Covid driving digital transformation, says Philips

  • August 9, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Healthcare informatics leaders view the Covid-19 pandemic as both a crisis and an opportunity for driving digital transformation in healthcare, according to Dutch giant Philips.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, accurate timely data have proved pivotal in responding to fast changing on-the-ground situations. It is therefore no surprise that the 2021 Future Health Index – a global survey of healthcare professionals that this year explored how healthcare leaders are meeting today’s demands and building resilience into the system – revealed that healthcare leaders in informatics are positive about the future.

Telehealth and artificial intelligence (AI) are high on their investment list. However, responding to the immediate needs of the pandemic is still widely regarded as one of the main obstacles to planning for the future.

Asked about their priorities, around two-thirds (68%) of the informatics healthcare leaders surveyed indicated that preparing for future crises was high on their list, almost half (48%) highlighted the need to shift towards remote or virtual care, and around a fifth (21%) indicated the need for improving the technology infrastructure in their hospital or healthcare facility.

At the same time, they have not lost sight of the role of healthcare informatics in bringing about the shift to value-based care, with only 14% of respondents stating that the Covid-19 pandemic had deprioritised this objective. Nevertheless, value-based care still appears to be in the early adopter stage.

Few (11%) reported that their facilities were already practicing value-based care and only 15% reported they were currently pursuing it. That does not mean they don’t recognise its benefits: almost half (47%) said they plan to implement value-based care in the future.

Right now, the focus is on telehealth, which takes two forms. Healthcare professional-to-healthcare professional telehealth encompasses activities such as consulting virtually with other healthcare professionals, sharing images and recommending treatment plans, while healthcare professional-to-patient telehealth covers consultation via video calls or patient portals.

Currently around two-thirds (68%) are investing in any form of telehealth; 56% for healthcare professional-to-healthcare professional telehealth and 43% for healthcare professional-to-patient telehealth.

Unlike the early adopter phase for value-based care, it appears that telehealth is already going mainstream, representing a foundation for healthcare digitalisation that is being invested in now. Potentially because they have invested in telehealth heavily over the past few years, around a third (31%) said they expect to invest in telehealth technology three years from now.

Having laid the foundations for digitalisation, it appears their attention will soon turn to predictive healthcare technologies, such as AI. Almost a third (32%) are currently investing in some form of AI and well over three-quarters (84%) say they want to invest in the technology within the next three years.

“The AI capabilities healthcare informatics leaders expect to invest in are for both administrative purposes such as operational efficiency optimisation, as well as clinical tasks such as diagnosis, outcome prediction and clinical decision support,” said Calum Cunningham, general manager of enterprise diagnostic informatics at Philips. “Nevertheless, they also highlight several challenges that need to be overcome, including staff inexperience with new technology, data interoperability, data privacy and security, and reimbursement models.”

While technology provides many more opportunities, it also contributes to the growing complexity of the health IT landscape with even more disparate processes that must be maintained, supported and standardised across an entire enterprise environment. More so than the average healthcare leader across the 14 countries surveyed, those working in informatics say difficulties with data management (53% versus 44% 14-country average) and a lack of interoperability or data standards across technological systems and platforms (45% versus 37%) are the biggest barriers to digital health technology adoption in their hospital or healthcare facility. While ensuring data security and privacy is a priority for around a quarter of informatics healthcare leaders (23%), this figure will rise in the future to 33% three years from now.

“Many of these inefficient processes can be avoided by improving workflows or leveraging technology – although that can be easier said than done,” said Cunningham. “One approach helping healthcare executives and department heads move their organisations forward through technology is the use of adoption and maturity models, which are designed to help organisations progressively measure and advance analytics capabilities to improve healthcare delivery. One example is the Diam digital imaging adoption model, which provides guidance for imaging and IT experts to identify and adopt the right digital strategy to improve health outcomes for patients.”

Building resilience and sustainability into healthcare systems is also top of mind, with an increasing proportion of routine care expected to be delivered in out-of-hospital settings such as ambulatory primary care centres, pharmacies and people’s homes. In addition, almost two-thirds (65%) said that in three years’ time they would be implementing sustainability practices in their healthcare facilities, such as environmentally conscious sourcing or recycling. This is a major increase on those (8%) who were currently prioritising sustainability.

Moving a portion of care outside of hospital walls can help reduce hospital and healthcare facility CO2 emissions as patients expend less energy traveling to a traditional point of care.

Overall, informatics healthcare leaders were optimistic about the future. Confidence in the ability of the healthcare system in their country to deliver quality care in the future is high, as well as from their specific hospital or healthcare facility, 89% and 75%, respectively.

One belief around a third (38%) share with Philips is that prioritising strategic partnerships and collaborations is an action their hospital or healthcare facility must take to implement digital health technologies successfully.