The Health Sector Faces a Third Technological Revolution

The health sector finds itself in a third age of technological revolution.

The world’s largest companies are now leading an IT transformation, which is having a major impact on all sectors. For example, the digital transformation at Amazon has resulted in the company being able to recommend specific products to about half of its US customers before they even click “buy”. Just as the second wave of information technology brought about automation, with computers processing huge amounts of data in accounting and payroll systems, this third age is bringing advanced machine learning (a branch of artificial intelligence) to transform everything from medicine to education. The potential benefits are immense; but there also great challenges for healthcare providers who need to prepare for these changes ahead of time.

In our new report, “The Third Age of IT: How Technology Is Transforming the Health Sector,” we describe how healthcare organizations will need to adapt in three fundamental areas: they must think differently about their business model and leadership; create a more agile and adaptable workforce; and foster a culture of patient-centricity.

First, as the report suggests, they must think differently about their business model and leadership. In a time of disrupted models, both incumbents and new entrants face challenges in competing for market share. Leadership will be more important than ever as organizations need to know what is required for success – through a combination of analytics and foresight. Robust data about patients, control over the entire value chain, and access to capital will all be crucial for success. This is especially true when it comes to innovating in an area where current products are often commoditized or positioned as cheaper alternatives.

Second, organizations must create a more agile and adaptable workforce. Human-machine partnerships already exist in many industries, but as the report suggests it is hard to see how healthcare institutions will be able to deploy solutions without a comprehensive IT architecture. This means that “digital natives” – those brought up with technology from childhood – will have an advantage in developing these new skill sets and adapting them for future challenges.

Finally, organizations must foster a culture of patient-centricity. Health organizations have traditionally been complex structures, but this has often led to siloed thinking rather than collaboration between different stakeholders. Many providers are still struggling with the idea of working as an integrated team, especially when it comes to breaking down barriers around sharing information securely between different parts of the healthcare ecosystem.

Yet this is essential in order to utilize the full potential of technology, which will enable new ways of working with patients. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning offer an unprecedented ability to process data and transform information into actionable insights. For example, organizations are beginning to use wearable devices to track vital signs or DNA samples taken at home for DNA sequencing. This would allow healthcare providers to act earlier, potentially preventing crises before they occur. Giving patients access to their own health data could also remove the “blind spot” that exists when organizations rely solely on patient feedback or interactions with clinicians.

Healthcare organizations do not stand alone in this journey, but are better served by adopting a “coopetition” mindset and working with other providers and new entrants. We already see this in some areas, such as the application of blockchain to enable secure patient record sharing across different organizations.

The report makes seven key Healthcare organizations do not stand alone in this journey, but are better served by adopting a “coopetition” mindset and working with other providers and new entrants. We already see this in some areas, such as the application of blockchain to enable secure patient record sharing across different organizations.

recommendations: 

• Health organizations must improve digital infrastructure. This means that they will need to think about how best to apply technology at the moment that the technology itself is still in transition. The health sector faces a third revolution that will require providers to adapt their IT architecture and foster digital skills, as well as develop a culture of collaboration between organizations.

• Business models must be transformed. Healthcare companies will need to embrace new business models based on data analytics and AI to create real value for patients.

• The use of technology must be transparent. To engender trust, it is imperative that each patient understands how their data is being used and by whom. It is also important to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks when dealing with sensitive personal information like medical records. There will need to be clear data-sharing policies in place, with consideration given to the regulatory environment.

• New technology must protect privacy and security. It is vital that organizations ensure that their use of data is compliant with relevant regulations, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018.

• Digital skills are key for all workers within healthcare organizations. For doctors and nurses to feel comfortable using new technologies, they will need to have a strong grasp of digital skills. This means that all staff must be trained to use these tools and understand their benefits, as well as the risks involved in sharing personal data.

• Patient engagement is essential. In order for these changes to take place successfully, organizations must work with patients—ensuring they are aware of the benefits offered by new technologies, understand how their data is being used, and have access to the appropriate tools.

• Change management skills are vital. As each organization will need to implement change differently due to their size and current position within the industry , it is important that they have a clear understanding of how best to move forward.

• This will be a collaborative process. All parties, including industry leaders, providers, patients, and regulators will have to forge new partnerships to successfully navigate these changes. Collaboration will underpin this transformation.

Key recommendations for health organizations include improving digital infrastructure, embracing new business models based on data analytics and AI to create real value for patients, using technology in a way that is transparent, protecting privacy and security with clear data-sharing policies, developing strong digital skills among all workers, and engaging with patients.

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