The adoption of digital and technological advancements in healthcare has been up to the mark at all times. Doctors work toward implementing robotics, while patients look into personalized apps and solutions to facilitate their connection to the system. Yet, the digitalization levels of healthcare systems vary tremendously depending on the continent, region, and country, as the 2020 experience showed. This year will see new challenges associated with the implementation of tech advancements into healthcare, but before getting there, let’s define the concept of digital transformation in healthcare and its current state.

What digital transformation in healthcare is about?

The definition of digital transformation states that it is the adoption of digital technologies in a business with the purpose of its change and improvement. The idea seems to be clear, yet it does not provide what it means for healthcare in particular. The industry is expected to value $210 billion by 2025, so this should be a big deal, right? The world has been talking about healthcare digital transformation trends for quite some time, and in 2020, we saw many perks like wide telemedicine spread across the globe. But is that it? Or maybe digital transformation is something else?

The truth is, the concept of healthcare digitalization is applicable in every aspect of the industry, in every specialization, and at every level. Here are a couple of examples on what digital transformation may mean:

  • Implementation of new technologies to make healthcare affordable and accessible to anyone.
  • Introduction of tech advancements into healthcare for greater investment.
  • Digitalization of health records.
  • Development of a unified patient database for all countries around the globe.
  • Collection and analysis of data from health-related tech devices.
  • Research of newer security solutions for digital records and transmittable health data.
  • Evolution of the IoT in hospitals and its expansion to the home-based devices.

For every employee, company, hospital, healthcare system, country, and even individual, healthcare digital transformation would have a different meaning. It depends on their role in the system, national legislation, and the current state of healthcare in their bigger digital transformation strategy. It’s worth taking a look at the events that happened last year before making any predictions about 2021.

How has digital transformation influenced healthcare?

Every year healthcare is challenged with new diseases, greater need for medical services, next-generation payment models, development and complication of the insurance policies, etc.  However, 2020 was out of the ordinary with the pandemic sweeping off feet healthcare systems of all countries . And while COVID-19 set up the new BC (Before-COVID) era, it has also introduced a number of transformational changes in healthcare since March 2020.

Telemedicine / Virtual care

Telemedicine was highly imposed in March last year to save the health of both doctors and patients. In 2017, only 20% of patients were willing to try it, while in the beginning of 2020 it was 30%. Owing to every expert of DevOps companies in Canada, the US, India, Sweden, and Ukraine, special applications, software and browser extensions were developed to support the initiative. And since 86% of patients are satisfied with results, telemedicine is looking to become a new normal rather than a passing trend.

Communication

Patient-doctor or doctor-doctor relations have always been handled in person and on paper. Such an approach heavily complicated patient’s contact with the healthcare system in general since to get any information, they had to pay a visit to a healthcare professional and hand-copy all the medical records. Computers and the internet made the work of caregivers much easier; yet, the patient-doctor communication was still handled offline in most cases. The restrictions of 2020 made the whole world communicate in distance and significantly promoted the implementation of patient portals for hospitals and healthcare institutions as well as their adoption among patients. Now, a lot of prescription renewals, general questions, pieces of advice, and check-ups are managed through the portals. Moreover, since most facilities currently incorporate chats and video calls with medical practitioners, patients literally have a doctor at an arm’s length at all times.

Accessibility of healthcare

Medical staff had to get additional training last year to deliver high-quality service to the patients via new tech solutions. About 50% of citizens started to track their health with the wearables more closely to monitor personal health and address any arising issues on time. Physicians and students, in their turn, started accepting data from the wearables as clinically valuable. As a result, a great number of articles and guides were published in 2020 to help patients monitor their health and spot any red flags instantly, making healthcare more accessible than ever. 

Predictive analytics

COVID-19 taught the world an important lesson – to look ahead and be prepared for everything. The need for predictive analytics boosted the development of tools to forecast the potential threat of the virus, the hospital’s incoming patients, and the overall state of affairs. For instance, temperature and humidity data in the US was used to predict COVID-19 surges, GPS data from applications was utilized for tracking potential cross-infection, and even a simple risk calculator was devised to project the testing results and outcomes for a patient. 

Digital front door

Many hospitals around the world invested in the development of user-friendly and intuitive digital experiences for their patients. They had to lay off people due to the pandemic, yet invested thousands of dollars into new tech solutions. The trend that started in 2020 is expected to extend into the upcoming decade because today, these are websites, personalized apps, special patient portals, etc. that welcome a newcomer to a medical facility or doctor’s office. This system is now a front door of healthcare. And if it’s hard to open, no one would bother trying twice.

The challenges in 2021

The challenges of 2020 will most probably remain this year as well. The struggle to improve the digital experience of patients, provide greater virtual support, and predict the pandemic spread are all here because the virus is still ruling the world. However, 2021 is bringing out the next-step issues that healthcare will be facing. And here is what one can expect. 

  • EHRs and their implementation worldwide

Owing to the global necessity to monitor, control, and track people’s relocations and movements as well as COVID-19 risks, the global healthcare system will continue working on the implementation of a single database of electronic health records. The blockchain technology is expected to help with providing security and ease of access at this point.

  • Data security

Protection of personal records transferred worldwide can and will be handled via blockchain. However, since the technology is still not widely accepted and understood, it is projected that a special product development company will manage data security for a governmental or private healthcare institution to prevent any breaches in the system. Such collaborations of healthcare with the IT world will only advance in 2021.

  • On-demand healthcare

On-demand healthcare includes the increased use of mobile devices for the past 5 years, the constant relocations of people, and the more agile lifestyle even in the times of pandemic. Patients now care about mobility and the possibility to get everything here and now, this is why on-demand and telemedicine will continue to thrive bringing new tech solutions into the growing market. This includes the development of new apps (mobile apps in particular), platforms, and software for connecting patients with their doctors. 

  • Wider implementation of VR for treatment

The user of virtual reality for pain treatment, for instance, is not breaking news. It is also known to relieve stress levels and feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The implementation of VR in many hospitals and healthcare centers is still a struggle due to the cost of hardware required. Yet, since this year several manufacturers have already launched production of cheaper headsets to bring VR to the mass market, the closer connection of VR and healthcare in 2021 is guaranteed. 

  • Hospitals management 4.0

Lack of real-time interventions, ineffective communication, and interoperability of the system or information overload are among the top challenges in hospital management. Luckily, the new era of hospital operations management is already here, even though not in full force. Hospital management 4.0 includes four aspects: communication of all hospital data (administrative, clinical, purchasing, finance, logistics, etc.) in real time without disruptions; end-to-end process organization to minimize trigger-actions among patients; digital networking via IoT and IoS; patient-centered services. While many institutions are already working on the adaptation of IoT or trying to focus on the patient more, the effort of implementing the rest of 4.0 components will definitely become a priority for the healthcare of 2021 and even further.

Healthcare system has a long way to go making itself accessible and comfortable for patients as well as technologically savvy in all regions of the world. The current common enemy, that is pandemic, showed that it should go beyond borders and politics. With this trend in mind, the industry will continue working towards the better, safer, and healthier future for people through the means of technological advancement.