Digital Healthcare Explained: How Technology is Changing the Medical Landscape, Part 1

Digital Healthcare

At its core, digital healthcare presents a simple concept - the use of technology to improve the health and wellness of patients. Now, the marriage of healthcare and technology is nothing groundbreaking. After all, we see it regularly in X-ray machines, blood glucose meters, medical alert bracelets, ultrasound scanners, digital thermometers, etc. So what makes digital healthcare such a big deal? In short, digital transformation in the healthcare industry is revolutionizing how we treat, prevent, and manage medical conditions.

Thanks to digital healthcare, doctor-patient relationships have improved significantly.

  • As the medical space becomes more connected, physicians are able to interact with patients easily and treat illnesses.
  • The technology also helps patients find the right specialists quickly and receive optimum care.
  • Last, but not the least, digital healthcare has made treatment more accessible for various diseases, simplified how hospitals care for the sick, and enabled government healthcare agencies to control epidemics.

Emerging innovations in healthcare not only expedite the development of new medicines but also have a considerable impact on the delivery of care. Digital healthcare gives us the opportunity to tackle the next frontier in healthcare by shifting gears from treatment to prevention. The sector is rapidly growing and evolving, covering everything from mobile health applications to electronic records. So, in a nutshell, digital healthcare applies digital transformation to the healthcare sector via disruptive technologies and cultural change.

Defining Digital Healthcare

According to the European Society of Cardiology, “digital health is the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to treat patients, conduct research, educate healthcare professionals, track diseases and monitor public health.”

What this means is, digital healthcare deals with the application of data to healthcare delivery via telecommunications and computational technologies to support organizational process workflow, patient data management, and clinical workflow. Such a definition highlights the opportunities of growth that influence established practices to transform their existing business models and attract new entrants to transform the way healthcare gets delivered to the masses.

Digital healthcare represents the convergence of digital initiatives into every aspect of healthcare. The goal is to fundamentally change how systems operate and deliver proper healthcare to patients. Digitalizing healthcare disrupts the traditional healthcare model, replacing it with new digital technologies for effective patient care at low cost. Healthcare providers, patients, payers, and stakeholders will benefit from digital along with technology-based businesses that boost their efforts to address emerging opportunities across the global healthcare space.

A Forbes article on digital healthcare growth drivers in 2020 highlights the growing momentum of digital transformation in the healthcare field. Among the drivers listed are improved tools like AI to empower patient outcomes, regulatory innovation and technology adoption. The rise of digitalization has made these healthcare processes safer, more accessible and more affordable to patients. A cultural shift is inevitable as new business models are introduced and healthcare enterprises evolve fresh ways of thinking. Healthcare necessitates effective communication and management alongside various regulations and compliances while going digital.

As a result, healthcare providers are using digital technologies to rethink business practices and place patients at the center of the ecosystem for better patient engagement and healthcare outcomes.

Framework for Digital Healthcare

Digital healthcare started to gain traction in the early 1970s with the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs). This advancement offered medical care providers and patients greater opportunities for leveraging health data to make informed decisions.

Modern digital healthcare practices have expanded upon the trend, establishing a platform for providers to enter into partnerships with their patients based on trust. The addition of technology makes it possible for clients to connect to provider teams, access data and analytics tools for fast health decisions and dialogs with clinicians. Thus, digital healthcare builds trust and offers patients choice.

Health systems have slowly gravitated from a provider-centric approach on disease management to an ecosystem that proactively assesses risks and allows consumers to work with healthcare teams as partners. The use of digital tools to evaluate data and predictive analytics tools to inform decisions enables health systems to predict health challenges among patient populations. This ensures healthcare services and programs are personalized as per the unique demands and circumstances of target demographics and individual patients.

Given the existing trends and consumer demands on medical organizations, four dimensions of digital healthcare are critical to the realization of digitalized global health systems:

  • People-Enabled Health
  • Predictive Analytics
  • Interoperability
  • Governance and Workforce

People-Enabled Health

Health systems have predominantly been provider-centric for decades. Patients must visit healthcare providers depending on the latter’s schedule instead of a time and place that is convenient for patients. Patients have no choice but to follow a defined care journey focused on disease management.

