Digital Transformation in healthcare: 5 key challenges
Personalized medicine is the buzzword. In the Utopian world of tailored medical treatments, all patients will be ‘connected’ with their doctors, constantly sharing data (from wearable devices and other tech-enabled gadgets), getting real-time diagnosis, early detection of diseases, seamless follow-ups, without having to twiddle their thumbs in hospital waiting rooms.
Although the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt new technologies – unlike the retail or manufacturing sectors – the good news is that enterprises across industries are now seeing value in embracing digital transformation. Digitized health records are becoming the norm, while sources of healthcare data are multiplying rapidly – think personal fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors, and even genomic data.
However, digital transformation can be a complex process, especially for a traditional industry like healthcare. Let’s look at the top five challenges that enterprises need to tackle for successful digital transformation:
Fear of change
Kodak invented the digital camera, but it failed to ride the digital photography wave. Why? Because of the company’s resistance to change. The management was so afraid to threaten its film-based business model that it set Kodak on the path to bankruptcy!
Many healthcare enterprises will experience their ‘Kodak moments’ if they continue to fear change and live in denial. Digital transformation, by definition, is about changing the way organizations think and work. Beyond investing in new technology, there’s a need for change of mindset. Right from the CEO and doctors to the nurses and other hospital staff, everybody needs to be on the same page. Dealing with the all-too-familiar fear of change is the first and most crucial challenge in a successful digital transformation journey.
The cost factor
If there’s one reason that puts most digital transformation plans on the backburner, it’s the cost factor. Healthcare organizations tend to focus on the return on investments (ROI), without fully appreciating the value proposition that a digitally-powered system can deliver.
Incidentally, agile enterprises find that the adoption of a digital strategy offers more scale, revenue, and profit than the legacy approach. Instead of looking at the cost incurred, it’s prudent to take into account the money saved, once inefficient processes are remedied by digital transformation. For instance, telemedicine can cut down on the need for in-person consultations, thereby allowing doctors to cater to more patients. Similarly, when it comes to management of chronic diseases, going digital can be a real money-saver. Not to forget, the customer satisfaction and retention.
Security of data
With technology comes the threat of cyber-attacks. It’s a huge challenge for all technology-driven industries, but more so for healthcare, given the sensitive and personal nature of data involved. Most healthcare organizations are so wary of the repercussions that they hesitate to take the digital plunge.
Experts concur that there are myriad ways for enterprises to ensure that patient data and research data is secure in a digital environment. For starters, cyber security needs to become a top agenda. Organizations need to invest in staff with the right skill set, educate employees on safety measures, update known software vulnerabilities, and ensure that systems and processes have a secure design. In the ever-changing digital world, security measures need to be constantly upgraded to keep cyber threats in check.
The silo effect
Data is knowledge and knowledge is power. The amount of data that healthcare organizations generate on a day-to-day basis is enormous, yet very few are able to use it intelligently. Data aggregation and interoperability are major challenges for healthcare enterprises.
When data is stuck in silos across the organization, it’s difficult to capture, understand, and act on available insights. By merely adding a new technology – which many enterprises mistake digital transformation to be – the issue cannot be addressed. To make a holistic patient-centered view a reality, healthcare organizations need to focus on integrating data from all systems and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. The challenge needs to be tackled from the top down; the IT department alone cannot win this battle.
Missing the big picture
Many hospitals claim to be ‘digital’ today, thanks to the adoption of integrated Hospital Information System (HIS) and electronic medical records (EMR). Is that all it takes to be digital? From the registration and consultation to the inpatient services and post-discharge follow-ups, the entire customer journey needs to be taken into account while planning a hospital’s digital transformation. Unfortunately, very few enterprises have a clear big picture in mind before they jump on to the digital bandwagon.
It’s okay for enterprises to start small, but to wander without an end goal is a recipe for disaster. Companies need to develop a clear vision of how they will meet their customers’ digital needs, set objectives against that vision, and then, begin with the execution. Right from investing in the necessary digital talent and modernizing legacy systems, to offering real-time solutions and addressing security issues, the master plan must have it all covered. Yet, be agile enough to adapt to the changing realities of the digital world.
To end with
The healthcare industry can no longer afford to be sluggish on the innovation uptake. Given the pace of digital disruption across industries, healthcare enterprises need to substantially transform in order to remain relevant. Digital transformation holds the promise of personalized and preventative healthcare. It has the power to not only revolutionize patient care, but also to enable health organizations to reduce the amount of time spent on documentation and data entry.
However, to achieve digital success, enterprises will have to tackle the top five challenges proactively and look at digital transformation as the act of investing in people, technology, systems, and processes to upgrade how businesses work in the digital economy.