The healthcare industry is adopting digital transformation at an exponentially increasing rate. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every facet of our society, and people and businesses around the world have found new ways to adapt and move forward. Being on the front lines, the healthcare industry has seen some of the most significant changes. But, digital transformation in healthcare isn’t just a way to improve efficiency or boost profits. It can actually directly improve the outcomes of patient care, impacting quality of life and extending life expectancy for many people around the world.

The pandemic has highlighted the need to embrace digital transformation, and according to research by Dell Technologies, 84 percent of healthcare executives have relied on data and intelligent technologies for new insights during the last year. No effort at advancement happens without an openness to innovation and change. And often, the best way to embrace change is by looking to others who have done it first. Let’s look at some ways healthcare organizations have learned to adapt to change that can serve as inspiration in the push for digital transformation.

Embracing Telehealth

Many trends that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic require innovation for a different type of customer experience. For example, the practice of social distancing and avoiding in-person trips to hospitals and health clinics has led to the use of telehealth for remote doctor’s visits. According to the U.S. CDC, 95 percent of health centers have used telehealth during the pandemic — compared with just 43 percent who said they had the ability to offer telehealth in 2019.

The Impact of AI

AI has had a longtime presence in healthcare in many small contexts, such as using chatbots for initial assessments, etc. But the technology’s potential goes far beyond that, and we are seeing more and more examples of AI revolutionizing the way patients are diagnosed and treated. In August 2020, for example, Swedish researchers unveiled a new AI algorithm that can diagnose breast cancer with the same accuracy as human radiologists. Innovations like this can hugely improve patient outlooks, especially for underserved and rural populations who haven’t always been able to receive sufficient healthcare.

Removing Data Silos

Healthcare has always had issues with recording patient information and making it easy to share and access across different teams, departments, and organizations. These silos make it incredibly difficult to provide patients with a high quality of care, and they can also lead to costly mistakes. As a result, the access to transparent data is more important than ever for healthcare organizations to achieve their intended goals. Many organizations are revolutionizing their approach toward data management, including digitizing incoming data and legacy data, creating more unified workflows, and developing IT infrastructure to allow for more rapid growth. CareSource, a non-profit managed healthcare plan provider, removed data silos by switching to real-time information access. This opened the doors to increased agility, interoperability, and accessibility for its members, network of doctors, and healthcare providers.

Examples of Big Data Solutions in Healthcare

Cutting edge healthcare organizations have been able to think outside the box when it comes to traditional business goals and outdated legacy models. This has opened up new possibilities and room to take advantage of recent shifts and upheavals to adopt new digital technologies. Some of these include:

Predictions for Improved Staffing

One common problem healthcare organizations face is how many people to put on staff in any given time period. Big data is helping to solve this problem. A white paper by Intel shows how four hospitals that are part of the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux in Paris have used data from various sources to come up with daily and hourly predictions of how many patients are expected to be at each hospital. From this information, they can work out how many staff members would be required for that number of patients, and schedule accordingly.

Researching Cures for Cancer

Another interesting example of the use of big data in healthcare is President Obama’s Cancer Moonshot program. His goal was to accomplish 10 years’ worth of progress towards curing cancer in just 5 years.

In the Moonshot program, medical researchers are using large amounts of data from cancer patients’ treatment plans and recovery rates to identify treatments with the highest success rates. For example, researchers can examine tumor samples in biobanks and analyze these next to their linked patient treatment records. Using this data, they can evaluate how certain mutations and cancer proteins interact with different treatments and find trends that will lead to better patient outcomes. This data has led to some surprise benefits, such as finding that Desipramine, which is an antidepressant, can actually help cure certain types of lung cancer.

Electronic Health Records (EHR)

EHRs are the most widespread application of big data already in practice in healthcare. Patients have their own digital record which includes demographics, medical history, allergies, laboratory test results, etc. Records are available for providers from both the public and private sectors and doctors can edit the records over time with no paperwork and no danger of lost data or data replication.

Kaiser Permanente is making great strides with EHRs in the U.S. and could provide a model for the EU, which, at this point, is lagging behind in this area. Kaiser Permanente uses a system called HealthConnect that shares data across all of their facilities and makes it easier to use EHRs.

Real-Time Alerting

Most examples of data analytics in healthcare rely on real-time alerting. Analytics, noted as one of the business world’s buzzwords in 2019, may become part of a new strategy. Wearables, for example, collect patients’ health data continuously and send this data to the cloud. This information is shared to different state’s health databases, which allow doctors to compare this data in context and modify treatment strategies accordingly. One example is Asthmapolis, which has started to use inhalers with GPS-enabled trackers in order to locate trends in asthma reporting and treatment both on an individual level and looking at larger populations.

Final Thoughts

Healthcare is undergoing a radical digital transformation. Organizations need to have the agility to meet changes and challenges head-on, and that means embracing digital transformation initiatives and investing more into the innovations currently in place. These changes can serve as inspiration for the healthcare industry as a whole to adopt a more innovative approach to healthcare delivery, leading to more favorable patient outcomes worldwide.

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