover, blockchain makes data more accessible, in turn enabling other technologies to make better use of data. For example, with modernized network structures, provider directories can be updated quickly.

References

¹ 3 Ways Technology has Changed Healthcare | UIC Health Informatics. (2018, October 30). Retrieved from https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/blog/3-ways-technology-has-changed-healthcare/

² Gartner_Inc. (n.d.). Business Drivers of Technology Decisions for Healthcare Payers, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3897597/business-drivers-of-technology-decisions-for-healthcare-

³ Singhal, S., & Carlton, S. (2019, May 23). The era of exponential improvement in healthcare? Retrieved from https://healthcare.mckinsey.com/era-exponential-improvement-healthcare

⁴ Air pollution levels rising in many of the world's poorest cities. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/en/news-room/detail/12-05-2016-air-pollution-levels-rising-in-many-of-the-world-s-poorest-cities

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