How a Pandemic Pushed Healthcare Digital Transformation Trends
Taylor Pettis April 1st, 2021
It doesn’t take much for a topic to start trending today. With digital channels like social media and search engines, coupled with our sense that we must know what’s happening right this second, a detail or incident can easily sweep the globe and change the way we’re used to seeing and doing things.
Prior to 2020, healthcare would rise to our collective global attention here and there, and usually it was tied into a story about a specific person, treatment, or policy issue. Enter a global pandemic we now know as COVID-19, which brought with it social distancing and safety protocols preventing physical contact. Today healthcare and digital together are transforming our every-day lives. This begs the question: how is digital transforming healthcare trends today? First, let’s define what we’re talking about.
What Is Digital Transformation in Healthcare?
Digital transformation is the replacing of manual or non-digital processes with those that can be done digitally or online. Therefore digital transformation in healthcare is the delivery and administration of healthcare virtually or online instead of physically or hands-on.
Healthcare has always been a very hands-on and quite literally a physical process. Our very health is by definition physical, yet when a global pandemic with uncertain mortality rates and very high contagion enters into the delivery of healthcare, transforming to digital for the purpose of ensuring safety of both patient and provider becomes crucial.
The Benefits of Digital Transformation in Healthcare
Change is always difficult, and when an aspect of our life that’s as integral as our healthcare goes through major upheaval, that change can feel strange and unwelcome. Yet as we experience these new trends in healthcare’s digital transformation, we’re seeing benefits from the change – some of which are long overdue and aligning with matching trends in other parts of our day-to-day living.
For instance, think about how you used to print and mail invoices. Back in the days of the typewriter, invoices had to be hammered out one key at a time or even handwritten. Eventually the technology of printers and word processing helped to speed up that process, though each invoice still had to be printed onto paper and then folded, inserted into a window envelope, metered, and mailed out. Today technology takes us even farther as we have automated systems that can generate each invoice, send it digitally to the appropriate recipient, and even receive the payment – all without using a single piece of paper or leaving the cloud.
Granted, healthcare is never going to be as simple or automatable as an invoice; DNA will always be more complex than delivery fees. There will always be the need for in-person patient engagement to occur. Yet when and where it’s possible to transform manual processes and activity into easier, safer, and more convenient digital means, we should embrace that technology and implement it wherever possible. Just as it’s easier to send invoices and receive payments today, patients and providers alike can benefit from today’s digital transformation trends in healthcare.
5 Digital Transformation Trends in Healthcare Prompted by a Pandemic
As we examine the aspects of healthcare transformation the pandemic has pressed us as a society to adopt, it becomes easier to see that digital transformation has many plus sides that complement and support patient care and engagement today.
1. On-Demand Healthcare is In Demand
It’s hard to imagine that we’d ever get to the day when fast food and two-day delivery is considered too slow. While those wait times relate to conveniences for the most part, healthcare delivery has needed a transformation to catch up with the immediacy patients and providers have come to expect everywhere else.
Before the pandemic hit in 2020, comedians would joke and healthcare consumers would complain about how waiting for results, medications, or even annual appointments was a begrudging part of normal life. Yet once nasal swabs and vaccinations became the primary focus for the entire global population, receiving healthcare on-demand has become a necessity rather than a desire.
We’re seeing these trends in play today. In 2021, roughly 63.9 million consumers use wearables that generate immediate health vitals, many of which can be transmitted seamlessly to their primary care physician. Providers are using patient portals to provide rapid access to their staff and lab results. Telemedicine appointments, which prior to the pandemic were only used by about one out of every 10 patients, make travel and physical contact for many routine and most follow-up visits a thing of the past. With health information having a mighty impact on our work, travel, and education (just to name a few), these digital trends in on-demand healthcare are welcome transformations.
2. Digital Authorizations in Healthcare
The healthcare system, as we’ve already mentioned above, is an incredibly personal and pervasive industry that literally touches an individual’s body and livelihood. Thus it’s no surprise that healthcare delivery must ensure that every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed when it comes to authorizing procedures and treatment. Yet in an era of social distancing, even signing one’s name can be a breach of safety protocols, not to mention a delay of needed treatment.
Right up to very recent years, authorizing healthcare has been akin to purchasing a home: pages upon pages of documents to initial, sign, and date before action could be taken. Patient care has also been routinely delayed due to waiting on prior authorizations. Thankfully, digital transformation in healthcare has paved the way for electronic signatures and form completion to take root.
