If there’s one thing the world has learned from the last few years, it’s that the healthcare system is one of the most important functions in the world, and any way to alleviate pressure on healthcare organizations is worth exploring.
Digital adoption in the healthcare industry has been increasing steadily since the pandemic, and this trend is likely to continue. Healthcare organizations use big data, artificial intelligence, cloud technology, and other digital tools to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, prepare for future pandemics, and provide better healthcare services.
Our own digital adoption healthcare research reveals that after the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. consumers have rapidly embraced digital health services such as apps and online doctor visits. An impressive number of patients now prefer virtual consultations over physical ones – this preference has only intensified since the pandemic struck.
That’s why, in this article, we’re talking about digital health systems. What are they? Why are they important? And how can healthcare providers promote the adoption of digital health tools?
Healthcare organizations can use digital health systems to collect patient health data, keep electronic health records, and ultimately provide a better healthcare experience to customers.
Digital health adoption is the future of medical care delivery.
But what do providers have to do to bring that future forward and begin reaping the benefits sooner?
What is Digital Healthcare?
Digital healthcare exists at the intersection of technology and health. It is using technology to drive positive outcomes in the healthcare industry.
Digital healthcare encompasses everything from cutting-edge wearable IoT-connected devices to old-school telephony.
Practically speaking, digital healthcare uses tools like computers and smartphones to streamline communications with customers or to provide better healthcare services.
Digital services might use devices with sensors for remote monitoring or for healthcare providers to develop medical products and procedures.
By no means is digital healthcare replacing the profound knowledge of doctors. Rather, it’s enabling medical care providers to do more of what’s important and less of what isn’t.
It’s also a means for consumers to take control of their own healthcare.
These are just a few examples, and the applications of digital technology in the healthcare system are effectively limitless. Here are some more in-depth examples:
Examples of Digital Health Technology
These are some of the broader categories which many digital tools fit into.
Some digital tools will fit into multiple categories, so it’s not a perfect science, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect.
Understanding the broader categories helps us better understand the biggest problems in healthcare that technology is being used to solve. These are the areas where innovation has been the most successful and should be areas targeted by providers looking to promote digital adoption.
Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of internet-connected devices capable of sending, receiving, and processing data locally.
The internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is the network of IoT devices used for virtual care purposes.
IoMT has a wide range of applications, but potentially the most well-known application of this kind of technology was the use of exposure alerts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many governments released smartphone apps where citizens could store Covid-19 vaccination records, order testing kits, and report symptoms.
Location-tracking services in these apps could tell you if you’d been in the vicinity of someone who later tested positive for Covid-19.
Through the power of IoMT, entire nations could communicate to citizens whether they were at risk of Covid-19 exposure.
mHealth is an abbreviation of “mobile health,” It uses mobile devices in virtual care.
Many consumers use mobile health apps to monitor sleep quality, calorie tracking, workout guidance— and any other application imaginable.
While younger generations favor these kinds of tools, mHealth also enables “telehealth,” which is more prevalent among baby boomers. This allows patients to manage appointments and, in some cases, receive virtual care (like CBT) over the phone.
EMRs, EHRs, and Big Data
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are interchangeable terms for digitizing health data. Getting health records out of paper and digital allows health data to be drawn upon by big data.
Data analytics is a powerful tool in any industry, and this is no different.
EHRs are especially useful in cases of rare conditions. It’s much easier to share knowledge about conditions that aren’t well-studied.
For the health system, big data could:
- Reduce medication errors by using machine learning and AI to catch mistakes.
- Enable proactive, preventative medical care through AI-powered remote monitoring, capable of identifying potential health issues before even patients do.
- Help businesses staff more accurately, reducing costs and strain when necessary.
How Does Digital Healthcare Drive Better Healthcare Systems?
Consumer demand for digital health solutions is on the rise. US consumers increasingly use digital health technologies to monitor their health data and manage their care journey.
75% of the UK population goes online for health information. And across the EU, that figure is closer to 48%. But that’s still a massive increase from 16% ten years ago, according to Deloitte.
Digital health is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. But what does it mean for patients and providers?
“…DIGITAL HEALTH IS EMPOWERING US TO BETTER TRACK, MANAGE, AND IMPROVE OUR OWN AND OUR FAMILY’S HEALTH, LIVE BETTER, MORE PRODUCTIVE LIVES, AND IMPROVE SOCIETY.
