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Reluctance to Embrace Technology in Healthcare

This post is co-authored by Declan Hadley

Would Florence Nightingale have embraced virtual care? The answer would probably be yes, as she was a technological innovator in every sense – driving cleanliness in hospitals, promoting healthy eating to improve healing, and using data to reduce infection rates. Yet, today in healthcare, we see a slower rate of technology adoption in comparison to other industries, despite a rich history of clinical innovation.1

Assessing the gap can be challenging and many healthcare organizations are tempted to look to peers for a comparison. However, it’s virtual care providers and tech companies they should be baselining themselves against.2 The factors influencing the adoption of technology in healthcare are multifaceted. So, how can healthcare organizations pick up the pace to meet their patient’s expectations?

Broadly, the reasons for slow digital adoption fall into three categories – strategy, workforce and risk.

Strategy

Any organization embarking on their digital journey needs to have a plan in place. Ideally, that plan is co-created with the workforce and wider stakeholders to create a sense of ownership or common purpose.3 Successful digital transformation is elusive in all industries, not just healthcare. In fact, a study by BCG shows that only 30% of digital adoption projects achieve their target outcomes. Not having an enterprise digital transformation strategy embedded into the overall business objectives leads to competing priorities, unclear measures of success, and difficulty in securing funding. This bifurcated approach results in disillusioned staff and stalled projects.

Workforce

Across the world, healthcare providers struggle to recruit and retain healthcare professionals.4 Successful organizations will be those who think creatively about the working environment, including how technology is used.5 Within any clinical team, there will be people who think differently about technology. A small minority will embrace the changes and evangelize, others will be skeptical, and a few will mourn the loss of the current way of working.

To effectively implement and sustain digital transformation, healthcare organizations need to ensure their workforce feels both confident and competent in using digital solutions. They need to engage at all levels, seeking out their digital pioneers to build up the case for change. They must ensure people are supported along the way, offer adequate training, and most importantly, give time to accommodate any new working practices.

Healthcare providers who successfully scale up will be those who treat digital adoption as an organizational-wide change program, led from the top.6

Risk

Expanding your digital service offering creates new opportunities, but it also introduces new risks. Increasing sophistication of ransomware attacks, a shortage of IT staff, and lack of visibility into how technology is used, all represent tangible threats to organizations. These factors lead to a situation where healthcare providers can only embrace new technology through pilots, with few successfully moving to full scale adoption.7 Many also underestimate the true costs involved, failing to account for the investments needed in workforce training, workflow redesign, legacy systems integration, and resilient IT infrastructure, thereby introducing undue financial risk.

Healthcare systems are well versed in change, but accelerating digital adoption at scale has proven elusive, both within organizations and at a country level.8 However, all agree that digital transformation is crucial to remaining competitive.

To scale effectively and at pace, healthcare leaders must start with a clear business strategy, encompassing discrete and measurable outcomes that have been co-created with relevant stakeholders. Once defined, they must enact their roadmap with a broad focus on people, process, and technology to ensure they are ready for change. System leaders need to ensure their staff feel confident and competent in using digital solutions. In doing so, they need to make sure the underlying infrastructure is secure, integrated, and ready to meet the new demands placed upon it.

Sources:

  1. Digital Adoption In Healthcare
  2. Chartis-insights 2022 Health system survey
  3. Creating tomorrow, today – Seven simple rules for leaders
  4. Health workforce (who.int)
  5. The US nursing workforce in 2021 | McKinsey
  6. Digital Readiness Education Programme | Health Education England
  7. 4 Truths show the future of healthcare technology
  8. The National Programme for IT in the NHS: an update on the delivery of detailed care records systems – National Audit Office (NAO) Report

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