Is healthcare ready for the next wave of digital transformation?

September 30, 2020

The technological revolution is changing the way humans both behave, work, manage their health and interact with each other, and the pandemic is only fast-tracking this paradigm shift.

The pressure is on the healthcare sector to pay careful attention to this change, because the fourth wave of digital uptake in the health industry is now certainly upon us.

Technology as the great health disruptor

The list of innovations disrupting healthcare is growing fast: telehealth, AI, natural language processing, virtual and augmented reality, voice recognition, nanotechnology, cloud computing, machine learning and more, all powered by the Internet of Things and 5G - are all just the tip of the iceberg. This means the technological health revolution will irrevocably change the way healthcare is both managed and delivered moving forward, world-wide.

It also means the way we have previously practiced medicine is over.

That statement may seem shocking to some, but it’s true. Change is now occurring so rapidly, it is likely the future practitioner will look back on us in five years’ time and consider our daily practices antiquated and time-consuming - and they wouldn’t be wrong.

Already this rapid change is evidenced by the swift uptake of telehealth and remote working in the medical industry caused by the pandemic - something which even five years ago would have seemed out of the question for the healthcare sector.

In fact, Clinic to Cloud’s recent survey, 2020 Survey: Building a better practice beyond COVID-19, found across private practice, 54% are working remotely more often now compared to pre-COVID, with 11% working completely virtually. Meanwhile 61% said over a quarter of weekly consults occur via telehealth, and 23% said three quarters or more of weekly consults occur via telehealth.

This way of working is unlikely to end when the pandemic does. A remote working hybrid model will continue into the future as practitioners and patients alike enjoy the efficiencies telehealth facilitates.

New industry convergences, big data and digital transformation in healthcare

But technology will not be the only driver of change. There will be a convergence of different industries in healthcare, along with many technologically-enabled new entrants. Reports show digital disruption in healthcare will actually be driven by big tech, telcos and digital entrepreneurs, and companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber and Salesforce. Already Walmart offers health checks in its stores in the US. These types of disruptors will drive healthcare change on a global scale.

As smart devices pervade homes and workplaces, vast amounts of health data will be captured and crunched by artificial intelligence in near real-time, meaning masses of new data for the healthcare sector and beyond will provide new insights, and new ways of offering health services. For example, the Apple Watch 3 was found to be 84% accurate in detecting atrial fibrillation, something previously only able to be achieved with an ECG, and this technology is only in its early development.

Many health checks traditionally done in a clinical setting will soon be able to be achieved from home, or managed by the patient within their own smart devices. This means the relationship between patient and provider will need to evolve rapidly to account for this shift.

Clinic to Cloud recently found the appetite for digital transformation in private practice is strong, with 52% of those surveyed maintaining spend in technology solutions that support virtual and remote clinical and practice management (such as cloud solutions, online payments, telehealth, mobile apps). Only 5% are cutting back. This bodes well for the future.

Patient experience is synonymous with customer experience

Patients now expect the same seamless experience with their healthcare providers as they do with their bank, retailer or insurer, industries which have all evolved rapidly to provide customers with seamless real-time digital experiences. The days of a patient waiting hours in a waiting room, and then waiting weeks for results posted to them, or receiving multiple phone calls to remind them of their treatment plans are over.

Outside of the walls of the clinic, patients are used to ‘customer experience’, and they are used to seamless, empowered, digital experiences no matter what the service. This means healthcare is not exempt from these expectations.

Patients want to feel connected with their provider, they want to be informed, and they want to participate in their healthcare journeys. A world of medical information, some accurate and some not, is now at their fingertips. They can and will research both a clinician and a course of treatment before they have even had a face to face with a doctor. Those providers who are upfront and provide accurate and timely information to patients in the manner of their choosing will succeed in this space.

Consumers also want to know and take ownership of their data. This will naturally extend to choosing their healthcare provider based on security of information.

In short, the patient now has the power in the health relationship. Where once the doctor dictated the relationship, now the consumer can and will direct their own treatment and choose providers accordingly.

A better way to curb doctor burnout

The healthcare sector has traditionally lagged behind digital transformation, however to keep up with new patients, new ways of working and curbing doctor stress and burnout, automation is now key. Practices are already struggling under the weight of admin and patient expectations, leading to stress and burnout - and this is even before the fourth digital wave hits.

Clinic to Cloud found the biggest challenge experienced over the past six months by private practice was time management (43%), followed by administrative burden (41%), and managing patient expectations (40%).

Unfortunately, 31% of private practices also reported an increase in stress and burnout, something which was already a significant problem in the sector. Around 71% also saw an increase in patient anxiety or distress, and 50% saw an increase in patient appointment confusion and no-shows.

Doctors are looking to make their businesses more profitable, and safer. They want more decision support, and more protections around them from a technology perspective, to ensure they deliver the best care possible.

Unlocking an exciting evolution in healthcare

Technology is both the disruptor and the solution moving forward, and there are plenty of young clinicians coming up the ranks for whom technology is second nature and who are fully prepared to meet patient demands for connection and involvement.

For the healthcare sector, this all means evolve to a digital environment, or ‘die’. However a fatal mistake many health practices make is resisting adoption because they’ve ‘always done things a certain way.’ As practices are forced to offer more to patients with less time and resources, technology can unlock greater efficiencies and smarter ways of scaling a practice.

This is just the start of a new journey in healthcare. Some people might say it's the end of how we practice medicine, but it's actually the start of a new healthcare evolution. It’s the start of building a new and better model for how we will practice medicine in the future. It’s a very exciting step towards building a more powerful healthcare industry, now and beyond the pandemic.

Read more insights in Clinic to Cloud’s recent survey, 2020 Survey: Building a better practice beyond COVID-19. Download your free copy here.

Ready to transform your medical practice?
Patryk Kania
Patryk is the Chief Operating Officer at Clinic to Cloud. Patryk has over 20 years of healthcare experience across Europe and ANZ with multinational organisations. Patryk is passionate about transforming the healthcare sector away from ‘innovation in isolation’, towards a more cohesive interoperable ecosystem.
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