Instead of grabbing a flower pen and clipboard with pages of forms to fill out, patients can tap their way through an online form to update their history. When a signature is required for treatment, a healthcare consumer can use the tip of their finger to draw their signature on a screen to authorize health decisions rapidly and safely. And with each new screen completed and submit button tapped, authorizations are provided in real-time to the healthcare providers who must prepare their patient and procedures to deliver care.
3. Healthcare Records Transformed into Digital Data
Once a patient or provider signs off on a procedure, processes are set into motion which often require sheer mountains of documentation. With all healthcare delivery comes great risk as well as great rewards, and the healthcare industry has regulations surrounding patient record maintenance that must be adhered to for a myriad of reasons: legal, ethical, historical, etc.
You may understand then why every single piece of paper in a patient’s record is vital, and why if that paper is misplaced, mishandled, or even missed in the overall delivery of care, the consequences can be disastrous on many levels. When we add a pandemic to this precarious mix – when social distancing, rapid testing, and contact tracing are everywhere we turn – easing the burden of accessing, transmitting, and storing physical documents is an area we’re happy to transform wherever possible.
When we digitize health records, we bring each piece of paper and the crucial information it carries into a collaborative and cohesive system where providers and patients alike can easily access and store each step a patient’s journey of care. In the scramble of COVID-19 for people to get tested with rapid results and vaccinated through accelerated appointments, digital transformation of our healthcare records is a welcome change that makes care during a pandemic a bit easier.
4. Digital Patient Engagement in Healthcare
Pre-COVID and pre-digital, the way an average healthcare consumer would reach out to their provider looked something like this: something starts hurting or they get a reminder they’re due for an annual check-up, they call to schedule an appointment, they travel to the doctor’s office where they get checked in and wait for their appointment, followed by a fairly brief visit in an exam room, and then upon leaving their mailbox brings any further communication – often in the form of EOBs and medical bills – about their healthcare to their attention.
Communication between patients and providers has often boiled down to being very cyclical, which unfortunately carries with it the potential for forgetting symptoms, misunderstanding guidance, feeling unseen, or failing to get appropriate treatment at the right time. Once COVID came along, this cycle was exacerbated by fears of contagion and aggressive safety protocols which kept many patients and providers alike from being able to make it into a doctor’s office.
Here’s where digital transformation trends in healthcare shine brightest: expanding accessibility and authenticity in patient engagement. In addition to calling a doctor, patients can now use the physician’s office portal or even email their caregivers directly. When scheduling and travel is a concern, providers offer telemedicine consultations via video conferencing; in fact, only two months after pandemic quarantines and social distancing were enforced, telemedicine visits were projected to grow by nearly 65% through the end of 2020. Mobile apps are on the rise, providing good user experiences to customers right when it matters most: as they are making decisions about their health and wellness.
Before COVID, a phone call may have seemed like plenty of communication for our health needs. Now, during a pandemic and beyond it, we’ve made the jump to healthcare communication being digitally transformed and that trend will carry us into the future. When healthcare providers can give multiple communication options, many of which are already familiar to their patients due to everyday use for other purposes, true delivery of health can occur and transform lives for the better.
5. Automation is a Transformation Trend in Digital Healthcare
Throughout each of the benefits of digital transformation in healthcare, we’ve emphasized the relationship between patient and provider. We’ve also reinforced that delivering healthcare is a very personal and hands-on process by virtue of the subject matter: providing care for a person’s body always has a physical component. And even with digital trends in healthcare supporting that person-to-person interaction when it needs to happen, there’s more to how healthcare can be transformed by digital solutions.
Automation in healthcare is essentially that 100% reliable, ever-present colleague that supports the healthcare provider by carrying out the manual, mundane tasks in the background so they have more time to care for the patient. Automation is also that virtual patient care coordinator we all wish we had by our side every time we are worried about our health: it transmits our questions, vitals, and records back and forth between providers, facilities, and portals so we can access and understand our healthcare when and where we need to.
As we have together experienced a global pandemic over the last year and now glance ahead to continued uncertainty in global healthcare demands and support, it’s clear that automation is one digital transformation that has been and is now needed for the health outcomes we long for.
There’s no question that healthcare as we know it has been transformed by the same digital trends we experience in other areas of our lives. When we can order a lab test as easy as we order a latte via our smartphone, that’s evidence that change is happening and for the better. And while these healthcare trends were on the horizon well before the pandemic swept the globe, COVID-19 certainly accelerated the changes we now see manifested in our healthcare today.
If you’re feeling the weight as well as the promise of this change – this digital transformation of healthcare – and want a partner to be that extra pair of hands you need to deliver care to patients and support to providers, MHC is ready to help.
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