Covid-19 has been a catalyst for digital transformation across the board, but the sector that experienced this most acutely is healthcare. The sudden influx of patients and the sudden rise in demand for care caused by the virus exposed just how inefficient paper-based and legacy IT systems were.
With vaccinations being rolled-out, and an end to lockdown restrictions finally in sight, what can we expect next when it comes to digital transformation in the post-Covid healthcare sector?
New technologies such as the cloud, Blockchain or VR coupled with higher computational power will change the delivery of healthcare to personalized medicine, preventive care and a humanized experience. There are also new and emerging business models that are leading to newer sets of tech and business process interventions to create innovative products and services.
Looking ahead, the health sector will continue to undergo dramatic transformation, with technologies such as 5G, AI and the cloud reigning supreme.
The state of digital healthcare before Covid-19
Even before the global pandemic, consumerism in patient care and tech advances have
gently nudged forward the mandate on virtual healthcare. Consumer demand for accessible and time-saving health services were on the rise but it has always been viewed as ‘nice to have’. Indeed, until the outbreak of Covid-19, there was little sense of urgency within the sector to leverage smarter technology. In the months leading up to the pandemic, only 48.4 percent of UK health organizations’ customer engagements were digital.
No one anticipated the scale at which Covid-19 would hit, and so hospitals and health care systems quickly became overwhelmed as a huge strain was put on beds, supplies and staff. It became apparent that changes needed to be made to services, testing processes, health plan coverage and locating in-network providers for care. Covid-19 created pressure on the health sector that was a catalyst for further innovation.
The impact of teleconsultations
The impact of leveraging innovative technologies within healthcare cannot be underestimated. Teleconsultations, for example, became increasingly common in 2020 with adoption rates rising to 43 percent, compared to the 32 percent recorded in 2019. Teleconsultations became a way to bridge the gap between patients and doctors.
Teleconsultations allowed physicians to attend to more patients through virtual visits, provided rural communities with access to specialist care and provided access to treatment while patients were in quarantine.
Covid-19 has shown that teleconsultations offered healthcare professionals a wider geographical reach by allowing patients and physicians to virtually connect irrespective of location. Additionally, it also helped reduce the time required per consultation. On average, physicians who use telemedicine are seeing a 20 percent reduction in visit time, with over half of patients in the UK considering using remote consultations in the future after their experience during Covid-19.
Leveraging AI, 5G and the cloud
While teleconsultation helped bridge the gap between doctors and patients, technologies like AI, 5G and the cloud also enabled huge developments in data, diagnosis and remote patient care through 2020.
Take AI for example. During the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the virus’ characteristics were unknown and medical professionals received high volumes of data in a short amount of time. By implementing AI solutions, doctors and physicians were able to speed up the process of managing and analyzing data, allowing for a quick turn-around in aspects such as diagnosis and most recently, vaccinations.
Additionally, cloudification was a game-changer for the way that health institutions functioned as a whole, proving its agility, scalability and efficiency. NHS Digital, for example, which was first announced in 2018, has since completed the world’s largest-ever enterprise email migration - moving more than 2.1 million NHS email servers to the cloud.
Research by Broadsoft revealed that 41 percent of data insufficiencies within the sector were due to hospitals functioning on different platforms. By leveraging the cloud to store data using a single infrastructure, 64 percent of hospitals globally found that it helped in cutting costs, improved data security and compliance, and helped to streamline management. As patients and doctors alike became increasingly digital, cloudification has been a data savior.
5G will also see significant growth in the health sector. Development of 5G use cases accelerated due to the increase in remote and real-time patient care, and this shows no signs of slowing down. The UK government is already investing in projects to identify real-life use cases, such as the £3.2 million funding received by Edinburgh Napier University to leverage 5G to develop hearing aids. Moreover, leading telecoms companies are also investing heavily in 5G for healthcare. O2, for example, is working on a ‘Smart Ambulance’ trial which aims to revolutionize patient treatment and reduce hospital numbers by leveraging 5G.
5G’s ability to support new services and cutting-edge applications with its low latency and ultrafast connectivity will enable access to expert care whenever and wherever the patient needs it - making healthcare more efficient and accessible to those that need it most.
The next wave of healthcare’s digital transformation
“The pandemic has exposed our ‘unhealthy’ shortcomings. But what the pandemic has shown us is how we can make healthcare go further.” - Ali Parsa, Founder and CEO of Babylon Health
Covid-19 helped identify gaps within the health sector and the path of transformation will focus on:
- Reimagining the role of technology with business-backed vision focused on user-centric products
- Reinventing technology delivery through agility at scale powered by As-a-Service models
- Future-proofing the foundation through modern platforms and modular architecture
- Improving time-to-market, reliability and quality through digital production, R&D and supply chain
Technologies like AI, 5G and the cloud have proved their ability in diagnosis and treatment but, most importantly, they have given people better access to medical care than ever before.
Looking ahead, health institutions across the globe will continue to embrace new technologies to develop future-proof solutions. The pandemic has taught us just how critical the deployment of emerging technology is within the healthcare sector and I predict that we are only at the beginning of healthcare’s journey to being a digital-first industry.
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Jacob Paul, UK Head of Healthcare and Life Sciences, Tech Mahindra