Unfortunately, this leads to healthcare systems that fail to offer consumers a responsive, personalized experience. Non-communicable chronic conditions, for example, account for nearly two-thirds of deaths worldwide. Tackling health issues like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease is necessary to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

But existing care delivery models are ill-equipped to handle chronic illnesses. High rates of hospitalization for chronic problems, increasing healthcare costs, and consumer trends and preferences are all indicators for the growing need of person-centric healthcare delivery models.

Consider families in rural areas without specialized care who need help dealing with chronic diseases, or women unable to schedule regular health check-ups due to job and family demands. The hallmark of people-enabled care is providing options and choices to address the unique needs and life circumstances of a person, ensuring care is readily available when and where it is needed.

In people-enabled healthcare settings, provider teams partner with patients to define personal health preferences and goals. Providers then tailor care delivery and offer tools and support for informed health decisions. Such tools include managing health conditions and monitoring progress virtually to online consultations with healthcare providers. Care focuses on achieving the patient’s personal health goals and outcomes.

People-enabled health makes digital healthcare simple and seamless, providing all options in an easily digestible format. The click of a button helps make informed decisions, tracks the user’s health progress, and connects to health provider teams. No wonder digital healthcare has transformed the medical industry and enabled providers to meet customers where they are.

Predictive Analytics

Think of predictive analytics as the language of digital healthcare - one that is proactive and focused on keeping patients healthy. Right now, medical organizations engage when individuals become sick and spend time, money, and effort to get better. With the advancement of analytics capabilities and systems, health organizations rely on predictive analytics tools to identify at-risk patients, prioritize care to proactively reduce or mitigate risks before they fall sick, and ensure delivery of best possible care to strengthen or maintain the patient’s health and quality of life.

Algorithms in digital healthcare demonstrate high value, identifying risks and allowing healthcare providers to personalize care delivery, while monitoring and tracking outcomes so that health systems can learn what care approaches work best for patient demographics.

As predictive analytics tools advance within healthcare organizations, doctors and administrators enjoy increased access to point of care tools that translate data into real-time knowledge and insights. Not only does this inform decisions, but it also streamlines and automates work processes to minimize the burden of providing care that is informed by complete and accurate data for all patient situations.

Analytics tools in digital healthcare will allow healthcare systems to transition from a reactive disease management approach to a predictive, proactive system that is personalized as per the health requirements and life circumstances of individual patients and populations to enhance health outcomes and decrease costs.

Interoperability

One of the basic building blocks of digital healthcare, interoperability allows organizations to create a people-enabled healthcare system that is proactively focused on patient health and well-being. A characteristic of digital transformation in healthcare, it promotes the movement of data from where it is captured to patients and/or doctors anywhere in real time. Advanced analytics transforms this data into meaningful insights and knowledge, making it accessible to both patients and healthcare providers. This informs the best decisions meant to keep consumers well.

Patients must have the option to select when and where they seek healthcare, and how best to manage their personal health. To make it easier for them, radical interoperability mobilizes data from every data source. Individual consumers, therefore, gain access to complete and accurate data, knowledge and information when and where it is required. The health data is captured via digital platforms and tools from various organizations.

Due to interoperability:

  • Healthcare consumers and patients can access their data, track progress, and input data directly into their record to report outcomes
  • Mobile navigation tools are available to consumers in digital healthcare
  • Patients connect with organizations and providers they engage with across the continuum of care
  • Customers avail personalized services that meet their unique preferences and requirements
  • Community members access personal health records and health services, health navigation tools and health services
  • Patients navigate access to medical services and care from their own homes, including remote health service delivery and virtual care

Interoperable systems provide every individual with choices along the care pathway, informed by their personal medical data. Not only can consumers monitor progress towards outcomes, they can harness the power of digital tools for a consumer-focused health setup.

Governance and Workforce

Digital healthcare relies on effective governance. Data governance is a policy infrastructure to manage and protect data assets against security and privacy threats. Ideally, policy frameworks in consumer-focused health systems require transparency in safety and quality outcomes informed by valid and accurate data so that healthcare systems learn what care provides the best outcomes and under what conditions.

