The future of healthcare technology is taking shape before our eyes. As the transition to a digital world has shifted into high gear, the healthcare IT digital transformation is now moving rapidly. Healthcare organizations need to be evaluating their tech strategy for the future to avoid being left behind.
The Accenture Digital Health Technology Vision 2021 report surveyed nearly 400 healthcare executives and found that more than nine out of 10 are innovating health IT with urgency to accelerate digital health transformation.
What does that mean for healthcare organizations?
It means it’s time to develop a technology strategy that will serve your needs today and tomorrow. These are some of the key trends and needs in healthcare IT that you should be considering.
1. Establish a Tech Stack that Can Scale
Your tech stack represents the building blocks of your IT infrastructure. For healthcare IT, organizations setting up a tech stack made of flexible components that can be scaled, exchanged, or upgraded to serve current and long-term needs will be key for success. The Accenture report found that 73 percent of healthcare executives see the architecture of their tech stack as critical to their organization’s success and 92 percent believe that the capacity to create value will be based on how well their technology architecture functions.
Establishing a tech stack that can scale means looking ahead five to 10 years down the line and anticipating how business requirements will change as digital tools and platforms advance. Think about the layers of your tech stack as the foundations of a city you are building. Consider how well suited these parts are for expansion and growth. Are you building to address in-the-moment needs, or are you looking at how the tech stack you have now can grow with business and healthcare demands in the future?
Technologies that will play a larger role in the future of healthcare IT include artificial intelligence, virtual/augmented reality, blockchain, 3D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology. As these innovations continue to scale, hospitals and healthcare organizations should evaluate the hardware, software, servers, frameworks, programming languages, cloud technology, and the networks being used to support the technology and stay connected. Also, it’s imperative to build strong partnerships with your cloud providers, including infrastructure and BI/Analytics, to stay competitive and adaptable as healthcare IT digital transformation occurs.
2. Leverage all Facets of Data Interoperability
Electronic health record (EHR) systems are nothing new. In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was passed in the United States to promote the switch to EHR (sometimes called electronic medical records or EMR) and by 2017, nearly 86 percent of office-based physicians had adopted some form of EHR/EMR system.
“While it’s taken nearly 10 years for adoption of EHRs via the HITECH Act, connecting the systems is happening with lightning speed,” notes Zach Novak, Chief Product Officer for Audacious Inquiry. “Leveraging standards like HL7 and FHIR to communicate between systems has created a stable method to rapidly develop new technology.”
The next step in the EHR revolution is to increase and plan for healthcare interoperability to allow these different EHR systems to communicate. Data interoperability allows healthcare providers to effectively share clinical information, no matter the operating system, programming language, database, server, framework, or any other parts of the tech stack they use. Even within healthcare systems, sharing information between departments can be a challenge, which is why data interoperability is key to the future of healthcare IT digital transformation.
Being able to access and share patient information is critical to improving care coordination in an increasingly mobile world. In a situation where a patient moves to a new city and must start seeing a new doctor, or in an emergency where a loved one is called upon to provide a medical history for a patient who is unable to do so—having access to complete and secure medical records is crucial to improving patient outcomes. This is where healthcare providers need to step up and look at ways their technology can support data interoperability within their own system and in the larger healthcare ecosystem.
As an example, the Accenture report describes how Singapore began using a blockchain-based medical record system during the COVID-19 pandemic to give people a “digital health wallet,” where they can securely store their medical records and access them whenever and wherever needed. During the pandemic, lightweight technologies emerged to facilitate interoperability and access to clinical data in triage and emergent care settings (including Audacious Inquiry’s PULSE COVID, a solution that provides clinical care providers and health care authorities access to patient medical history by pulling data from national health information exchange networks). Other technologies that can increase data interoperability include decentralized digital databases (distributed ledger technology) and tokenization, which allows for more secure and simplified transfer of sensitive information online.
3. Build Strong Partnerships
The digital revolution in healthcare is not possible without strong partnerships. This could be between technology companies and healthcare providers, or multiple healthcare providers all with the goal of working seamlessly together to deliver coordinated care. These partnerships are crucial to the IT healthcare transformation and the success of businesses moving forward. In fact, 87 percent of healthcare executives surveyed in the Accenture report believe that their business and technology strategies are one and the same.
“While historically technology had lagged in strategic importance for business decisions, it is now considered a foundation of success,” adds Novak.
The tech partners you choose will depend on your needs. A niche technology company can offer innovative and specific solutions while also allowing customization in a partnership. A more diverse technology organization can offer a more comprehensive range of services that meet multiple needs although perhaps with less flexibility in how the partnership is structured. It is a balance between customization and mainstream practice; however, it is important to ensure that the partner you chose is as focused on your success as you are.
