Digital Transformation in Healthcare in 2021

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Jan Skóra

Updated Mar 4, 2024 • 11 min read
digital transformation in healthcare

In recent years, it became obvious that the current healthcare ecosystem is not sustainable.

The costs are rapidly increasing for patients and an ever growing part of nations’ budgets needs to be allocated for healthcare, while access to the services is getting harder and their quality is often below expectations.

The need for healthcare transformation has never been greater and placing digital technologies at its center is the most promising driver of necessary change.

What is digital transformation in healthcare all about?

Digital transformation reimagines the way to serve people in order to increase the value they receive. In the healthcare industry, it means accelerating the shift from volume-based care to value-based care by focusing on the patient’s perspective rather than that of the provider or the health care system.

Employing digital technologies to engage patients effectively and provide personalized, proactive, and cost-efficient care is the key to successful digital transformation.

The outbreak of COVID-19 painfully exposed the inefficiencies in healthcare processes and the resulting low productivity of the system.

At the same time, regulations in many countries were changed rapidly to respond to the demand, unlocking a massive opportunity to use digital health solutions broadly.

It has proven that patients are ready and willing to use digital means to receive necessary care while care providers can streamline their operations by leveraging technological innovations.

“This pandemic just accelerated what we might have seen in four or five years. Suddenly now we’re in the future.”
Charles Jones, Chairman and CEO at MDLIVE Inc.

It’s still an early stage of the journey with only 7% of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies embracing digital solutions, but it means that those companies and institutions that develop their digital transformation strategy early and execute it effectively can yield unprecedented increases in market share and patient satisfaction.

Let’s look at the most promising areas of healthcare where digital technologies are making a difference.

On-demand healthcare

Across all industries, consumers want to be served at their own convenience, on their own time, and wherever they happen to be. Healthcare is no exception.

Getting to a medical facility is often an excruciating ordeal for the elderly, disabled, or people living in remote areas. The COVID-19 pandemic effectively limited everyone’s ability to have face to face interactions with care providers, causing a surge of demand for telemedicine solutions.

It’s no longer a nice-to-have, but rather an essential aspect of patient engagement that healthcare providers need to address.

On-demand healthcare is here to stay. Patients and healthcare professionals alike are embracing telehealth tech. During the pandemic, 48% of all US physicians said they had treated patients virtually. On the patient side, 60% of American consumers said they were more willing to try telehealth services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It proved to be an effective method of maintaining cancer treatments and played a major role in providing mental health support. Moreover, many countries lowered regulatory barriers and do not seem to be bringing them up again anytime soon, giving time to solution providers to comply with the high medical standards.
There are also significant funds being allocated in public and private markets. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a $200 million program to develop telehealth solutions. Amwell, the leader of US telehealth services, announced closing its $194 million Series C financing round amid the economic downturn to invest in technology to develop better, more secure, and accessible on-demand healthcare.

Having access to a global pool of health professionals from a computer or mobile device, anytime and anywhere, scheduling a virtual appointment, and communicating with doctors via video or voice calls will fundamentally transform the healthcare industry to provide on-demand service.

In late 2019, the German parliament has approved the Digital Healthcare Act which essentially mandates and supports building the infrastructure for this kind of future. It includes, among other things, telehealth solutions, paperless record-keeping, and receiving health apps by prescription.

Wearables and IoT

Another strong trend of the digital transformation in healthcare is the collection of health data from remote medical devices, including mobile phones, wearables, and IoT solutions embedded in homes, clinics, or even cities.

It provides valuable insight into the patient’s status, expanding the information at a health professional’s disposal to perform the correct diagnosis.

In recent years, the number of devices that can be connected to a smartphone to measure the user’s health status has increased exponentially.

Among others, there are smart thermometers aggregating temperature measurements and mapping how diseases spread; smart stethoscopes enabling quick diagnosis of respiratory diseases at home; smart spirometers for monitoring of pulmonary diseases, and biosensors monitoring heart rate, temperature, and detecting falls for the elderly and disabled.

Such devices help to detect diseases and monitor health status, automatically alarming healthcare providers when immediate intervention is needed.
Also, typical consumer products like fitness trackers or smartwatches are starting to be equipped with similar capabilities.