Healthcare organizations should foster a strong, responsive policy framework to ensure safe and secure digital healthcare practices. It also provides access to data and analytics tools required by clinics and patients to make informed decisions. Organizations must consider policies regarding ownership of health data, its protection and accuracy, and seamless access when and where needed for informed decision-making.

Apart from data governance, healthcare organizations turn to guidance on vision and strategy from system leaders for a high-performing, digital healthcare ecosystem. Patients must be understood and valued as the center point of care throughout organizations.

Unfortunately, a recent Black Book research survey revealed that 80 percent of healthcare leaders admitted their use of data analytics for strategic planning and decision-making is “negligible”. Even though 95 percent of physician group executives and hospitals have access to data analytics applications, most fail to utilize these decision-making tools.

Digital healthcare will become a sustainable model only when healthcare providers educate and empower their staff to build digital health capacity via education and training that supports new models like remote care delivery, virtual care, and care pathways that engage patients to manage their well-being through digital technologies and tools scaled across the system.

Digital healthcare is all about proactive, predictive care to keep individuals well based on their personal values, circumstances, and needs. Utilization of proper strategies, tools, and technologies will allow digital healthcare providers to reduce costs, improve operational efficiencies, and enhance consumer outcomes, while developing a system that benefits both providers and patients.

Overview of Digital Healthcare Technology

Take a look at these statistics:

  • A Gartner forecast estimates that end users worldwide will spend $52 billion on wearable devices in 2020.
  • 59 percent of people have a mobile health application while more than 65 percent of digital health tool users address their applications at least once each day.

The growth of wearables and mobile applications is driving the consumer side of digital healthcare and changing it to accommodate current healthcare problems. The boom in digital healthcare began with the launch of wearables. Users now had hardware that let them gather data on activity levels easily, while the mobile app ecosystem that sprouted alongside extended the ways data could be viewed and analyzed. For the first time, individuals could store, compare and share metrics associated with wellness and health.

App makers and technology companies expanded the range of what users could monitor, from reproductive health to sleep cycles. While the majority of tools and apps focus more on the ‘lifestyle’ aspect of health, the addition of new functionalities and sensors will make hardware more medical.

Other applications of digital healthcare include:

  • Electronic Medical Records: Converting manual health records into digital formats is possible thanks to the digitalization of healthcare. Patients can now share medical records with new doctors instantly and physicians enjoy access to legible, updated patient details. EMR presents a way for hospitals to move away from their reliance on paper-based documentation.
  • Telecommunications Technology: Healthcare providers and patients connect via the Internet. VoIP video-based platforms and emails help patients make appointments or receive medical advice from home instead of visiting the clinic in-person. Doctors can use the technology to easily communicate with one another.
  • Medical Experiments: Earlier, it would take months or even years to conduct medical experiments. Now scientists take weeks since several online platforms allow doctors to crowdsource a diagnosis for complicated medical cases.
  • Practice Management System: Administrative staff perform daily tasks on PMS software to support the practice. Practice management software is designed to make healthcare organizations run more efficiently with less manual processes. From patient demographics to appointment scheduling, coding and billing to reports for practice analysis, PMS does it all.
  • mHealth: Mobile health is the practice of public health and medicine supported by mobile gadgets including smartphones, tablets, wireless infrastructure, and personal digital assistants. In the realm of digital healthcare, mHealth encompasses every application of multimedia and telecommunications technologies for the delivery of health information and healthcare. mHealth initiatives worldwide have demonstrated the effectiveness of using mobile devices to deliver health solutions in a low-cost manner.
  • Personalized Medicine: The principle of switching healthcare focus from diagnosis to treatment around a patient, catering to their distinct physiology. Digital healthcare takes personalized medicine a step further by promising virtual representations of individuals on whom every known drug for the person’s condition can be tried. This helps figure out optimal treatment and ensures the real person undergoes preventive measures.

Click here for Part 2 of the series explaining the popularity, outlook, and concerns of digital healthcare.