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Revolutionising patient care: The journey of digital transformation in healthcare

Future Of Work
CXC Global7 min read
CXC GlobalMarch 06, 2024
CXC Global

The world of healthcare is undergoing a monumental shift, as digital technologies increasingly play a pivotal role in how we understand, manage, and improve patient care. This transformation is not just about adopting new technologies but about reimagining healthcare delivery for the 21st century.

In most western economies, healthcare systems are under pressure, in the wake of the COVID years. Hospital workforces are at capacity, sourcing and securing new talent is proving more difficult than ever, workers are leaving the healthcare industry in droves, and upskilling existing workers for digital literacy is a pressing concern.

It’s in the context of these circumstances that digital transformation in healthcare is helping to revolutionise the sector. From a more convenient, accessible healthcare offering to the role of AI in patient treatment, the benefits of digitising healthcare are irrefutable.

Today, we’re going to dive deep into how the healthcare sector is transforming thanks to digital technologies.

Understanding digital transformation in healthcare

Digital transformation in healthcare refers to the integration of digital technologies into all aspects of healthcare services, from patient care to backend operations. It’s a comprehensive approach aimed at improving efficiency, enhancing quality of care, and making healthcare more accessible and more personalised.

At its heart, it’s about leveraging technology to meet healthcare’s most pressing challenges and to create a system that’s responsive to the needs of patients and healthcare professionals alike.

The evolution of digital healthcare

The journey of digital healthcare began with simple digitisation efforts, such as converting paper records to digital formats. However, it quickly evolved into more advanced applications, including electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine, and wearable technology. Today, we’re seeing an even greater leap forward with the advent of AI-driven diagnostics, personalised medicine, and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

Key drivers behind the shift to digital

Several factors are propelling the healthcare industry towards digitisation. Firstly, there’s a growing demand for more accessible and convenient healthcare services, especially in remote communities. Secondly, the need to reduce healthcare costs while improving quality of care is more pressing than ever. And lastly, the availability of advanced technologies, such as AI, big data analytics, and cloud computing, is making this transformation possible.

The digital healthcare landscape is vast and varied, encompassing a range of technologies and applications designed to address different aspects of healthcare.

Enhancing patient care through technology

Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring

Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring (RPM) are game-changers for healthcare systems under pressure. Both options enable patients to access healthcare remotely. Both were instrumental during COVID, allowing patients to receive healthcare services, without the risk of exposure to the virus.

Telemedicine is the practice of providing remote clinical healthcare to patients using real time audio and video technology. Telemedicine provides convenience to both patients and healthcare providers by eliminating the need for in-person visits.

RPM involves advanced technology for gathering and assessing patient data outside of the traditional medical setting. RPM reduces the frequency of doctor visits, via the ability to monitor certain aspects of a patient’s health, remotely. RPM lets healthcare providers manage acute and chronic conditions while minimising patients’ travel costs and infection risk.

Personalised medicine and AI

Personalised medicine enabled by AI is a growing treatment solution tailored specifically to the individual patient.

This revolution in healthcare lies in the abundance of data available, and the advancements in machine learning and deep learning techniques where healthcare experts can delve into insights about individuals based on their cohorts, instead of using data based on entire populations. This precision empowers doctors to significantly enhance diagnostic accuracy, prognosis, and treatment protocols.

Streamlining operations with digital solutions

Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have streamlined patient information storage, making it easier for healthcare providers to access and share crucial patient data.

The EHR system is designed to encompass more than clinical data retrieved in a healthcare provider’s office and instead offers a comprehensive overview of a patient’s treatment. EHRs can:

  • Include a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunisation records, allergies, radiology images, laboratory results, and test results.
  • Offer access to evidence-based resources that aid healthcare providers in making decisions regarding a patient’s care.
  • Automate and enhance the workflow of healthcare providers.

Automation in administrative processes

Automation of administrative tasks, such as patient scheduling and billing, reduces the burden on healthcare staff, allowing them to focus more on patient care.

Research released at the end of 2023, showed 51% of Australian healthcare decision- makers, perceive automation would enhance patient care and are optimistic about the benefits of intelligent automation to streamline patient experiences with better data processing while facilitating innovative patient engagement models.

Also, decision-makers believe intelligent automation could enhance staff morale and retention. 36% see automation as a means to positively impact their staff by increasing motivation, engagement, and retention. Additionally, 39% think automation could enhance coordination among different teams and departments.