“IT’S ALSO HELPING TO REDUCE INEFFICIENCIES IN HEALTHCARE DELIVERY, IMPROVE ACCESS, REDUCE COSTS, INCREASE QUALITY, AND MAKE MEDICINE MORE PERSONALIZED AND PRECISE.” PAUL SONNIER
Healthcare is unique from many other industries because the target demographic is, more or less, everyone. It’s also often tied to the state— privatized healthcare systems aren’t as common.
With the rise of the internet came the rapid democratization of healthcare information, and consumers began to take their health into their own hands.
This has led to an increasingly health-conscious society, and organizations would be remiss not to tap into that.
Why Are Digital Health Solutions Important For Healthcare Organizations?
Providers must ensure users fully adopt their digital health tools to see ROI.
Users tend to inherently resist change, which makes it all the more important that you apply strategies to maximize adoption rates. The disaster scenario for healthcare providers is to roll out expensive digital tools, see little to no adoption, and retire the tools.
Furthermore, people are much less trusting of new systems or tools when potential issues could personally affect their health.
Unlike other industries, users have a very personal stake in healthcare. That’s why it can be tricky to drive adoption.
Despite this, digital health solutions are the future for healthcare providers, whether public or private. Kaveh Safavi, who leads Accenture’s global health practice, says:
“CONSUMERS INCREASINGLY EXPECT TO USE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES TO CONTROL WHEN, WHERE, AND HOW THEY RECEIVE CARE SERVICES.”
As in other industries, healthcare businesses focusing on technology rationalization will survive and thrive. Those that don’t face extinction.
“OBSERVING CONSUMER DEMAND IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER, AS PATIENTS BECOME MORE FICKLE ABOUT HOW THEY ACCESS THEIR HEALTHCARE…
PROVIDERS AND PAYERS THAT ENABLE CONSUMERS TO ACCESS POPULAR FEATURES, SUCH AS BOOKING APPOINTMENTS ONLINE, AI-POWERED HEALTH APPS, AND VIRTUAL VISITS, WILL BE MORE LIKELY TO RETAIN THEIR CUSTOMER BASE.” BUSINESS INSIDER AUSTRALIA
It shows that digital adoption efforts are critical to tapping into younger markets.
The Three Core Tenets of Digital Healthcare
Any digital healthcare initiative should adhere to one of the following three tenets. If it doesn’t, you should seriously question whether the initiative is worthwhile and what problem it’s solving.
Digital healthcare technologies should make it easier or faster for patients to receive healthcare.
There are several different ways to approach this. You could post-diagnosis or primary care advice online as a form of self-service healthcare.
You could use web or mobile applications to allow users to book in-person visits.
Some organizations are experimenting with virtual-first health plans, which are cheaper and much more convenient than traditional ones. The key difference is that a virtual check-in is the first point of care in virtual-first plans.
Digital healthcare initiatives should allow greater access to more services virtually.
Healthcare organizations should consider making popular services available to more people. For example, McKinsey reported that more than half of U.S. states don’t have access to a psychiatrist. Virtual appointments with an out-of-state psychiatrist would circumvent this limitation.
But psychiatry is a relatively popular and in-demand service. Digital healthcare technologies should also be used to provide specialty care services to areas where they can’t usually be accessed. Such as in rural areas where the demand is too low to justify in-person specialist care.
Finally, organizations can use digital technology to increase the number of potential patients they have access to.
BetterHelp is an excellent example of this. It’s a California-based operation providing digital therapeutics to anyone worldwide, regardless of nation or timezone. BetterHelp has used digital technology to effectively globalize a popular healthcare service.
Improve Health Outcomes
Digital technology also enables clinicians to provide better healthcare to patients. You can achieve this by focusing on either health outcomes or experience.
Digital technologies can improve the quality of healthcare access through remote patient monitoring and virtual visits, which can reduce the number of check-ins a patient requires and make check-ins more meaningful, effective, and informed.
While this is great, digital adoption’s impact on patient experience is profound.
Most patients with acute healthcare problems are more comfortable at home than in a hospital. Digital technology enables better care from home, saving hospital resources and allowing patients to relax and recover faster.
Another way to look at it is that digital adoption helps healthcare organizations right-size health solutions to specific personas. customers can receive the level of in-person care delivery they need and the rest they receive virtually to maximize customer experience and resources simultaneously.
Top Tips for Digital Health Solutions
1. Base your digital health strategy on patient behavior and demand
According to Accenture, nearly three-quarters of users surveyed said they want to be able to make after-hours appointments (73%) or attend educational classes (71%) online.
More than half of respondents wanted to be able to attend a video exam for a non-urgent complaint (57%) or take part in online therapy (52%).
