The pandemic pressured the healthcare industry to accelerate digital transformation, and it also revolutionised how patients think about digital services
Prior to the lockdown, people would rarely seek out e-services such as online prescriptions or consultations via video platforms. Now that patients have seen the benefits of digital healthcare first-hand, such as flexibility and personalisation, more people support the implementation of these services. In fact, a recent survey by RedPoint Global found that 80% of people prefer to use digital channels, like online messaging and virtual appointments, when communicating with their healthcare providers at least some of the time.
As a result of this shift, the healthcare sector is now under renewed scrutiny to continue progressing towards digitisation and embracing new technology. To ensure that this progression is sustainable, the industry must first adopt robust IT frameworks that can support the future growth of technology.
Implementing modern agile infrastructure will transform healthcare
Despite digital acceleration, healthcare is still being held back by disparate systems. If healthcare data sets cannot ‘talk’ to each other, critical information can become stuck in silos, making tracking the patient journey across different departments difficult and cumbersome. For healthcare to continue its progress, businesses within the sector need to consider how to invest time and money into modern agile infrastructure. By consolidating discordant and manual internal processes, organisations can manage services more efficiently and be empowered to improve patient care.
Going digital introduces new security risks for businesses too. Patient data must be encrypted and tokenised, while healthcare systems must adopt a zero-trust mindset, making sure all users and devices are authenticated and then continually assessed. Before the NHS can use data to improve care for all, the healthcare industry must prove that it is rigorously safeguarding data and leveraging privacy-enhancing technologies.
Leveraging AI for continued positive change within the healthcare industry
Once the industry has improved its IT infrastructure, it can then take advantage of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). AI will have a particularly transformative impact on the way health data is analysed and used to help patients. By using AI with information about patients and medical resources, staff can improve operational efficiency and give more precise and personalised care.
Automation and AI could similarly go a long way to helping mitigate the increased stress that has been felt by the healthcare professionals of the UK over the pandemic. Clinicians spend almost half their professional time typing, clicking, and checking boxes on electronic records. This is partially why mental health problems quadrupled in NHS staff during the first wave of COVID-19, according to the largest survey carried out into the psychological effect of the pandemic on UK health workers. For example, automation could help alleviate the administrative pressures felt by healthcare workers, freeing up significant amounts of time to focus on patient care, instead of paperwork.
Another benefit is that AI can help with the early detection of diseases and cancers rapidly and with high accuracy. For example, in June 2021, the UK government announced that thousands of patients and NHS staff would benefit from dozens of new pioneering projects that were awarded a share of £36 million to test state-of-the-art AI technology. The projects are intended to help the NHS to transform the quality of care and the speed of diagnoses for conditions such as lung cancer.
Cost savings in the long-run
Digital transformation, and automation in particular also help with healthcare’s financial bottom line. Estimated cost savings vary, but a 2018 report by the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated that AI and automation could save the NHS £12.5 billion per year by freeing up staff time. This is essential now as a critical workforce shortage is impending. The World Health Organization estimates overall demand for healthcare workers will rise to 18.2 million across Europe by 2030. AI may also prove invaluable to helping shift skills to where they are needed, and avoid shortfalls in the NHS. Through harnessing AI, the core activities of key jobs such as nursing will change, enabling workers to refocus on tasks away from the administrative side, and onto improving patient care.
The pandemic accelerated changes to the NHS, forcing practices to rip out traditional paper processes and replace them with end-to-end digitisation. For now, the challenge is ensuring technology is used in the right way to improve outdated systems. Then healthcare can focus on emerging technologies, such as AI, which will empower doctors and nurses to be prepared for future challenges and improve patient care.
About the Author
Will Owen is Director of Healthcare for ServiceNow. ServiceNow makes the world work better for everyone. Our cloud-based platform and solutions help digitize and unify organizations so that they can find smarter, faster, better ways to make work flow. So employees and customers can be more connected, more innovative, and more agile. And we can all create the future we imagine. The world works with ServiceNow. For more information, visit www.servicenow.com.