There are obstacles though. The research also showed legacy infrastructure and systems to be a key barrier to streamlining healthcare processes and day-to-day administrative tasks.

Data security and patient privacy

Challenges in protecting health information

As healthcare goes digital, the privacy and security of patient data becomes increasingly important, as cyberattacks and data breaches pose significant risks. The biggest concerns include:

  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies: BYOD policies allow healthcare workers to use personal devices to boost productivity. A lack of control over their use, especially where sensitive patient information is concerned, poses a major challenge for hospital administrations.
  • Public wifi: If a healthcare worker uses public wifi to access patient information, they can compromise the safety and security of the information, especially if shared over an unsecured network.
  • Email: Unencrypted email is another security threat.
  • Video conferencing: Video conferencing tools like Skype and Zoom may not always meet national compliance standards.

Implementing robust cybersecurity measures

The healthcare sector is a prime target for cybercriminals due to the sensitive and valuable patient data it holds. Therefore, healthcare providers are now focused on implementing strict cybersecurity protocols to protect patient information.

To prevent data breaches and interruptions to patient care, healthcare providers can:

  • Employ robust technology governance.
  • Establish secure networks and keep software updated.
  • Implement risk management strategies.
  • Use multi-factor authentication.
  • Conduct regular cyber security training for staff.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Conducting regular risk audits.
  • Establish a ready-to-implement incident response plan.

Integrating wearable technology and IoT

The role of wearables in continuous health monitoring

Wearable devices, from fitness trackers to smartwatches, are playing a crucial role in healthcare by enabling continuous health monitoring and data collection. These transformative devices are used to monitor patients remotely and in a telehealth setting.

Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin are examples of wearables providing the user with valuable data like heart rate, sleep patterns and daily steps tracking. But these devices are set to do much more including tracking blood pressure, body temperature, glucose levels and ECG monitoring. The sophisticated sensors in wearables can transmit data directly to healthcare providers in real-time, allowing them to monitor any abnormalities or risks.

IoT devices for improved health outcomes

IoT devices are improving health outcomes by offering real-time insights into patient health, facilitating timely interventions. Current IoT devices in healthcare include (amongst others):

  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM), as mentioned previously.
  • Glucose monitoring: continuous, automatic monitoring of glucose levels rather than periodic testing will allow patients to be alerted when levels are problematic.
  • Depression and mood monitoring: ‘Mood Aware’ IoT devices also offer continuous monitoring, rather than periodic assessments, offering less reliance on patients having to report their feelings, and provide data on a patient’s mental state.
  • Ingestible sensors: gathering of information about digestive and other internal systems, in a much less invasive way. These devices can be swallowed easily, and can dissolve or pass through the human body on their own.
  • Robotic surgery: Using small internet-connected robots placed inside the human body, surgeons can tackle intricate procedures that would be challenging to undertake with human hands. Robotic surgeries, conducted by compact IoT devices, can minimise the incision size needed for the procedure, resulting in a less invasive process and quicker recovery times for patients.

Overcoming barriers to digital adoption

Addressing technological and cultural challenges

Digital transformation in healthcare is not without its hurdles. Some of the main challenges include:

  • Legacy technology systems: Many healthcare systems continue to depend on outdated legacy infrastructure, resulting in fragmented and isolated technology.
  • Security and governance: Being able to digitally transform at scale, while complying with high governance standards can be hard to achieve.
  • IT roadblocks: Expectations of IT teams often outrun their budget allowances. Modernising healthcare data integration platforms will help to mitigate this challenge.

Strategies for successful implementation

Successful digital transformation requires a clear strategy, starting with leadership commitment and involving comprehensive training and support for all users. Other factors to consider in this process include:

  • Introducing effective organisational change, using data, analysis of processes, prioritisation of tasks and involvement of senior leadership.
  • Hiring digital expertise and establishing a roadmap for upskilling existing talent will help overcome poor digital literacy.
  • Taking workers on the journey: making workers feel like they’re part of the transformation will engage them in the process.

The future of healthcare in the digital age

The future of healthcare is undoubtedly digital. From AI-driven diagnostics to blockchain for secure data sharing, the possibilities seem endless. We’re on the cusp of witnessing even more revolutionary changes that will further enhance healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.

The journey of digital transformation in healthcare is ongoing, but the direction is clear. We are moving towards a more connected, efficient, and patient-centred healthcare system. Embracing this change is not just advantageous—it’s essential. As we look forward, the integration of digital technology in healthcare promises a future where quality patient care is the norm, not the exception.

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