Global Trends In Healthcare Digitalization

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PharmaBoardroom has spoken to a wide variety of actors at the cutting edge of healthcare digitalization over the past 12 months. Hot topics have included the healthcare industry’s slow reaction to digital trends, new modes of hospital care, homecare, and digitalization’s potential to expand access in remote and underdeveloped areas.

Industry Lag

“Conventional healthcare and life sciences firms are unequivocally late to the game and should long ago have been taking inspiration from other industries”

Richie Etwaru, QuintilesIMS

“Conventional healthcare and life sciences firms are unequivocally late to the game and should long ago have been taking inspiration from other industries like financial services that have thus far proved more capable at embracing the digital change,” states QuintilesIMS chief digital officer (CDO), Richie Etwaru. While conventional firms have been sleeping, new healthcare actors such as technology giants Apple and Google have been able to steal a march on them; indeed, as Patrick Biecheler, senior partner at Roland Berger France boldly states, “I predict that technology companies will not merely be healthcare actors of the future, but the real winners!”

One technology actor making waves in the industry is Orange. CEO of the French telcommunications giant’s healthcare branch, Elie Lobel, offers some rationale as to why traditional actors have been left behind by the wave of digitalization and also why new actors may find the process of change rather sluggish; stating that “The world is turning digital and so is the health sector; however, it needs to gain momentum in comparison to other industries. Despite this, there are quite a few good reasons for the process to take longer. The major reason is obviously the heavily regulated health market; if you introduce innovative digital concepts, regulation needs time to adapt to new developments. Change is a very difficult and long process!”

Reducing Costs

“The lack of legacy infrastructure [in developing economies] can [actually] liberate health systems (both public and private) from financially daunting capital costs.”

John Forsythe, PwC

A driving factor behind the push for digitalization in the healthcare industry is its ability to help streamline activities and reduce costs. Italian Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin proclaims that “As much as EUR 2.2 billion can be saved [in Italy] just through the digitalization of health records, the roll out of the electronic health card and the dematerialization of prescriptions.” Novartis Czech Republic country president, Heidrun Irschik, highlights her company’s exploration of “electronic nurses that remind patients to take their medicine or collect vital data such as blood pressure and weight in heart failure patients,” helping prevent re-hospitalization and thus “contributing to the life of the patient and to the system in saving a significant amount of money.”

Digital solutions can also play a vital role in developing economies where costs may be a much more pressing issue. PwC’s digital healthcare leader in Australia, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand, John Forsythe, observes that “The lack of legacy infrastructure [in developing economies] can [actually] liberate health systems (both public and private) from financially daunting capital costs.” Forsythe continues, “Cloud-based technology, mobile enablement and fees for service models will lead to faster deployment and increased benefits for patients. Perhaps then the emerging markets will instead become the leaders, with the followers quickly shedding their ‘on premises’ technology.”

A New Mode of Hospital Care

“Most stakeholders have only a general understanding, not specific knowledge of how implementation [of integrated digital solutions] would proceed, and what tangibly it would change.”

Dario Guido, Samsung Italy

As well as helping make hospitals more cost-efficient, digital solutions can also create a better-functioning system overall, as they have been able to do in other industries. As GE Healthcare’s general manager for Western Europe Christophe Lala notes, “When a passenger boards a plane, they have a digital boarding pass already on their smartphone. If only such rudimentary registration were adopted by patients, it could greatly streamline the hospital admittance process.”

Dario Guido, head of the health and medical equipment division at Samsung Electronics Italy, feels that providing stakeholders with concrete examples of the benefits of digital solutions is of crucial importance. He explains that “most stakeholders have only a general understanding, not specific knowledge of how implementation [of integrated digital solutions] would proceed, and what tangibly it would change.” ResMed Italy’s Nadia Cortesi agrees; postulating that “hospitals and patients are very interested in getting access to telemedicine, and conceptually people know it will likely reduce costs holistically in the long run,” but unfortunately “payers are not very open to making the necessary investments today.” To combat this gap in understanding, Samsung in Italy is “working with the Humanitas Group, the most important private health group in Italy, to digitize a hospital that will serve as a model and showpiece going forward.”

Bringing Medicine Home

“Having such a system at home makes it safer for the elderly people and their family, contributes towards the whole healthcare system, as well as citizen empowerment and public health.”

Elie Lobel, Orange Healthcare

‘Patient-centricity’ is much talked about in healthcare circles nowadays, and it is through digital solutions that it can best be realized in bringing healthcare to patients at home, reducing the need to go to hospital. Philips Italy CEO Stefano Folli highlights one study from the UK and Netherlands where “they have successfully reduced the percentage of readmissions for patients with certain chronic diseases by roughly 70 percent,” by enabling “doctors to check on patients remotely with data collected in the home, relayed via mobile health technologies to their physician at the hospital who could then give feedback.”

Another example of innovative digital homecare is Orange Healthcare’s teleassistance technology for elderly or isolated patients, ‘Live Intercom,’ developed in partnership with Harmonie Mutuelle, one of France’s largest insurers. CEO Elie Lobel explains that the technology “enables swift communication between the assistance platform and patients; in case of emergency the patient can press the button to send an emergency signal … the ‘Live Intercom’ is already linked to the fire detector and water leak detector. We’re continuously focusing our efforts on innovation in order to expand the usages; the possibilities are endless!” Lobel is effusive on the benefits of ‘Live Intercom’, stating “Having such a system at home makes it safer for the elderly people and their family, contributes towards the whole healthcare system, as well as citizen empowerment and public health.”

Expanding Access in Emerging Markets

“Access to patients and physicians poses such a challenge that it will be essential to use digital platforms to engage physicians and pharmacists effectively.”

Keith Lostaglio, A.T. Kearney

In emerging markets, as Keith Lostaglio, partner and head of A.T. Kearney’s health practice in Asia Pacific, points out, “Access to patients and physicians poses such a challenge that it will be essential to use digital platforms to engage physicians and pharmacists effectively.” The distance between patients and hospitals in remote areas, as well as lack of investment in the hospital systems themselves, mean that digital solutions are a crucial means by which to provide healthcare to all segments of the population.

Leslie Chua, general manager Asia Pacific for Hitachi Medical Systems’ solutions division, illustrates the point: “We are training technicians to send images to a regional hub where qualified doctors can diagnose and decide whether to send the patients to the larger institutions, which may require them to travel for many hours. We are focusing on the less developed areas where it is of benefit to bring medical care to the people instead of the people to the medical care.”

The Future

What is clear is that digitalization is here to stay, despite the healthcare industry’s tardiness in jumping on the digital bandwagon. QuintilesIMS’s Richie Etwaru predicts that “data and analytics will play a lead role in reconfiguring healthcare in the coming years and will involve connecting public health policy with much more efficient delivery mechanisms based on aggregating and using the right kinds of data.” For Orange’s Lobel it is just a matter of time before all actors succumb to the inevitable and embrace digitalization. “I find great similarities to when outpatient care replaced certain aspects of inpatient care – it will happen and we simply need time to become accustomed to this new reality,” he surmises.

Writer: Patrick Burton

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