To fully adapt to new digital ways of working demands a revolution in the way organisations operates. Digital transformation describes a radical shift in the way organisational structures, processes and models are reorganised to fully leverage the potential of digital technologies.
It’s widely acknowledged that new digital technologies will soon begin to impact on the healthcare industry. Innovative software, applied analytics and new devices are going to impact on how healthcare is delivered and consumed.
Wearable devices are likely to change how we monitor health and well-being, big data is going to influence diagnostics and treatments and telemedicine and robot surgery is going to alter the patient-physician relationship.
In order to get the most out of these changes and also to cope with the demands of technological change, the healthcare industry is going to have to undergo considerable re-organisation.
Change and progress are already well-integrated into the medical field – practitioners are used to adopting new findings, new technologies and new approaches into their daily work. What’s changed is the pace at which this now happens.
Technology with healthcare applications is moving much more quickly than ever before; so quickly that it’s difficult for the industry’s existing practices for adapting to new technologies to adapt.
Take genetic science as an example. It’s only relatively recently that we’ve managed to sequence the human genome and many new developments are going to come out of this huge step forward in knowledge.
Combined with the even more recent leaps forward in AI and computer processing power, the potential for genetics-based medical interventions is now colossal. The problem is, there’s a massive shortage of skills in this area. It’s thought around half of genetic counselling roles in the US go unfilled and medical genetic residencies also fail to find qualified candidates.
Canada is also facing shortages in clinical geneticists. There are many solutions to this – such as investing in funded training schemes and engaging with careers services to promote these kinds of clinical roles.
Even with these encouragements, it takes many years to study for this kind of position. Labour supply isn’t able to respond as speedily as the pace of technological change demands.
But adapting to technological change is about far more than just increasing the pace of education in tech-related roles. The industry isn’t adapting as quickly as patients demand in many other areas, and patients are starting to drive change faster than the industry can cope with.
Unless the industry can move quickly to offer new technologies to patients, the industry will simply fail to keep up with demand. There’s a danger that patients will simply by-pass mainstream practitioners and seek solutions that are unregulated.
Genetic screening for breast cancer is just one example. With the NHS reportedly unable to keep up with demand for this service, many private healthcare providers are now offering this service. Concern has been expressed that these providers don’t necessarily have the infrastructure in place to explain results properly to recipients.
There’s a danger of false positives leading to unnecessary interventions, or false negatives that fail to recognise risk. Because the industry isn’t meeting demand, it’s not there for patients when they need appropriate medical information.
A new role?
Perhaps the biggest element of cultural changed health practitioners face is adjusting to a new reality where patients play a more active and informed role in their own care. Technology will become an intermediary in the relationship between practitioner and patient. Patients are no longer passive; instead, they have tools and information to take a more active role in their own health.
More worryingly, patients are also effecting change themselves. Under the moniker #wearenotwaiting, diabetes patients drove a movement to hack their own health and develop new tools to manage their condition, including an artificial pancreas device without following conventional regulatory approaches.
Part of the issue is that the conventional route to the approval of new health products is by necessity slow – health tech is carefully regulated and clinical trials take a long time.
The long delay getting new technology applications into patient use is one of the main reasons why conventional providers are being bypassed in favour of fast-moving new entrants that aren’t conventionally regulated. Patients expect to be able to use new applications more quickly than the industry can affect.
Lack of access to care and a shortage of doctors in many parts of the world including China also leaves the healthcare industry vulnerable to being bypassed.
Already patients are commissioning their own genetic screening tests using services such as 23andMe, taking swabs for sexually transmitted infections and monitoring their own health information using wearable technologies such as insulin pumps and glucose monitoring devices.
They’re adapting quickly. Unless the industry finds a way to meet the need, our conventional understanding of healthcare may change as new market entrants find new solutions.
Perhaps the healthcare industry should accept its reduced role and instead work within the new reality. If patients are able to drive their own healthcare, conventional practitioners could choose to reposition themselves to support this and educate the patient to understand their own health.
This would be a big cultural change for an industry that has been accustomed to holding all the cards. With patients able to commission their own tests, access their own health information, and monitor their own health, practitioners may need to take a back seat.
The primary role of a responsible healthcare industry is to properly and safely integrate digital solutions into healthcare so that they are accessible to all. But the industry just isn’t able to do this at the speed patients expect. The industry will need to find new ways of working with patients in future within a new cultural paradigm in order to meet the new technological reality of healthcare.