The recent lockdowns and limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation (DX) in the world of healthcare and life sciences, as organizations of all kinds raced to accommodate new challenges to the traditional model of patient care.
In this new environment, a combination of innovative digital technologies and changing perspectives on patient care is redefining the way healthcare is provided and received — and this new paradigm offers both challenges and opportunities for improving patient engagement and commitment throughout the entire healthcare journey.
Digital Transformation and the Future of Healthcare
Digital transformation is a broad term with multiple interpretations, but across all industries, it refers to business innovation through fully integrated digital ecosystems that seamlessly connect all parts of an organization — and connect that organization with everything else.
Although digital transformation has been widely embraced in industries ranging from manufacturing to banking, healthcare has been slower to join the revolution — but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. Before the pandemic struck in the early months of 2020, many healthcare organizations were adopting digital solutions for things like data management, front office tasks, and patient monitoring. The pandemic then imposed such severe constraints on in-person contact that providers had to turn to digital technologies such as telemedicine and at-home monitoring (aka RPM or remote patient monitoring) to stay connected with the patients in their care. Many providers are experimenting with the “Hospital at Home” model to provide better care at a lower cost.
The forced experiment of COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions showed that digital tech could transform the patient experience, making it easier than ever to connect with providers for a telehealth session via computer, a chat on the phone, or setting up a system to monitor health at home with a variety of wearable devices. These changes were so successful that they’re here to stay — and they’re at the core of a new, patient-centered paradigm of healthcare.
Digital Tech Guides a New Kind of Patient Journey
The pandemic upended the traditional model of healthcare, in which doctors prescribe and initiate treatments, and patients receive them. In the altered world of COVID-19, patients depended on the same digital technologies they used for everyday consumer activity to chart their own journey through a healthcare system that, in many cases, they could access only in limited ways.
In-person visits for both serious and routine reasons declined precipitously during the pandemic, which saw a corresponding rise in remote services. Patients who worried about contracting the virus quickly embraced options such as telemedicine appointments, prescription call-ins, and mail delivery or curbside pickup. Along with that, patients with a wide range of health conditions could keep in touch with providers through at-home digital therapeutics that monitor various health metrics and transmit them to providers via mobile apps or software that interfaces with systems used by clinics or hospitals.
In this environment, digital technologies empowered patients in unprecedented ways, often to the discomfort of providers. In earlier times, a patient’s healthcare journey began with the first step through the doors of a clinic or hospital. But today, that journey begins at home. Digitally savvy patients who turn to their devices for making decisions about everyday activities like shopping or family outings now do the same for healthcare. Before seeking care, a patient can Google their symptoms and read reviews of clinics, hospitals, and even individual doctors. They can learn about the side effects of medications and treatments and, if they choose, read the same medical journals and reports their doctors do.
The easy accessibility of health information and a growing trend toward at-home monitoring of health conditions makes patients active participants in their own care. These patients expect to be treated as partners, not simply recipients, in every aspect of their journey through the healthcare system — and providing a quality experience throughout that journey becomes a guiding principle of a new, patient-centered paradigm of care that incorporates lessons learned and technologies deployed during the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.
Re-Engaging Patients With Digital Technologies
The tools of digital transformation are the key to engaging new patients or re-engaging existing ones who have dropped out of the system because of the pandemic or for a variety of other reasons. These tools form the foundation for a model of care that acknowledges a shift from patients as passive receivers of healthcare to active consumers who expect the same responsiveness from their healthcare providers as they do from the online brands and channels they frequent in daily life. That model requires:
Rebuilding trust. Providers need to respond to patient concerns about safety, sanitation, and other pandemic-related issues with respect and empathy. Digital technologies can help patients feel safe and heard, offering ways to accommodate a variety of reasons they might prefer not to make an in-person visit to the doctor. Research reveals that telemedicine tools can be as effective as in-person visits for a variety of conditions, even cancer.
Acknowledging patients as partners in care. Because patients expect to be an active part of their healthcare team, providers need to understand how these patients use digital technologies to learn about their health and make decisions about their care. Recognizing a patient as an active partner boosts compliance and builds trust, and digital tools such as wearable tech, mobile apps, and telemedicine portals can increase their commitment to the entire healthcare journey.
Developing Digital Ecosystems for the Continuum of Care
A digital ecosystem that supports patients across their entire healthcare journey creates the foundation for a quality patient experience. Digital tools make it easier for patients to access care and continue it in convenient ways. With cloud-based record-keeping, essential patient data is available to every provider at every point in a patient’s journey through the system. Those tools also allow providers to consult in real-time, access treatment information instantly, and modify treatment plans immediately in response to changing circumstances.
Digital transformation is disrupting the world of healthcare on every level, and it’s forming the foundation for a new reality in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post-pandemic world, digital technologies are revolutionizing the way healthcare is delivered and consumed — and creating new opportunities for engaging patients as partners in all stages of their healthcare journey.
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