Digital business in healthcare - are we there yet?

Recently I have come across several articles on the topic of digital business. Everyone is talking about it. I was really surprised when I heard that GE - the biggest manufacturing company in the world, decided to go digital ;) They have been manufacturing physical products for 140 years and now all of a sudden they want to become a service company. They will no longer sell locomotives but will start selling a service of moving goods. Based on their experience so far they calculated that they can save approx. 200 mio dollars per year if they can increase the average speed of locomotives for 1 mph - and they are confident they can do that.

Healthcare is already service oriented industry which would mean that the transition to digital business should be even easier. But is it?

Today everyone is talking about paperless hospitals, smart sensors, medical devices that you barely notice, health and wellness apps. But what happens with all of the data that is generated on a daily basis? Most of the time it stays in the system that was the source of this data and besides some fancy graphs or very focused decision support nothing really interesting happens with the data. At least not on a wide scale.

I have a feeling that in healthcare everyone is trying to reinvent the “wheel” - we have hundreds if not thousands apps for diabetes, thousands of patient portals, each month there is a new sensor available or a new wellness app with different design. But who is using these and for how long? In the last 10 years I worked on different IT projects in healthcare and on all these projects care teams were eager to get their hands on new IT solutions. But if that is the case, why is the adoption of new IT solutions in healthcare so slow and not just among healthcare providers but also among end users - either patients or healthy population?

By the looks of it all these solutions are simply missing something extra. Something that has not been available in the paper world. Just rewriting the paper forms in the eForm is not really a novelty. I am no longer sure that everyday IT solutions in healthcare are even better than paper. It just means everyone would need to strictly structure every detail of healthcare. How much do you structure on daily basis? Be honest… not much more than an email address. So why would care teams be any different?

If we want care teams, patients or just someone that wants to stay healthy to use IT in the process we need to find a way for all these IT novelties to deliver real added value.

Care teams want solutions that would help them work safer, more efficient and make more informed and personalised decisions. Patients on the other side want apps that would keep them engaged and make them feel in control and of course help them stay healthy. Well designed, responsive and intuitive healthcare applications are absolutely crucial if we want to reduce user frustrations, errors and improve the adoption rate of healthcare IT. However, we shouldn't stop there.

We need to start developing decision support rules, digital services and smart algorithms to present patient data from multiple sources seamlessly in a form that users expect in different circumstances - VTE assessment, early warning score, liver function, reminders for potential risks when prescribing medications, workflows for different diagnoses and many other.

When you talk to care teams it seams its obvious to them this is what they expect from healthcare IT. So why is everyone still building same apps and devices, why is everyone still keeping all healthcare related data closed and proprietary? Why gather all this data if we do not share it and and why aren’t we all focusing in leveraging all these data to provide added value to clinicians and patients in the form that they actually expect and would actually welcome?

By the looks of it the whole healthcare IT revolves around data, but data is the most under appreciated concept in healthcare. Everyone is modelling healthcare domain… over and over again… And what is more It seems everyone except clinicians are doing the modelling of clinical concepts. To me this doesn’t make much sense. It should be clinicians that would model the healthcare domain and then publish these models. Clinical data models need to be open and free so that different IT solutions in healthcare would easily adopt them and make the data highly interoperable so that it could be used to offer new services and precision healthcare that was not possible before. Furthermore, access to clinical data models would enable vendors, startups and entrepreneurs to focus on developing innovative solutions and services and not spend time and energy on modelling the same clinical concepts all over again.

So… Digital business in healthcare? Are we there yet? According to Gartner there are areas like analytics and digital workspace where healthcare IT leads but at the same time there are areas where healthcare IT lags – like data exchange, collaboration (between care teams, people and devices) and cross provider care coordination. However, to foster the development of new digital services in healthcare existing and new solutions need to start exposing their APIs and offer safe access to healthcare data collected through the digital workspace that has been set up thus enabling the development and availability of new smart algorithms, decision support and digital services. As Gartner analyst have nicely put it - give, take and multiply.

Subscribe to all things Better

The best source of industry information and best practices.