2. Use tools to help employees adopt digital health technologies.
A top tip for accelerating the adoption of digital health technologies is to use a Digital Adoption Platform (DAP).
The “Digital Adoption Platform” was pioneered by WalkMe. It uses AI and automation to provide contextual guidance to people learning to use digital systems.
The DAP is customizable and easy to adjust. You create the content. Then the DAP places the guidance layer on top of existing digital solutions. Users are guided on how to use the systems when they’re using them.
This sort of real-time, contextual learning rapidly speeds up adoption time. It also obliterates the “forgetting curve” and provides valuable patient engagement insights.
3. Deliver confidence, not just technology
As consumer demand for digital healthcare increases, so do concerns over data security.
Cybersecurity is an ongoing concern for health technology companies. Four in five US doctors have experienced a cyberattack of some sort, according to a study by Accenture and the American Medical Association.
55% of physicians are concerned about future attacks. And their main concerns are that patient data will be compromised and business operations will be disrupted.
This is a huge consideration to take into account in your digital strategy. Loss of consumer data is a genuine threat.
Cybersecurity experts at BlackRidge Technology say that “if an IP address of a system can be found, the system can be hacked.”
“THIS INCLUDES HEALTHCARE SYSTEMS, DATABASES, MEDICAL DEVICES, OR EVEN SIMPLE OPERATIONAL DEVICES SUCH AS PRINTERS THAT ARE CONNECTED INTO A DIGITAL HEALTH NETWORK.”
But there is an emerging solution to better protect healthcare data.
“THE ABILITY TO CLOAK SYSTEMS AND DEVICES HAS BECOME A VERY EFFECTIVE OPTION THAT CAN KEEP ANY UNKNOWN OR UNAUTHORIZED USERS FROM EVER SEEING THE HEALTH SYSTEMS OR DEVICES, WHETHER THEY’RE LEGACY OR BRAND NEW.
“BY PLACING THIS CAPABILITY “PRE-NETWORK SESSION” ESTABLISHMENT, THIS ADDS NO FURTHER COMPLEXITY TO A NETWORK’S TOPOLOGY AND SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCES DEPLOYMENT TIME.” BLACKRIDGE TECHNOLOGY
The Future of Virtual Care
We’ve covered the importance of virtual care, its impact on the healthcare industry, and some ways healthcare organizations are leveraging it successfully— but where else could it lead?
What does the near future of virtual care look like?
Here are a few digital health tools that haven’t seen widespread adoption or even been thoroughly tested for viability yet, but are likely to be the next steps for digital healthcare.
Virtual and Near-Virtual Visits
Instead of in-person visits, all visits that don’t require physical examinations will be virtual. That covers the vast majority of healthcare requirements and even many specialist cases.
Near-virtual visits combine virtual visits with a physical location. For example, using a “pod” or remote site to take a patient’s samples or deliver immunizations. These sites will be widespread and convenient, even in rural areas.
Follow-up conversations with a doctor would then be virtual.
IoT Medication Administration
One of the limiting factors of digital adoption within the healthcare industry is that people inherently trust medical staff more than they trust machines. However, a cultural shift will occur where these fears are alleviated.
As this happens, we may see devices that automatically measure and administer medicines like injectable drugs.
This process can be overseen virtually by trained medical staff— which addresses many issues around liability and trust— while saving significant resources and being more convenient for users.
The Impact of Covid-19 on the Healthcare Ecosystem
The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new era of virtual healthcare, but research shows the healthcare industry may not have been ready for this forced change.
While digital adoption rates of healthcare technology skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, this has proven to be more out of necessity than desire.
Now that the threat of Covid-19 has been quelled and social distancing isn’t as necessary in day-to-day life, consumer preferences are becoming clear, and consumer adoption of digital technologies is slowing down.
The main reason for this fall in adoption is a need for more trust in handing such personal data as medical records over to tech companies.
If healthcare providers successfully drive adoption, they’ll need to keep up with rapidly changing technology and alleviate consumer concerns over data privacy and trust.
It won’t be easy, but the Covid-19 pandemic showed us that business models with a firm grasp of new technologies are more resilient when push comes to shove.
Heading into 2023, healthcare providers looking to drive digital adoption have their work cut out. They not only have to thaw the built-up distrust between users and tech companies but also manage users’ inherent ‘slowness to trust’ when their health is on the line.
Digital health is inevitable, though. The question isn’t “whether” but “when.” Businesses that lean into it first stand to gain the lion’s market share early on.
Ultimately, you can drive digital adoption by paying close attention to the customer journey, doing everything you can to build confidence and trust, and keeping employees trained.