When British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, he suspected he came across something big, but probably didn’t believe his discovery would change medicine forever. After all, the benefits of penicillin would not reach the masses for at least another decade. It took 15 years, many scientists, and unprecedented collaboration between the United States and Great Britain to successfully purify the antibiotic and put it to clinical use.
Today, healthcare is experiencing another large-scale disruption—digital technology, which is changing healthcare at its core, so much so, according to experts, that it is on the same scale of disruption as the discovery of antibiotics.
Indeed, big change is happening in healthcare right now, but several challenges bubble up that warrant closer attention:
1. Combatting tech fragmentation
Between 2008 and 2015, electronic health record (EHR) adoption doubled—as of 2015, 96 percent of hospitals and 87 percent of physician practices were using electronic health records. However, the issues of interoperability and fragmentation remain.
Fragmentation of technology in healthcare has costly consequences, perhaps more so than in other industries. The many different systems in use do not communicate well and are often too outdated to work with newer technology.
2. Making mobile healthcare work
Healthcare employees, like most workers, are experiencing communications overload—from paging systems, voice and text, device alarms, and more. In addition, many of the systems are outdated and not integrated with other technologies workers rely on. The difference is that in healthcare, many employees do not work at desks. Mobile technology is critical to patient care.
In a 2016 study published by the International Journal of Medical Informatics (IJMI), researchers found that the use of mobile devices by healthcare providers improved patient communication, patient education, the patient’s perception of the provider, and the time providers spent interacting with patients.1
Organizations appear to be paying attention. A recent survey by Spyglass Consulting Group reveals that hospitals are making significant investments in smartphone and secure mobile platforms to enable communications between clinicians and between clinicians and patients. The survey also notes that nine out of 10 healthcare systems plan significant investments in smartphones and secure unified communications over the next 12 to 18 months.
3. Delivering patient-centered care
As noted in points 1 and 2, interoperability and mobility are key to improving employee productivity and effectiveness—and, ultimately, patient care. But if employees don’t know how to use the technology, interoperability and mobility are just bells and whistles. Organizations must ensure all employees have the training and support they need to use the available tools and integrate them into the care they provide.
When thinking about today’s healthcare transformation, it’s important to keep in mind that it took almost 100 years to switch from hand-written notes to electronic health records, and there’s still a long way to go. (Some companies have estimated that 75 percent of all communication among healthcare organizations still happens via fax.) The good news is that healthcare organizations are expected to increase their spending on information technology in 2018 by about 10 percent over the amount they spent in 2017, according to an analysis by Forrester Research.
In the 1930s, scientists worked tirelessly to find the missing link that would enable them to turn penicillin into an effective, widely available, life-changing treatment. With healthcare transformation, there is no single missing link, but rather a steady, purposeful shift toward a new approach to health. For organizations that recognize the importance of helping employees with the transition—by planning ahead and offering ongoing support and education—the end result promises to be just as powerful.
1. “Impacts of mobile tablet computing on provider productivity, communications, and the process of care” (2016) Schooley, Benjamin et al. International Journal of Medical Informatics, Volume 88, 62–70. http://www.ijmijournal.com/article/S1386-5056(16)30010-7/fulltext
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.