Key Benefits of Digital Transformation in Healthcare Domain
Digital transformation is leading the world to an unprecedented development in almost every discipline and as a result the society has been interconnected seamlessly in a manner where physical distances have become irrelevant. Such a transformation has also been witnessed in the healthcare sector, from digitizing the electronic health records to computer assisted diagnosis to telemedicine, virtual healthcare, and remote surgeries. However, the aforementioned is the story of the developed nations which only are a few and the rest of the world has yet to realize the potential of information technology in healthcare domain. Before diving into the details of the benefits of health information technology in healthcare, we first need to understand its definition.
Health Information Technology Definition
Health information technology in simple words is “the establishment of healthcare delivery infrastructure by utilizing the information and communication technologies and services”. This compact definition of health information technology can be expanded further to explore its full potential because the term “healthcare delivery infrastructure” itself embodies several important capabilities. For example, the exchange of electronic health information among multiple healthcare providers and clinicians, seeking the appointments from the physicians and referrals to the specialists, diagnosis with the help of knowledge based medical decision support systems and medical history, suggesting treatments, laboratory reports and their exchange with multiple stakeholders, prescription refills through pharmacies, communication with health insurance companies, and processing and storage of all such information requires utilizing the information technology infrastructure to offer efficient, robust, secure, and scalable services.
Some Important Benefits of Digital Transformation in Healthcare Domain
The benefits of digital transformation in healthcare are several indeed and adoption by the developing countries can truly transform their healthcare systems. Below are the benefits of employing information technology services and infrastructure in the healthcare sector.
- Health information technology services help people in saving the time by eliminating the need to visit the health centers physically. Instead, the people can seek appointments through automated systems from the providers of their own choice and as per their own schedule.
- Patients can opt to be examined and get healthcare advice through telemedicine or telehealth services without even visiting the hospitals and healthcare centers. In the recent episode of COVID-19, governments in various countries including Pakistan established the telemedicine facilities at various hospitals to facilitate people requiring consultation with physicians for diseases other than corona virus. This step is helpful in containing the movement of people thus maintaining the social distance. Moreover, it also reduces the pressure from the hospitals to better serve the corona patients.
- Managing the paper-based records is not required when electronic health records come into place thereby maintaining the complete information pertaining to the patients’ medical history and the interventions. This information not only is stored permanently in the systems but is also used to develop knowledge-based systems to aid clinicians in accurately diagnosing the diseases. Moreover, collection of this electronic health information also serves as the data repositories that researchers use for diagnosis and predictive analytics by employing the artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.
- Another benefit of the health information technology is rapid sharing of electronic health information of patients among multiple stakeholders, for example hospitals and clinics, laboratories, health insurance companies, and pharmacies.
- Health information technology helps in cutting the costs by minimizing: (i) the staff requirements at health providers’ locations, (ii) the recurring costs for maintaining paper-based records, and (iii) patients’ traveling costs to various points of care and the relevant entities.
- Recently, the concept of developing patients’ social network is gaining popularity where patients interact with other patients of similar diseases and get useful advice without visiting the doctors and hospitals. A benefit of such online patient communities powered by the information technology infrastructure is that the patients during interaction with other patients can get psychological support from other patients.
- Online tools for self-assessment of health conditions are also a wonderful idea where, by providing the symptoms to the automated systems, people get an assessment about their health. Again, such assessment systems result in significant cost savings by minimizing the visits to the doctors.
- Finally, establishing the health information technology infrastructure provides grants the patients control over their personal health information and consequently the patients can get better insights to their health and can strategize better to take care of their health through diet control and other measures.
Barriers in Adoption of Health Information Technology
Besides the benefits of health information technology, there are certain issues that prove as the hindrance in its widespread adoption and in realizing the true potential of this technology. For example:
- The upfront infrastructure development and management costs in developing countries is one of the key barriers in the adoption of e-health systems. Although such costs are one time and not recurring i.e., the permanent costs mentioned above can be minimized. Therefore, there is a significant need to help developing nations understand the potential of its adoption through appropriate cost-benefit analysis. Moreover, the international regulators, such as World Health Organization can also play part through financial support for the developing countries in establishing the sophisticated healthcare infrastructure.
- Absence of appropriate healthcare delivery standards at government levels in the developing countries is another reason for the low diffusion of such systems that again without the proactive efforts by the governments is not possible
- The security and privacy of electronic health information while in storage at the hospitals and information technology infrastructure providers’ locations and during transit over the communication networks is another major challenge. One has to accept that with the increased capabilities of information technology, the threats to the data integrity in general and to the health data in particular have increased manifolds which demands for the development of more secure healthcare architectures.
In conclusion, the benefits of health information technology outweigh its limitations. Particularly, the developing nations can use health information technology not only as the tool to gain the economic benefits but also to get the political benefits because health along with poverty and education is one of the most significant issues and thus governments can get advantage and continuous public support by introducing digital reforms for healthcare.