“Some 40 percent of US healthcare consumers now use digital technologies in all aspects of their daily lives, or strive to do so. They expect this digital, convenient, customized, non-stop experience in healthcare. And they won’t hesitate to switch providers if they find a better service elsewhere.” — Fit for tomorrow, Research paper by Accenture (2016).
Evolving customer expectations and needs are setting the bar high for business owners. Stagnation in the face of digital disruption means being at risk of losing customers and revenue. For smart, more forward-looking companies, that is all the impetus required for increasing investment in digital transformation.
Client-oriented business domains such as retail, travel, and finance were among the first to adapt to the new market conditions, as we have already pointed out in previous articles from the Digital Transformation Stories series. Healthcare is no exception to this phenomenon. So, let’s look at the major digital trends transforming healthcare and how some leading brands are already capitalizing on them.
Digitization Strategies in Healthcare and Pharma
From medicine distribution to hospital management, healthcare has recently undergone some significant changes. The major drivers fueling innovation in healthcare are the cost and efficiency of services provided. In this regard, some of the most popular approaches to addressing these challenges are:
- Automated clinic management
Digitally-enabled hospitals prove to be more efficient and cost-effective due to streamlined, orderly internal processes managed by the programs. Plus, such hospitals present as being extremely customer-oriented as evidenced by simplified appointment process, accessibility of patient data (more on that later), reduced waiting times, and other pluses.
One of the major aspects of “paperless” hospitals is the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). Instead of storing reams of paper records, test results, MRI scans, prescriptions, examination notes, and other info on the shelf at the doctor’s office, hospitals are actively digitizing this data, allowing for better accessibility and accuracy.
According to the survey conducted by SK&A, 2 out of 3 physicians in the US were using EHR solutions as of March 2017 (up 1 percent compared to September 2016).
Source — EHR Adoption Trends: Current & Historical Insights, SK&A Report (2017)
As a result of EHR adoption, many healthcare providers are currently focusing on highly personalized “precision” medicine. Based on deep insights sourced from the patient’s specifics, previous clinical records, genetic background or similar cases, healthcare providers can significantly increase treatment accuracy and thus improve outcomes.
Being able to connect with the doctors despite distance or busy schedules is another benefit of digital healthcare. From connecting with a specialist to get a professional consultation from the comfort of your couch to getting complex surgery performed by a robot remotely operated by a famous doctor from across the world, telemedicine has huge potential to transform healthcare.
Just like any other industry, healthcare was compelled to respond to the massive adoption of mobile technologies by consumers. Accenture, for example, finds that the use of wearables and mobile technologies in healthcare has doubled in the last 2 years.
Source — Accenture Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement (2016)
Basic features like making appointments on the go, checking prescriptions, or getting medication reminders are highly appreciated by today’s patients. Moreover, various wearable devices can contribute to patient monitoring, even saving lives.
- Data analytics and security
There are many use cases for data science in healthcare. The data sourced from EHRs and patient profiles has the potential to significantly improve diagnostic accuracy, leading to better medical decisions, treatment outcomes, and contributing to breakthrough research. However, healthcare providers need to take good care of patient personal data. Ponemon Institute finds that data breaches cost the healthcare industry $6.2 billion per year. Thus, innovative security technologies are in high demand in healthcare.
As we can clearly see, digital transformation impacts both the customer and healthcare’s operational aspects. While patient care becomes more proactive, convenient, and accurate, hospitals are becoming more efficient, adding even more value to the healthcare providers. To see the listed trends in action, let’s consider several examples of the healthcare companies with winning digitization strategies.
Amgen Inc.: Establishing a Solid Foundation for Innovations
Amgen, an independent biotechnology company with $120.6 billion market cap, is one of the companies that pioneered digital health. Its adoption of EHRs, wearables, and cloud computing has largely transformed the organization, serving as a foundation for further innovations.
The biopharmaceutical company has built an iPad-based application that provides the latest info on Amgen products. The app also offers advanced support features, allowing doctors to connect directly with the company representatives and get their questions answered efficiently. Another mobile product uses instant messaging to connect doctors with their patients, reminding them to take medicine and stay on their therapy.
Source — Amgen Medical Information app on AppStore
While Amgen’s internal business operations are largely automated, the company is looking to transform its patient-focused operations as well. To achieve this, Amgen has already launched the data-driven, personalized patient care initiative. Having a vast database of clinical trial results, they will combine that information with the real-world EHR data and apply complex mathematical models to help healthcare providers predict treatment outcomes beforehand and make better decisions.
Additionally, the company invests heavily in other innovative projects outside of the organization, including Israeli digital health incubator eHealth Ventures.
Pfizer Inc.: Driving the ePharma Industry Forward
Another global pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer Inc., has a solid track record of successful digital initiatives. As a part of its digital transformation strategy, the company modernized most of its 35 enterprise products, migrating them to the cloud. By improving their efficiency, the company has been able to reduce operating costs for both the IT department and the whole organization by about $1.5 billion. Their Center of Excellence of analytics is an award-winning initiative, using numerous pools of clinical data to create more efficient medicine.
Back in 2011, the company made a big bet on the Internet of Things developing an experimental Parkinson’s treatment. Collaborating with the IBM Watson team, the company was developing a sensor-enabled remote patient monitoring system that would make it possible to track patient health and activity in their day-to-day life outside of the clinical trial labs.
