The digital revolution has unquestionably arrived and its tangible impact on public healthcare provision may well be far reaching. No longer can digital disruption be cast aside as an ambiguous and far-fetched concept relegated to distant futures. On the contrary, changes are already well underway across the mature pharma economies of Western European with medical practitioners, healthcare providers, and medical device developers increasingly exposed to a confluence of emerging technologies that augur radical transformations in patient wellbeing and healthcare delivery models.

“The reality is that digital disruption is empowering patients to increasingly take control of their own disease management… It is not so much a question of if these advancements will happen, but whether the industry will prove agile enough to take stock of this evolution and keep up, or risk being left behind as new more versatile entities dominate the arena,” warns Patrick Biecheler, Partner at Roland Berger, pointing to an increasing number of technology giants – from Apple to Google – seeking to enter the sector. “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,” observes IMS Health’s Chief Digital Officer Richie Etwaru. He continues, “Why, for example, doesn’t our own industry yet have a common vocabulary to describe customers? If you look at financial services for example, there are languages like ‘Swift’, which enables banks to communicate in real time with one another.”

The incorporation of a CDO position within its C-suite is actually testament to the seriousness with which companies like IMS Health are now seeking to study what the next generation of profit and loss (P&L) will look like in an increasingly digitalized world. “The task of a CDO is very much to prevent an incumbent actor from being disrupted by faster-moving entrants not encumbered by size, scale, and status quo,” explains Etwaru. “From a tech perspective, which is the primary battlefield, we have to study our client’s customers in order to create solutions that will retain relevance over the long run. It’s all about building solutions to problems that haven’t occurred yet, but that you anticipate will do in time. Business-as-usual will simply not be an option!”

Many actors are now identifying fresh digital solutions to longstanding problems. Christophe Lala of GE Healthcare France underscores the predicament of hospital registration backlogs, observing a parallel with technology and services in the airline industry that can be comparably implemented within the healthcare sector. “When a passenger boards a plane,” notes Lala, “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.” “The patient experience today is hindered by far too much uncertainty and a lack of communication,” agrees Carlos Jaime, General Manager of Samsung France’s Medical Device Division, highlighting a lag that still exists in a medical field not fully capitalizing upon integrating digital solutions. Jaime continues, “Patients are left unaware when doctors will see them, or how long their wait time will be, and communication barriers persist as patients are unsure what constitutes an emergency, and what does not. Providing dependable communication channels on mobile devices could massively improve the efficiency of the healthcare experience for a patient.”

Solutions have been presenting themselves in unlikely places, for instance, in pressurized mattresses. Philippe Chene, President of Winncare France, offers an example of where digitalization may greatly impact an underrepresented segment of the medical field. Complications related to improper bedrest and mattress conditions cause thousands of preventable medical complications each year, yet Winncare’s smart-technology now implemented in specialized pressurized mattresses, offers “the ability to communicate remotely with caregivers the status of these medical devices,” thus delivering real advancement in preventative care.

“Digitalization is in fact not so much a strategy; but rather an accelerator,” predicts Lala. Nor is the impact of digitalization limited exclusively to patient care, but is also revolutionizing the manner in which service providers carry out their business. Digital technology not only creates a window into a whole new world of smart health provision – encompassing real time monitoring devices, e-health, enhanced diagnostics, patient-centricity, personalized and bespoke home care and much more – but also presents a pathway to true operability and harmonious and formalized interactions between stakeholders. “Most customers don’t want to buy an array of ‘point solutions,’ but it’s all-too-often prohibitively expensive to do otherwise as they would have to pay the integration costs in the absence of an integrated landscape already being in place. This represents real wastage in our eyes. These are last years’ problems that a more nimble industry might already have solved,” affirms Richie Etwaru. Etwaru foresees “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.”