The Apple Watch has a medical-grade ECG feature to detect atrial fibrillation and Apple’s patents seem to suggest that the company will also clear approvals for medical blood oxygen saturation monitoring that could alarm the user about a respiratory or cardiac problem.

Other patents show that Apple aims at producing eyewear that could diagnose vision problems and automatically adjust the refraction of displays and lenses to help the user see. Even without dedicated equipment, early symptoms of some health issues might be detected by consumer products that are used by more and more people around the globe.

Wearables and IoT sensors embedded in our environment open opportunities for healthcare providers to collect data that can signal our health issues before we can sense them, ensuring timely response and more precise diagnosis.

This technology will be crucial for transforming the medical insurance market from a reactive model to a proactive one. Enhanced monitoring and prevention activities will significantly decrease the costs of providing care by using predictive methods to act before irreversible damage happens.

Artificial Intelligence and prognostic healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is predicted to bring $150 billion dollars in annual savings for the US healthcare economy by 2026.

Startups are already jumping on this opportunity; the number of active AI startups has increased 14-fold since 2000 and the second quarter of 2021 is expected to be the all-time high for funding of AI-enabled healthcare companies.

AI changes the way patients interact with healthcare providers. AI-enabled chatbots can collect basic information to prepare documentation, schedule appointments, and diagnose symptoms to direct the patient to a healthcare professional, which shortens the consultation time and improves customer service.

Digital assistants sometimes get a mechanical body of a robot, like Moxi, helping nurses with routine tasks on a clinic or hospital floor. Some more advanced robots support surgeons during operations, sometimes even enabling remote participation of a human surgeon.

AI already has a strong position in diagnostic healthcare. In medical imaging diagnostics, this technology helps radiologists spot details that escape the human eye.

In oncology, AI is analyzing thousands of pathology images of various cancers to provide highly accurate diagnoses and predict the best possible anti-cancer drug combinations.

AI-guided diagnosis is becoming the norm rather than an exception. However, the most exciting area for AI is using predictive analysis of big data from digital health records combined with data collected via wearables to predict health issues. This way we can not only cure diseases but also effectively prevent them.

Artificial Intelligence simplifies the lives of doctors, patients, and hospital admins by performing tasks that are usually done by humans at a fraction of the cost and in less time.

It allows humans to gain unprecedented insights into care processes, treatment variability, patient outcomes, and diagnostics. The benefits of AI are clear to healthcare executives. According to the PWC Health Research Institute, nearly 40 percent of them invest in AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics.

Personalized treatments

All the healthcare digital transformation trends ultimately converge at the patient, an individual with a unique body, situation, and environment.

It means that the most effective treatments need to be equally unique. Personalization of treatments, customization of drugs, and adaptation to changing environments seem to be the next frontier of modern medicine.

Genomics opens a new horizon for personalized treatments. Companies like GRAIL or 23andme are working on quick and cheap sequencing of human DNA to find the best cure for diagnosed issues that will be adjusted to an individual’s DNA traits.

Delivery of customized versions of drugs will be possible by leveraging AI in clinical tests to support the testing protocol, e.g. simulate permutations of different compound combinations and estimate which ones are the most promising.

This already allows for shortening medical products’ development cycles by even 50% and significantly reducing costs. Precision medicine has already seen considerable success in oncology and is expected to be adapted to different areas soon.
According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, future healthcare digital transformation efforts will strive for intelligent treatments that will not only be defined for an individual but also change and adapt to his or her actions. Intelligent solutions will continuously learn from available data, suggesting changes to the treatments as the patient’s state or environment changes.

“Increasingly we’re going to see dynamic data workflows that are attached to individual patients based on what their specific condition and what their specific makeup looks like. This will allow for much more precise therapies and better allocation of scarce resources to handle patients of varying degrees of complexity.”
Ripley Martin, General Manager - Aging & Caregiving at Philips Health Systems

Tying it all together

The WEF vision is not possible yet, but all of the building blocks are ready - collecting data via wearables, leveraging AI to process it and provide personalized solutions, and using digital channels that enable on-demand health services.

Healthcare companies that will include those technologies in their digital transformation strategy will have a chance to significantly outperform their competition. If you are looking for a partner that understands those technologies to help you execute your digital transformation strategy, drop us a message.

Photo of Jan Skóra

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Jan Skóra

Senior Design Consultant at Netguru. Jan is also a product designer, business enabler and...
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