The clinical trials, scheduled for 2019, were cancelled due to low enrollment. Despite that, the project allowed Pfizer to use this experience in their future undertakings and help other companies learn from their experience. Plus, remote/virtual trials remain a promising opportunity in the increasingly digitalized healthcare and pharma industry.
As many other companies, Pfizer is also involved in a number of outside research initiatives. For example, Project Catalyst, initiated by AARP in cooperation with Pfizer, UnitedHealthcare, and Georgia Tech, aims at promoting consumer-friendly innovation with the major focus on elderly users.
Halifax Health: Investing in Reliability and Efficiency
Halifax Health is one of the leading healthcare providers in Florida, operating 20+ physical locations and serving over 120,000 emergency room patients annually. Founded in 1928, the organization was crippled with outdated IT infrastructure and its limited capacity. Thus, the company decided to start its digital transformation with a complete legacy systems modernization. As a result, Halifax Health migrated 95 percent of its 200 physical servers to the cloud. The company currently operates over 700 virtual servers.
As Tom Stafford, Vice President and CIO at Halifax Health, has stated, “The most important thing we did in the past five years is standardize everything so we have consistency throughout the organization. It allows us to support a large base of users with fewer resources. So even though we have 700 servers, we only need two team members to support them, because every server is exactly the same.”
While server patching used to take up to 40 hours of downtime, this can be now performed in less than 14 hours. Moreover, there was not a single outage of the campus network over the last 3 years due to the upgrade. Thus, the company gained competitive benefits of uninterrupted patient service, increased internal flexibility, and efficiency.
Another major innovation at Halifax Health is aimed at increasing speed and efficiency of communication between physician and patient as well as internal processes. The company invested in providing its employees with Vocera Communication Badges, voice-controlled wearable devices allowing for hands-free communication. These devices serve for voice communication as well as HIPAA-compliant and secure text messaging.
Image source — Vocera.com
After adopting the technology within the emergency department staff, where timely communication is critical, the company saw a significant increase in employee efficiency and satisfaction. Communication processes that usually took 30–45 minutes are completed in seconds. The adoption was also quite high: Within 6 months of implementation, more than 16,000 text conversations and 18,000 alerts were transmitted to the badges.
Partners Healthcare: Betting Big on EHR
A large Boston-based hospital network, Partners Healthcare, is midway to completion of its multi-year digital transformation initiative. The company’s biggest investment to date is its EHR project. While the implementation was initially estimated at $600 million, in the process of development the price eventually doubled, reaching $1.2 billion.
Yet, the company still views this as a reasonable and strategically important investment. According to Keith Jennings, CIO at one of the hospitals in the network, “a project like this, this is not an IT implementation, this is a business transformation.”
The new system is expected to host millions of patient records within the network of 10 hospitals and 6,000 doctors. EHR adoption will first of all have a major impact on employees. Replacing the patchwork of dozens of systems and tools used by different hospitals, it will allow for easy data sharing within the network. This means, a patient will be able to consult with a doctor at any of the hospitals or practices confident that his/her information won’t get lost. It will be saved to the general database, easily accessed by any doctor within the Partners’ network. This has the potential to help doctors avoid medical errors.
Plans for the system include development of a customer-facing web portal, enabling patients to access their records, schedule appointments, and communicate directly with doctors online.
Competing in the Age of Digital Healthcare: First-Hand Experience
While the above-listed cases represent mostly large, enterprise-level organizations, there is ample opportunity for small businesses to join the race. As an example, one of our clients, a practicing Canadian physician, turned to AltexSoft to implement a digital solution to efficiently run his practice.
A custom clinic management tool was needed that was capable of setting appointments, storing patients’ records, and creating invoices. The solution was required to work with different user types and dissimilar access permissions, and still be secure enough to handle personal health data.
The AltexSoft team developed the required solution enabling the client to move all his internal operations to the cloud, providing an easy, efficient way to run the practice. When the owner of the newly developed solution decided to completely change the business model for which the solution was created, AltexSoft deftly expand the product. And now, the custom clinic management tool has been transformed into a successful subscription-based SaaS product.
After several major hospital chains adopted the product, our team has further customized it by adding multi-user features and admin permissions. And before you knew it, our client did not just streamline his own internal operations, but opened new, vibrant revenue streams. (You can read more about this project in our case study — AltexSoft Upscales the Client’s Business through a Custom Clinic Management Tool and Its Further Transformation into a SaaS Product)
Accenture finds that the adoption of digital technologies in healthcare has at least a $60 billion economic value opportunity. While 52 percent of investments in healthcare are aimed at internal efficiency, the research shows that 6 therapeutic areas, including Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes, HIV, and multiple myeloma, might have more potential value in the long-term perspective.
Thus, investing in healthcare digitization may not only increase your bottom line as a business owner, but also give you an opportunity to save lives.
If you are planning to enhance your digital footprint or adapt your business model to modern market demands, finding a reliable and knowledgeable technology consulting partner is a must. This will not only increase your chances for success but also give you a competitive benefit of faster time to market and unlimited future growth.
To learn more about digital transformation success stories across different industries, see other articles from the series.
Originally published at AltexSoft’s blog: “Digital Transformation Stories: How Pfizer and Halifax Health Foster Innovations in Healthcare”