As a result of COVID-19, hospitals in Asia were driven to implement new technologies and systems to cope with the challenges of the pandemic.
This acceleration in the digitalisation of the healthcare industry benefited medical providers and patients alike – helping to streamline processes, reduce costs, and enhancing the quality of care.
Having picked up the pace of their digital journey, however, many healthcare providers will now be wondering: what next?
The answer could lie in reaching a more advanced level of digital maturity.
Speaking to Hospital Management Asia, Luciano Brustia, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific at InterSystems, explains: “Digitisation is just the first step towards digital transformation. When a hospital digitises, they move away from paper-based systems to run their operations more efficiently and better support clinicians. This could be with a number of departmental systems, or with a comprehensive electronic medical record (EMR) system.
“Digital transformation is a more advanced level of digital maturity where providers can leverage data to optimise their operations and the level or value of care that clinicians can provide using advanced digital tools.”
While there are advantages to digitisation, digital transformation brings even bigger benefits.
“With digitisation, providers can streamline processes and improve the patient journey,” says Brustia. “They can capture and share patient information so that it is more quickly and easily communicated between carers and departments.
“This gives doctors a complete picture of their patients – including medications and allergies – to provide the best care and reduce the risk of errors. From a patient perspective, wait times are reduced, because information like test results is available more quickly.
“The benefits of digital transformation are more advanced. We have a customer that is transforming to a value-based care model. To do this, they need to be able to capture both the inputs to the care process – the treatments that patients receive and the cost of those treatments – and the health outcomes.
“To optimise the value of care, they need to perform data analytics and match the results to the individual profile and wishes of each patient. But they can only achieve this after digitising all their processes to begin with.”
Transformation into a ‘smart hospital’
The next step for digital hospitals, therefore, is to digitally transform into a ‘smart hospital’ to deliver the best clinical care to their patients, while meeting their ever-evolving needs and expectations.
“A digital hospital can achieve greater efficiency, better communications, provide a better patient experience, and offer better clinical support systems,” Brustia elaborates.
But the benefits are limited to what can be supported by individual systems, he says. Performing analytics across all your data is still difficult because healthcare data is complex and siloed in different systems that don’t talk each other.
“InterSystems believes that healthcare data needs to be easily accessible and useful – and able to be used in new and innovative ways – to provide better levels of care. For a smart hospital, you need clean, accurate data available anytime, anywhere. Data needs to be able to flow seamlessly across all sources, be ready for action, and enable better decisions. That is what we call ‘healthy data’.”
Data analytics comes to the fore
As a result of new technologies like healthcare data platforms, hospital staff are now able to access and leverage large amounts of data across multiple systems.
The benefits of this approach have been proven during the pandemic, says Brustia.
“With COVID-19, InterSystems saw huge demand for solutions to make health data more useful and easier to analyse. Previously, all the data that was captured wasn’t always put to the best use. With COVID there was an urgent need to make full use of data, whether for testing and tracing, diagnosis, the management of patients, or more efficient operations.”
InterSystems helped labs, for example, to integrate new PCR testing machines with their laboratory and EMR systems so data was immediately available for analysis.
“We had a customer that needed to rapidly integrate their infectious diseases notification system with a new contact tracing system,” adds Brustia. “Using our data platform, we were able to deliver that interoperability in just a few weeks and give them the ability to analyse COVID data in real time. We’ve also helped to support artificial intelligence systems to diagnose COVID cases and other new diseases.”
Overcoming barriers to digital transformation
While there are many benefits to digital transformation, Brustia admits that there are several challenges hospitals are likely to face.
“When we engage with hospitals, the most common challenges we see in adopting new technologies are things like budget, resources, skills, clinical engagement, governance and change management,” he says.
“There may be a lack of maturity in developing the use-cases for new technology, preparing a business case, allocating resources, and measuring the return on investment. So the most common challenges are actually related to people and processes. Sometimes the biggest challenge in healthcare is getting everyone to agree on what they want to do in the first place.”
Resource management is also a common issue. “There will always be limited resources in healthcare. That is why it is important that technology investments do not come at the cost of investments in doctors and nurses and that they provide tangible benefits to clinicians and patients in a realistic timeframe.”
Many providers still face technical barriers to digital transformation and analytics. The recent Market Report on Data Analytics by research firm Sage Growth Partners found that only 20 percent of healthcare organisations surveyed fully trust the data they rely on to make decisions.
According to the research, data integration and interoperability is the biggest barrier to organisations achieving their strategic data analytics priorities. This is an issue that Brustia believes even the latest Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard will not be able to fully solve.
Interoperability is not just a technology challenge
“People often see data integration and interoperability as a technology challenge,” Brustia muses. “Our healthcare data platform addresses that challenge because it understands how to connect with different systems and supports all the different healthcare data standards.
“Once you do that, however, you still need to deal with the people and process challenges. It is relatively easy to translate health data from one system to another. But it is much harder to get the people who use these different systems to agree on what the data means and how to represent it.”
People often complain that the lack of a common standard like FHIR is a barrier to digital health. But there will always be healthcare systems that don’t support the latest standards, according to Brustia. And there will always be new systems that are not yet supported by the latest standards.
“FHIR is not the answer to every interoperability problem. At the end of the day, organisations will need a suite of data management and interoperability tools as well as a FHIR repository to take advantage of new solutions. And they will also want to be able to scale up their solutions as healthcare data volumes and the number of transactions grow exponentially.”
With the right tools in place, there is even potential for healthcare technology ecosystems including providers and healthtech companies. InterSystems is working with a number of providers to adopt the IRIS for Health data platform to offer interoperability with their existing systems and give them the flexibility to take advantage of new, innovative solutions.
“The most advanced healthcare providers are looking at analytics and AI, and the ability to integrate different systems via APIs and FHIR, so they are not restricted by the functionality of their existing healthcare information systems,” says Brustia. “Once you do this, it opens up the market to innovative developers like healthtech start-up companies to integrate new solutions into your environment.”
Because not all providers will have invested in healthcare data platforms, InterSystems is also working with medtech and healthtech companies to give them the data platforms to easily integrate their solutions into their customers’ environments.
“So one way or another, healthcare providers will have a greater choice of solutions they can use to optimise clinical outcomes and their operations,” concludes Brustia. “And that will be a win for hospitals and a win for patients.”
For more information about overcoming challenges to data analytics, download the Market Report on Data Analytics from Sage Growth Partners at: https://www.intersystems.com/sage-data-report/.