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When it comes to digital transformation, the healthcare industry has been seen as a slow adopter. It's not the hospitals and clinics alone. Even health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies are digital laggards in many ways. A survey conducted by the Information Services Group (ISG) revealed that 60% of most insurers' processes were paper-based; while a study by Simon-Kucher & Partners showed that 59% of pharmaceutical companies lacked a fully designed digital strategy.

The slow adoption of healthcare technology can be attributed to various reasons – ranging from lack of awareness, lack of time to train resources in using digital tools, and onerous compliance with regulatory laws such as HIPAA that mandates hospitals to safeguard patient data.

While the healthcare industry initially delayed the move to digitization, COVID-19 almost compelled them to prioritize it. The rapid spread of infection and decisions such as lockdowns left the healthcare industry with no time to analyze or run pilot programs to consider digital transformation. Strategies had to be implemented immediately to respond to the increasing number of infections and also to continue the ongoing treatment of other patients who required attention.

How did the pandemic change healthcare technology's landscape, and how will it impact the future?

The Sudden Transformation of Healthcare Industry

  • Role of AI in diagnosing diseases

The pandemic showed that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to diagnose diseases at an early stage and curb the spread before it's too late. Alibaba's AI system, for instance, demonstrated 96% accuracy in detecting the virus. Beyond the immediate risks, AI is not restricted to diagnosing COVID-19 alone. It helps to screen and detect cancer growth at an early stage. Google's Deep Mind, for example, helped in predicting breast cancers as accurately as a radiologist. In fact, it was able to reduce the number of false-positive cases by 5.7% in the US and 2.7% in the UK. The best part about AI is that it trains itself continuously. So, the accuracy in diagnosis will only improve. We foresee AI becoming a core part of diagnostics and healthcare in the future to aid doctors and radiologists in making informed decisions about the patient's health.

  • Fast development and deployment of vaccines

Typically, it takes an average of ten years and $500 million to develop a vaccine. The mumps vaccine that took four years to develop was considered the fastest developed vaccine. However, this record has been broken by the COVID-19 vaccine that was developed within a few months and is already being administered in several parts of the world. Experts say that it has shown the way to rapid vaccine production in the future. The fast development of vaccines can be enabled by technology. Pharmaceutical companies have been using automation and AI to fast-track vaccine testing and analysis. They have also been able to reduce the time taken from testing to delivery using technology. From reducing batch review time from days to hours to managing the cold chain operations – automation has helped the pharmaceutical companies deploy vaccines faster.

  • Remote care through telemedicine

Although telemedicine options were available earlier, doctors preferred to see patients personally instead of offering remote care. Patients who were unable to visit the hospital had a tough time seeking regular care. However, the situation took a drastic turn in 2020 with COVID-19 compelling both doctors and patients to use telemedicine platforms to continue treatment remotely. Patients can now seek video consultations from their home or a nearby health center even if they are not in the same location as the doctor. Patients can also share real-time data such as their blood reports, scans, and images with their doctors using the telemedicine platforms. Given the convenience it offers to both parties, experts believe that telehealth will soon become one of the main options even post-pandemic. Research predicts that the telemedicine market will grow at a CAGR of 37.7% by 2025! Experts believe that it will make healthcare more accessible for patients living in remote areas.

  • Real-time monitoring with IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) was already playing a significant role in healthcare by helping people monitor their vitals, such as BP and heart rate through smartwatches. But COVID-19 turned out to be a watershed moment for IoT as it was used to track and control the spread of infections. IoT also aided telehealth platforms to tie into remote patient monitoring as it captured real-time patient data and relayed it to the doctors. It made it easier for doctors to continue treating patients remotely and addressing crucial scenarios like post-operative care and physiotherapy. IoT will continue to make remote patient monitoring easy even after the pandemic ends.

  • Mobile app to improve patient experience

Imagine waiting for a call to get an appointment or waiting for long hours to meet the doctor. Patients and caregivers get hassled due to the traditional functioning of hospitals. One way to address this challenge is by creating a mobile app exclusively for patients. Today, almost every person owns a smartphone and has fast internet connectivity. Creating a mobile app will help in delivering a good patient experience. Patients can use it to book, reschedule, or cancel doctor's appointments, order medicines or book tests, manage the reports, and even chat with the doctor through in-app messaging without coming to the hospital. As more lifestyle diseases increase, it's clear that hospitals run the risk of becoming overburdened. The only way to do better for patients is by focusing on improving the patient’s experience.

  • Cloud adoption for easy data sharing

As healthcare companies move towards digitization, it's clear that a lot of data will be shared in the form of reports, images, prescriptions, scans, etc. Managing a humungous amount of data can be quite a tedious task with a significant infrastructure price tag. That's where the cloud plays a role. With cloud computing, healthcare companies and patients can share data immediately without any hassles. The best part is that companies do not have to invest in extra computing infrastructure. Everything can be managed on the cloud. It is cost-effective and can be scaled up or down depending upon the need. The one potential roadblock for cloud adoption has been the security of data. Let’s see how healthcare companies can traverse this challenge.

  • Cybersecurity to safeguard patient data

Considering that laws like HIPAA mandate the processes to safeguard patient data, healthcare companies are hesitant to use technology as actively as other industries. However, that cannot dissuade them from moving to digitization in the post-pandemic normal. Healthcare companies can use managed security services to protect critical data from security breaches, malware, and virus attacks. As technology becomes the main driver of the healthcare industry, it's time to partner with companies that deliver security as a service (SECaaS). This form of security solution prepares the companies for even the most sophisticated and latest virus attacks. They have the best security team on call, and the offerings can be scaled up or down quickly depending upon the demand. Most importantly, it is cost-effective and can be managed in-house easily. However, ensure that the vendor is trustworthy and safeguards the company from any potential threats.

Conclusion

Healthcare technology has paved the way for better healthcare. Technologies such as AI, big data, cloud, automation, etc. have already shown how hospitals can improve care and deliver better patient outcomes. Implementing an emerging technology isn’t the goal in itself. What matters more is how the company configures itself, introduces new technologies, and integrates that into their existing processes. The onus on healthcare companies is to carefully choose the right technology partner and ensure that they provide the right solutions and expertise to improve patient care. ITPN can help healthcare companies in this transition across different categories and technologies, and support them to transform meaningfully.

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