What’s preventing digital transformation in the healthcare industry?

Technology is changing the way several industries operate. Healthcare is arguably the sector that could reap the most benefits from digital transformation, yet widespread adoption of healthcare technology is yet to occur. What are the barriers preventing this implementation?

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The digital era

Technology has profoundly changed the way industries deliver services to consumers. Online shopping has displaced numerous physical shops; sharing economy companies have transformed how we order a taxi or book holiday accommodation; smartphones allow us to manage our finances with the tap of a finger. Can the same be said of the healthcare industry? The digitization of health records, rise in wearable health technologies, and advancements in big health data analytics are just some of the digital innovations we’ve seen within the healthcare sector in recent years.1 But are these technologies being routinely utilized in clinical practice?

Behind the curve

A recent survey conducted by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and Unisys Corporation informed us that nearly two-thirds of healthcare providers view themselves as being ‘behind the curve’ in terms of their digital health adoption initiatives. Of the 220 health information technology (IT) decision makers and influencers in US health systems and hospitals interviewed, only 11% categorized themselves as early adopters and implementers of digital health technologies.2 Only small numbers of these ‘behind the curve’ providers had any comprehensive data governance plans, or were able to securely share electronic health records (EHRs), or successfully apply data to determine the best course of action within their organization.2

Barriers to adoption

What’s preventing hospitals and healthcare systems implementing digital health initiatives? Availability of digitally-skilled staff, physician resistance to adopting new solutions, cybersecurity threats, and the challenges presented by the need to integrate antiquated systems with new technologies, these are just some of the current barriers to widespread application.2 Alongside these is the major issue of cost. In contrast to other industries, in the US, costs within healthcare are paid by the government or private insurers, while patients have limited information and options available to them when choosing their provider. Unlike other sectors, health care organizations have weak incentives to appeal to and retain individuals. This creates an absence of competitive pressure or economic reward for offering consumer-centric technologies, meaning few organizations invest in digital innovations.3

Usability is key

Interoperability of EHRs is a key obstacle faced by healthcare systems. Data sharing is hindered by security concerns, growing standards for information exchange, and an averseness among providers to install application-programming interfaces that drive data interoperability: a topic we explore in a recent article.3 This is just one aspect of digital tools’ usability; for widespread implementation the technology must be safe, effective, evidence-based, and compatible with clinical guidelines. Digital health tools must demonstrate clinical benefit to satisfy physicians, and economic benefit to convince payers.4

Demonstrating value

To encourage adoption of healthcare technologies, it’s imperative that metrics are developed which can illustrate both their financial value and ability to improve clinical outcomes.3 Widening the evidence base to demonstrate digital health tools’ safety, security, data privacy and effectiveness is critical to promoting their integration into healthcare systems.4

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  1. How 4 Industries are Navigating Digital Transformation. Available at: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/en-gb/blog/22-05-18-how-4-industries-are-navigating-digital-transformation. Accessed: December 2019.
  2. 4 Digital Health Adoption Barriers for Hospitals & Health Systems. Available at: https://hitconsultant.net/2019/04/08/digital-health-adoption-barriers-hospitals/#.XQlzcIgzZEY. Accessed: December 2019.
  3. Why Are Health Care Organizations Slow To Adopt Patient-Facing Digital Technologies? Available at: https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20190301.476734/full/. Accessed: December 2019.
  4. Klonoff DC and Kerr D. J Diabetes Sci Technol 2018; 12(1): 3–6.

February 2020  RESP 41992

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