Digital Transformation – Changing Contours of Healthcare Delivery

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Special Content | TelecomDrive.com

Of all the sectors that are transforming rapidly due to the digital revolution, one of the most challenging and difficult is Healthcare. For many years, we have been hearing about the concept of e-Health, the new paradigm where digital technology would change in an order of magnitude healthcare practices, and the very concept of health in general for the society.

Within the paradigm of e-health, concepts such as telemedicine (medicine at long range), remote management of the chronically ill and care of the elderly and dependents have been grouped. All of them with the idea of ​​making a saturated health system more efficient, with an increasingly aging population and service demand in exponential growth

The classic conception of eHealth goes through the use of digital technologies to give more autonomy to the patient with tools at home and reduce their need to travel to health centers. And, at the same time, reducing access to health centers to truly urgent cases or where home care is not possible.

                            Victor Deutsch

However, on a daily basis, the reality of the sector has changed little. Digital giants like Google have failed trying to enter the sector with online health platforms. Attempts by startups. providers and insurers to generate relevant channels of attention by digital means continue to be used by very small segments of the population. Unlike other sectors in which the public has substantially changed their consumption habits (as in retail or tourism), people continue to attend consultations and hospitals in person.

One of the main reasons for this apparent failure is the natural conservatism of the medical professional. Any new medication or treatment takes a minimum of 10 years to pass all the clinical trials and tests cycles.

The same happens with the new digital technologies, insofar as they influence the therapies applied by doctors. The social habit of the “face-to-face visit” and, of course, the professional risk factors are also deeply tightened.

In short, what the public sees on the surface is not so different from the past. But if you look a little below, at the foundations of the system, the advances of digitalization are not minor, although not in the sense that imagined the precursors of eHealth. Let’s see some examples:

• Telediagnosis: the accelerated digitalization of all diagnostic tests (X-rays, magnetic resonance and others), allows to “offshore” the analysis and interpretation of the results, without loss of time. The main example are the “radiological rings” that already exist in several health systems and that facilitate the sharing of scarce resources (radiologists), among many diagnostic centers, sometimes between different cities or zones, but also between countries. But it can only be achieved through a fast and robust network, which guarantees the necessary response time (some tests can weigh many Gigabytes).

• Cooperation: digitization and generalization of appointment systems facilitates that the most expensive and scarce resources (resonance equipment, for example), can be exposed in the network and be shared by different health systems, optimizing their use, and improving ROI. A typical case is public-private cooperation, in which when the waiting list in public health is very long, appointments can be obtained in private, concerted centers, through the same system, without adding additional complexity to the patient.

• Digital medical history: the digitalization of hospital records and medical tests allows the patient to be the owner of their health data and to fulfill the premise of “moving” them to any place, or sharing them with relatives or authorized professionals. This makes it easier to practice a “second opinion”, as well as the patient’s geographical mobility. And it allows an increase of an order of magnitude in the investigation of disease patterns, based on Machine Learning systems.

• Interconsultation: if the remote doctor-patient interaction is still rare, the same does not occur among professionals. The new collaboration technologies allow professionals of different profiles (general practitioners and specialists or paramedical-general practitioners) to exchange critical information in real time: studies, photographs, videos can be sent from one site to another through the network, without waiting to the mail, or with the wealth of a real collaboration on a “virtual desktop”.

As you can see the digitalization has reached the foundations of the system allowing it to improve much in efficiency for the best use of resources and effectiveness for the fastest, quality of service and the synergy of collaboration in real time. And, as is evident, in all these solutions, telecommunication infrastructure have an essential role.

This also has a very favorable implication for emerging or developing countries. Currently, digitalization allows the development of an effective healthcare system with much less effort and investment than in the past. Let us think about the difficulties that developing countries have for medical training, especially in rare specialties, as well as the enormous investments that are required in terms of physical infrastructure, medical equipment and others, along their broad territories.

Some countries (such as Chile or Peru) are beginning to increase the effectiveness of their health systems, based on a “network” design. It is, for example, a system based on interconnected “health posts” in which, faced with the shortage of experienced doctors, a paramedic or practitioner can exercise a certain level of primary care (performing cures, extractions, tests), supported by “remote” professionals.

It is also the way to design a health coverage plan without duplicating services between different health centers, but making them collaborate with each other, sharing study and diagnostic tasks, giving support to each other, through a single, centralized, computer network and a shared database. And a unique and shared interface for the patient accessing from any geography.

Even the deployment of mobile networks with Internet access has reduced the need for large investments in cabling (although recommendable in the medium term), allowing greater agility in the opening of centers and the deployment of the applications and systems necessary to operate. With the possibility always of satellite access in the most inaccessible places.

In summary, the digital revolution in the doctor-patient relationship will take a little longer to arrive. It will finally come more by the generational change that will cause people to stop going to consultations and hospitals and demand more telemedicine, “emptying” them, as today’s retail stores or travel agencies are becoming useless.

Meanwhile, there are many things to improve our health systems through digitalization and make them more effective and, above all, provide quality services, without more equitable for the entire population. The UN 2030 Agenda clearly sets this objective: “Guarantee a healthy life and promote the well-being of everyone at all ages”. And to achieve this, the telecommunications industry has a fundamental role to fulfill.


Victor Deutsch
Victor Deutsch works as Head of strategy & Transformation, Telefonica - he carries over 25 years of experience in digital strategy, marketing and delivery of IT services for the Corporate Market (Cybersecurity, eHealth, Outsourcing, ERP, IT Strategy), in 20 countries in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. He has published several articles and research papers in media in Spain and other countries. Currently, he writes articles on digital innovation through LinkedIn, its personal blog (gestionyti.blogspot.com.es) and collaborates with Telefonica Spain´s IT trend blog (aunclicdelastic.blogthinkbig.com).