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July 22, 2016
WHAT DOES DIGITAL HEALTH REALLY MEAN? PART 1
By: Dan West

The Primacy of People in the Digital Health Age

The hype around digital healthcare solutions seems to imply two things almost by definition:

  • almost to the point that they are good simply because it is assumed that digital is good.

  • That implementation of digital healthcare solutions will necessarily create a paperless healthcare environment.

These assumptions need to be questioned.

Many clinical staff would say different. Particularly those in hospitals where pace and moving between patients and tasks is important and the need is for interactions to be speedy and uncluttered. They would say that digital is slow, when scribbling a paper-based note is compared to finding an iPad, making sure it’s charged, learning new technology, troubleshooting faults…the clinical community often thinks paper is just fine.

The hard truth of it is that a major cultural shift is going to be required for clinicians to get on board. From a strategic view digital is just perfect, but from the hospital doctor or nurse’s view it represents a headache. So a major part of the solution is to understand and address the headache. Here are some key success factors to consider:

  • If digital healthcare is to fly, it must be good for the nurses, not just for the organisation.

  • Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are not some Utopia – they won’t fix everything, and in reality, even where EMRs are installed, paper may be used in places.

  • To extract benefits, careful planning is required to ensure big EMRs are rolled out cost-effective, and efficiently, especially in organisations that: (1) rely on paper today; and (2) struggle to drive time-dependent change due to the priority of saving lives.

  • Small EMRs need to be surrounded by a best of breed approach to other applications as they tend, by design, not to solve every problem and act as replacements to picture archiving systems and to key clinical systems –resulting in the need for effective integration with other digital sources of patient or operational data (easy to say, hard to do).

  • Whether big or small the mountain of historic paper notes sitting in a warehouse isn’t necessarily addressed by an EMR solution, which must be addressed to avoid trapping data and costing money.

  • Document archiving solutions should try to focus on why paper is being produced at all, rather than simply digitising existing processes. The question, for CIOs, should be: “how can I transform my care model?” rather than: “how can I reduce costs and make my paper more accessible?” That said, the wave of investment in electronic document management solutions seems to be slowing.

The answer is: when looking at technology, don’t focus on the technology but rather on the people and process around that technology. Look to transform processes in such a way that people buy in and the technology supports new processes, rather than defining them. Please get in touch with your thoughts – I’d like to hear what you think.


[1] Accenture 2016 Consumer survey on patient engagement

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