What is Digital Transformation in Healthcare? A 2022 Guide

2 Jun 2022

Digital transformation has been slowly changing the healthcare industry for decades. But the arrival of COVID-19 accelerated this rapidly. 

In fact, funding for digital health companies increased by 72% in the US in 2020 compared to 2018. But what is digital transformation? How will it affect my healthcare business? And how is it impacting the industry more widely?

In this guide, you’ll find an introduction to digital transformation in healthcare, why it’s important, key advantages and examples of technologies being used today. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what the digital landscape looks like for the healthcare sector in 2022.

What is digital transformation in healthcare?

Digital transformation in healthcare is the term used to describe how organizations are using technology to improve outcomes for patients, healthcare professionals and the industry at large. It refers to how technology is adapting processes, culture and patient experiences. 

Increasingly, organizations are using technology to change how they work. As a result, they aim to make treatment more consumer-centric and increase efficiency for healthcare professionals

They’re also using technology to provide unique insights that weren’t as readily available before.

What are the four main areas of digital transformation?

These four areas are used by any business to transform digitally, but can be applied in both private and public healthcare contexts too.

1. Process

How can technology help processes to become more efficient, cost-effective and produce better results?

In healthcare, this can refer to technology improving administrative processes. For example, AI is being used to streamline how patients book appointments. It can also automatically scan through patient records and help physicians to compile reports, saving them valuable time.

(You can learn more about this topic in our guide to AI in healthcare). 

If processes are more efficient, this can open up more time for administrators, physicians and more to spend time on more valuable tasks. It can also significantly reduce workload for doctors, helping them to achieve a healthier work-life balance.

2. Culture

A question healthcare organizations need to ask themselves as they transform digitally is: how will this affect our culture?

Effective leadership, change management and teamwork will be required to pull off any change in an organization, especially the large overhauls that digital transformation requires. 

As healthcare organizations adapt to new technology, it will be crucial that they do so in a way that retains their culture. Emotional intelligence will also be essential to make sure everyone’s needs are taken into consideration.

3. Business Model

Technology can change an organization’s entire business model. For example, Netflix used technology to transform how they distributed video. 

In healthcare, organizations are using technology to redefine how they deliver treatment and consultations. 

For example, telemedicine is becoming increasingly common. Technology is enabling people to attend doctor’s appointments virtually or over the phone, providing lots of benefits to physicians and patients alike.

4. Domain Transformation

In business, domain transformation is where companies successfully move into another area. For example, Amazon now provides cloud computing and infrastructure services as well as being an ecommerce platform. 

Digital transformation will allow healthcare organizations to expand into new areas and markets, such as virtual reality.

Increasingly, VR is being used to treat a range of diseases and conditions. For example, AppliedVR is using VR just got approval from the FDA to start using VR to treat lower back pain.

Why is digital transformation important in healthcare?

It’s Patient-Centric

Digital technology puts patients at the heart of healthcare.  

Technology can make healthcare more accessible, meaning patients have access to advice whenever they need it, which can save lives and point them towards the most appropriate service. Technology also makes home monitoring easier, for example for people living with diabetes.

It Can Inform Decision-Making

Technology can help inform key decision-making at a national and policy level. 

Better and more accurate data can help policymakers understand larger trends and predict how the healthcare landscape may change in the future.

This means they can adapt their policies to reflect this, making them both reactive and future-proof.

It Improves Communication and Education

Technology can be used to send information, messages and appointment reminders to patients. 

As this technology becomes more sophisticated, it will enhance the patient experience, and give them access to more knowledge and resources to take a more active role in their health and wellbeing. This will help them to manage some symptoms by themselves.

What benefit does digital transformation provide for healthcare organizations?

Improved Efficiency

Digital transformation enables healthcare organizations to improve efficiency by eliminating or streamlining processes, reducing duplication of work and automating certain tasks.

This can save hours of time every week, meaning administrators and physicians can focus on tasks that require human input. It can also save on costs and means these resources can be allocated elsewhere.

New Systems for Delivering Care

Technology can help integrate different healthcare systems more effectively.

For example, ‘longitudinal’ health care records are supporting data transfer between different healthcare systems in Leeds, England. 

This means patient data can be shared much more easily, so they receive the right treatment from the right service at the right time. This integrated approach will ensure people don’t rely on hospitals as a first port of call, and instead seek out the most appropriate form of care.

New Insights

Big data, machine learning and AI can all provide unique data and insights to help healthcare professionals.

This can be on an individual level, like physicians using data to help diagnose and treat disease, or on a global level. It can help predict pandemics and inform policy on a national scale to cope with trends in certain diseases.

Technology can help integrate different healthcare systems more effectively.

For example, ‘longitudinal’ health care records are supporting data transfer between different healthcare systems in Leeds, England. 