Determining the technology partnership is just one piece of the puzzle though. Establishing multi-party systems across healthcare providers is a core consideration to drive success going forward. When data can be shared across providers, these partners receive mutual benefits of shared data to support coordinated care of their patients. Successful relationships rely on transparency, trust, and common standards of security.
Since Apple launched its Electronic Health Records (EHR) app in 2018, the tech giant has been partnering with healthcare providers in the United States to access patients’ health records, as well as real-time health monitoring information through their iPhones. While testing, Apple partnered with 12 healthcare providers, but now works with over 650 healthcare systems throughout the US, UK, and Canada, offering patients the ability to securely access and transport their health records—and ultimately giving them greater control over their information. This partnership not only benefits Apple in the development of new technology, but also offers health systems the ability to increase data interoperability, improve patient outcomes, and meet patient expectations.
4. Empower Employees with Tech Training
The technology any organization implements will only be as effective as the employees who can use it. Healthcare organizations need to ensure that they are empowering employees with adequate training to utilize new platforms and software. It’s imperative to not assume that everyone will learn how to use new technology with ease. This assumption can lead to disruptions in quality of care and adversely affect employee morale.
The 2021 Eagle Hill Consulting Healthcare Employees Experience Survey collected data from a sample of over 500 healthcare industry employees in the United States and found that more than a quarter of respondents (28 percent) feel that their company failed to provide the training on new technology necessary for success. As a result, 37 percent of those surveyed said they were frustrated with technology at work and 42 percent said that technology either makes it harder to do their job or adds nothing of value.
To prevent burnout and frustration among employees, it is important for organizations to offer training to introduce new technology being implemented in the workplace. Small user groups or committees should also be formed to regularly check in with users to determine what else may be needed to make the most of these digital tools. Skill levels will vary among employees, so offering targeted training to meet a range of needs (e.g., 101, 201, 301 courses) will be the best way to ensure that your tech investment is implemented well, improving care, and helping employees feel more empowered and satisfied.
5. Invest in Digital Twin Technology
As the world becomes digitized, having digital twin technology will be a must for healthcare organizations. Digital twin technologies, including the internet of things (IoT) and data streaming, allow healthcare providers to create a mirror of the real world digitally. Real-world scenarios can be simulated and tested to check operational systems for gaps, disruptions, and bottlenecks.
A quarter of healthcare executives in the Accenture report said that their organizations are trying out digital twin technology this year, and 66 percent expect that their investment in intelligent digital twins will grow in the next few years.
To begin with digital twin technology, healthcare providers must first ensure that they are able to collect accurate data in real time to establish a baseline. Modeling with incorrect data could lead to problems in the real world. For example, if a hospital layout is simulated to show where a crash cart is located and what supplies it has, but the location or supply information is inaccurate, it can lead to a major issue in an emergency.
Modeling with digital twins allows for future preparation, risk analysis, and cost reduction without disrupting daily operations. So, establishing a strong data input is crucial. First, create a list of use-case scenarios for digital twins that could benefit your health care organizational operations. Then, take stock of the data you are collecting, how accurate it is, and how much you can collect prior to implementing the digital twin. By starting with the use-cases and then solidifying your data approach, you will ensure success when adopting this technology.
6. Increasing Consumer Expectations for On-Demand Services
With the sudden increase in telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients of all ages and backgrounds have rapidly grown accustomed to healthcare on demand. Just like streaming services that let you consume media on your schedule, patients are now comfortable scheduling their healthcare when—and often where—it is most convenient to them. However, not all healthcare providers are prepared to meet these consumer expectations with their current digital healthcare offerings.
According to the 2021 Econsultancy Digital Trends Report for Healthcare and Pharma, seven out of 10 respondents agreed that consumer expectations outpaced their current digital offerings and abilities. Not only were their offerings falling short, but nearly a quarter of respondents working in healthcare and pharma feel they lack the ability to speak to consumers about data use and privacy.
Meeting consumer expectations with digital healthcare IT offerings is a trend that providers should anticipate and one that can be addressed through: training staff adequately on the technology being used in the workplace; establishing enhanced data interoperability to access complete patient health records; and preparing for a continued expectation of on-demand services like telehealth and consumer-friendly scheduling, health apps, and secure patient portals.
Digital Transformation in Healthcare IT: The Future is Now
The digital transformation in healthcare IT is not just happening—it’s accelerating, and healthcare organizations must evaluate their current tech set up and develop a strategy that is forward-thinking. The need for a scalable, modular tech stack, tools to facilitate interoperability, strong partnerships, and digital twin technologies is not only a good business practice but increasingly necessary to provide quality care to patients.
As the technology advances, investment in employee training will be equally critical to success, and healthcare providers will need to meet consumer expectations for on-demand health services.
The future of healthcare IT is not years away anymore, it’s right now.
About the Author
Diana Bauza is a content writer based in the Greater Philadelphia area. She writes about products and services in the health and technology industries, with the goal of empowering consumers with quality information to help them make decisions that best serve their needs.