Fully adapting to new digital methods of working demands a revolution in the way organizations operate. Digital transformation is a radical shift in the way organizational structures, processes, and models are reorganized in order to fully leverage the potential of digital technology.
It’s widely acknowledged that new digital technology will soon begin to impact the healthcare industry. Innovative software, applied analytics, and new devices are set to impact how healthcare is delivered and consumed.
Wearable devices are likely to change how we monitor health and well-being, big data is set to influence diagnostics and treatments, and telemedicine and robotic surgery will alter the patient-physician relationship.
In order to get the most out of these changes and cope with the demands of technological change, the healthcare industry is going to have to undergo considerable reorganization.
Change and progress are already well-integrated in the medical field. Practitioners are used to adopting new findings, technology, and approaches into their daily work. What’s changed is the pace at which this now happens.
Technology with healthcare applications is growing faster than ever before—so quickly, in fact, that it’s difficult for the industry’s existing practices for adapting to new technologies to even adapt themselves.
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 even more recent leaps in AI and computer processing power, the potential for genetics-based medical interventions is huge. The problem is that there’s a massive shortage of skills in this area. It’s thought that around half of genetic counselling jobs in the U.S. go unfilled and medical genetic residencies are failing to produce qualified candidates.
U.S. neighbor Canada is also facing shortages in clinical geneticists. There are many solutions to this, such as investing in funded training schemes and engaging with career services to promote these clinical roles.
Even with this encouragement, it takes many years to study for these positions. Labor supply isn’t able to respond at the quick pace that 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 areas, and patients are starting to drive change faster than the industry can cope with.
Unless the industry can move quickly to offer new technology to patients, it will simply fail to keep up with demand. There’s a danger that patients will bypass mainstream practitioners to seek unregulated solutions.
One such concern is the popularity of health-related apps. Meant to help users obtain data on their health, many apps may overpromise or misrepresent results. In 2015, the FTC took action against MelApp and Mole Detective, apps wich promised to deliver “automated analysis of moles and skin lesions for symptoms of melanoma and increase consumers’ chances of detecting melanoma in its early stages.” The FTC alleged that the marketers deceptively claimed the apps analyzed melanoma risk and could assess such risk in early stages. The companies eventually settled the complaint.
Yet the prohibitive costs of skin cancer screening and long wait times can deter patients from seeking proper medical help. 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 change that health practitioners face is adjusting to a new reality, where patients play a more active and informed role in their own care. Technology is destined to 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.
Increasingly, patients are also effecting change themselves. Under the hashtag #WeAreNotWaiting, diabetes patients drove a movement to take their health into their own hands and develop new tools to manage their condition, including an artificial pancreas, 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 time.
The long delay in putting new technology applications to use is one of the main reasons conventional providers are being bypassed in favor 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 regulate them.
Lack of access to care and a shortage of doctors in many parts of the world 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 STDs, and monitoring their own health information using wearable technology such as insulin pumps and glucose-monitoring devices.
Patients are 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 work within the new reality. If patients are able to drive their own healthcare, conventional practitioners can choose to reposition themselves to support this movement and educate patients so they can better understand their own health.
This would be a big cultural change for an industry that’s used 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.