This means patient data can be shared much more easily, so they receive the right treatment from the right service at the right time. This integrated approach will ensure people don’t rely on hospitals as a first port of call, and instead seek out the most appropriate form of care.

Advantages of digital transformation for patients

Safety and Quality of Care

Technology can reduce clinical errors, making some treatments safer. For example, AI robots are being used in surgery to enhance precision and accuracy, reducing the effects of human error. 

It can also provide patients with the most appropriate form of care as quickly as possible. Telehealth provides people with access to medical advice without the need for them to travel, for example. 

Some services like Spring Health are even using AI to match users with the most appropriate treatment for their mental health.

Diagnosis and Prevention

Thanks to AI, diagnosis and prevention of disease can be improved, allowing people to be healthier for longer. 

Big data and AI modelling will be able to more accurately predict whether patients are at risk of certain diseases, so treatment can be started as early as possible. In one study, AI diagnosed breast cancer more effectively than physicians.

Accessible Information

Digital transformation online will make accessing information easier. 

Improving the user experience on websites – like accessibility for visually impaired users – will ensure everyone can read accurate, reliable medical advice online before contacting a physician or primary health service. 

This will empower and educate people to make the right choices for their health.

What are key drivers for digital transformation in the healthcare industry?

Unpredictable Healthcare Trends

The COVID-19 pandemic was an unpredictable event which had wide implications for the healthcare industry. 

It forced much of the healthcare workforce to work remotely. This posed many challenges, such as communication, hiring and onboarding new team members, and adapting to new workflows.

From a patient perspective, it meant people were more cautious about accessing healthcare in person, meaning some doctor’s appointments were delivered remotely instead.

This forced the industry to find new ways to utilize technology to provide care, and scale the use of technology which existed previously.

Increased Cyber Attacks

According to one study, there was a 9,851% increase in healthcare cyberattacks in 2020 compared to 2019.

Healthcare organizations are working with more data than ever before. As a result, digital transformation is needed to help organize, process and secure this data. 

Patient records contain private information. Some data is also crucial for physicians to make life-saving decisions. As a result, digital transformation is necessary to protect this data from breaches.

Misinformation Online

Increasingly, people turn to Google and other search engines to find solutions to their healthcare problems. Despite improvements to search engine algorithms, there’s still a lot of misinformation online, as well as on social media platforms like Facebook. 

Digital transformation is needed to ensure patients get accurate information, so they don’t make decisions that could harm their wellbeing.

Work-Life Balance

Physicians and other healthcare professionals experience a poor work-life balance. As a result, this is leading to burnout and other mental health conditions in the workforce. 

Digital transformation is helping to streamline processes, so healthcare professionals have a reduced workload and more time to look after their own health.

Examples of digital transformation in healthcare

Telemedicine

Telemedicine has been one of the most prominent examples of digital transformation in the past five years. Examples include virtual doctor’s appointments, which can be taken over the phone or via video call. Patients can also have therapy sessions virtually, too. 

In fact, research has found that 83% of patients expect to continue to use virtual appointments after the pandemic.

Other examples of telemedicine include retrieving information about prescriptions over email or text message. This saves time for people who usually have to travel for appointments, and reduces time spent in waiting rooms as well.

Wearable Technology

This includes commercial devices, like Fitbits and Apple Watches. One of their key selling points is that they can help you monitor metrics like heart rate and calories burned. 

Wearable technology also includes devices for specific conditions. For example, Oximeters can monitor oxygen levels in the blood for patients with asthma.

Online Portals

With online portals, patients have a personalized dashboard where they can see information about their overall health. 

They can review health records, book appointments, see results from tests and share data with healthcare providers.

Virtual Reality

This technology hasn’t been adopted widely yet, but is increasingly being used to treat a range of conditions. For example, it’s being used to help patients learn anger management techniques.

Simulation

Digital transformation is also benefiting medical education. Augmented reality (AR) is being used to help medical students learn how to diagnose a range of health conditions. 

Maudsley Learning is home to the UK’s first mental health simulation centre. They’re using technology to ‘simulate’ scenarios and help healthcare professionals manage patients with mental health conditions. 

These are just a few examples of digital transformation. To learn more, read our guide to the latest medical technologies in 2022.

Why digital transformation matters

Digital transformation in healthcare is helping us adapt to a changing world after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s preventing cyberattacks and improving the healthcare system for all: patients, professionals and organizations more broadly. 

Digital transformation won’t happen overnight. Investment, time and patience will be required to integrate technology into healthcare organizations. There will also need to be a cultural shift more broadly, where patients are willing and ready to adapt to these new systems.

However, our rapid response to COVID-19 has proven that a lot can change in a small amount of time.

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