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Digital Healthcare: Drivers, Benefits and Implications

Digital Healthcare: Drivers, Benefits and Implications
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 25 Oct 2021

The previous decade was characterized by an accelerated digital transformation of enterprises in many different sectors, such as finance, healthcare, and industry. Industrial digital transformation strategies leverage cutting edge technologies to deliver automation, effectiveness, and cost-cutting benefits. These benefits are evident in the scope of digital healthcare i.e., the digital transformation of healthcare delivery. Digital healthcare boosts the quality of healthcare services, while helping healthcare systems to reduce the cost of their operation. This increases the demand for digital healthcare and leads to the rapid growth of the digital healthcare market: According to a recent report by Grand View Research, Inc., the global digital health market size was valued at $96.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.1% from 2021 to 2028. In this context, CIOs of healthcare enterprises must develop credible and effective digital transformation roadmaps to enable their companies to excel in the digital healthcare market. To this end, they need to understand the main drivers of digital healthcare, the most prominent use cases, as well as the expected benefits for different stakeholders.

 

Understanding the Drivers

The growth of digital healthcare is propelled by a host of techno-economic and socio-economic factors, including:

  • Increased Demand for Healthcare Services: During the past decades we are witnessing a rise in the global population, which is generally accompanied by increased income levels and a greater awareness about advances in healthcare and technological capabilities. The rising income levels lead to increased personal health expenditure, as well as to increased demand for healthcare and insurance services. In this context, digital health solutions can fulfill the demand for higher quality services.
  • Pressures for Reducing Costs in National Healthcare Systems: Most governments are faced with a rapid growth of healthcare expenditure, which is propelled by the falling mortality, the rising longevity, and the ageing of the population. Therefore, most countries are seeking solutions to cut down healthcare expenditure without compromising the quality of public healthcare services. Digital transformation solutions in healthcare delivery hold the promise to reduce the cost of healthcare delivery, while at the same time sustaining or improving its quality.
  • Data Availability: In recent years healthcare organizations are provided with unprecedented opportunities for collecting data points from many different sources, including healthcare records, medical devices (e.g., ultrasound scanners and Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) devices), real world data (e.g., Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs)), consumer devices (e.g., smart watches), as well as data from patients’ social networks (e.g., PatientsLikeMe). The analysis of these data points by means of digital technologies like BigData Analytics and Artificial Intelligence enables the extraction of unique insights about optimizing medical processes and related healthcare decisions.
  • Proliferation of Connected Devices: We are living in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is characterized by an exponential growth of the number and types of internet-connected devices, including medical devices and consumer devices like smartphones, fitbits, smart watches, and various types of wearable devices. The rising number of these devices reinforces the availability of data and boosts the development of certain segments of digital healthcare like mHealth (Mobile Health).
  • Rise of BigData Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Healthcare: Healthcare companies are increasingly using advanced analytics techniques like Machine Learning and AI to analyze healthcare data and extract medical knowledge. These techniques enable the extraction of unique insights based on historical data, including hidden patterns of medical knowledge. They are typical part of most digital business transformation services for healthcare enterprises.

Considering these drivers, healthcare stakeholders like hospitals, healthcare services providers, and healthcare policy makers must employ digital transformation technologies and digital transformation consulting to digitize their services.

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Prominent Value-Added Use Cases

The use cases of digital healthcare span the full lifecycle of healthcare delivery, including diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and management of diseases. Moreover, they extend to biotechnology, clinical research, and digital clinical trials. Some of the most prominent examples follow:

  • Personalized medicine: Using BigData analytics over the large amounts of data for individual patients, clinical researchers and pharma companies can derive information about the phenotypes of specific individuals. The latter can be according used to discover and validate personalized drugs that work for the specific phenotypes. This is a very expensive process, which holds however the promise to revolutionize the efficacy of modern medicine.
  • Accurate Disease Prognosis: Leveraging ML and AI over multiple sources of data for patient, it is possible to produce highly accurate and personalized prognosis of complex diseases like different types of cancers. Such prognostic decisions are particularly important for prescribing effective treatments and personalizing disease management.
  • Preventive Healthcare: The digitization of healthcare enables the collection and analysis of large volumes of information about the daily living of healthy individuals. These include information about their activity, vital signs, lifestyle, and nutrition. Coupled with information about the medical and family history of the healthy individuals, these data can drive the specification of preventive healthcare strategies. The latter aim at proactively avoiding healthcare problems rather than treating them after they occur. In several cases the processing of such data can also lead to the identification of early indicators and biomarkers about specific diseases. This can help in early diagnosis or anticipation of healthcare conditions, which can boost the effectiveness and timeliness of their treatment.
  • On demand healthcare: We are living in the era of on-demand economy and on-demand services. Healthcare will be no exception to this rule. Digital healthcare services enable patients and healthcare professionals to share data and information in real-time. For instance, medical doctors can instantly and continually access information about the healthcare status of their patients, while patients can gain timely access to prescriptions, reminders, and medical alerts.
  • Patient Digital Twins: It is nowadays possible to create accurate digital twins for patients i.e., digital representations of the patient’s status that are constructed based on multiple data sources such as healthcare records, information from medical devices, family history and other sources. In this way, healthcare professionals can gain access to a 360o view of the patient towards individualizing the healthcare delivery, including prognostic and treatment services.
  • Improving Healthcare Operations: Hospitals, care centers, day centers and other healthcare services providers can make use of digital data to optimize their operational processes, such as staffing, beds allocation and patients’ admission processes. In this direction, they leverage analytics algorithms over data warehouses and data marts of operational data, along with other digital transformation services.

 

The digital transformation of healthcare is currently evolving in a rapid pace. In the coming years, the world’s top digital health companies will be the ones that will offer the most effective healthcare services. This will also improve the quality of healthcare services that will be provided to consumers. Whether such high-quality services will be accessible to all or offered to high income citizens only, remains to be seen.

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