In recent decades, digitization has revolutionized many industries, including the healthcare sector. Thanks to the advancement of technology and the adoption of innovative digital solutions, the healthcare sector has witnessed a profound change in information management, diagnosis, and patient care.
In this post, we will: define e-health and the patient experience, analyze the state of digitization in the healthcare sector, and look at how the digitization of processes can improve the efficiency of patient services and the quality of care.
Digitization of the health sector: defining e-health and the patient experience
E-health is an established reality that, especially after 2020, has shown tremendous growth both economically and in terms of the solutions offered to patients.
E-health, which we have discussed in a previous post, is defined by the World Health Organization as “the cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education, knowledge and research.”
The concept of e-health, therefore, encompasses many different areas and aspects of healthcare, ranging from technologies serving patient care, to all administrative processes that can be digitized to save time and resources in favor of the patient experience.
What is patient experience?
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines patient experience as the range of interactions patients have with the health care system, including the care provided by health plans, physicians, nurses, and hospital staff. Patient experience includes several aspects of health care delivery that patients pay close attention to when seeking and receiving care, such as timely appointments, easy access to information, and good communication with health care providers.
Digitizing every interaction patients have with the health care system positively affects the overall patient experience because it helps to reduce process management time, to convey communications more clearly and quickly, and to have real-time access to patient information. All of this translates into more time spent on care and treatment.
One example is the Electronic Health Record (EHR) “the tool through which citizens can track and consult their entire health life history, sharing it securely and efficiently with health care providers. Sharing clinical data allows for better prevention and treatment of patients, guaranteeing essential services for homogeneous and uniform digital health care delivery throughout the country.” (Source: Department for Digital Transformation)
Electronic Health Record and Telemedicine: the next goals for digitized healthcare
Although digitization offers numerous benefits for both practitioners and patients, there is still a long way to go, and the adoption of digital tools in Italy is highly fragmented.
According to the Osservatorio Innovazione Digitale in Sanità of the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano, only 12% of citizens have used the electronic health record and 6 % have never even heard of it.
In addition, about 80% of regions have less than 50% of documents indexed and uploading is done with unstructured data and different standards, preventing interoperability between regional health systems. (Source: La Stampa)
For this reason, the goal of Mission 6 “Health” of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) is to make Italian facilities more modern, digital, and inclusive, and to equalize opportunities and service standards across the country.
Specifically, the Department for Digital Transformation will work in synergy with the Ministry of Health to achieve two main goals:
- Enhance the Electronic Health Record (EHR) to ensure its deployment throughout the country. According to plans, 85% of primary care physicians will adopt it by the end of 2025, and all regions and autonomous provinces will use it by mid-2026.
- Promote and develop new telemedicine projects for remote care by regional health systems: more than 200,000 patients are expected to be cared for by 2025. (Source: Department for Digital Transformation)
Current data and goals for the near future speak clearly: technological transformation cannot be a choice; it’s the key to delivering a high-quality patient experience and creating a patient-friendly digital health ecosystem.
So, what investments are necessary to put the digitization of the health sector into action?
Digitization of the healthcare sector: What’s essential
During the latest Doxee Digital Club event, we talked about healthcare and digitization with Diego Lauritano, Director of Services and Operation Management at the Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Sant’Orsola di Bologna, exploring the main areas of technology investment for healthcare facilities and the factors to consider when it comes to healthcare IT systems.
In terms of the tools available for patient care, the range for investment is broad, if not infinite.
It ranges from diagnostic equipment, to surgical robotics, to artificial intelligence for data and image analysis and new product development.
According to recent research by the Politecnico di Milano’s Science Innovation Observatory, one-third of companies involved in the research, development and production of health-related goods are already investing in digital therapies. A detailed analysis of the forecast for the coming years shows that:
- assistive robotics, which supports people with disabilities or physical limitations, and rehabilitation robotics, in which robots are used as essential elements of therapy, will become widespread in five to 10 years;
- in computational medicine, which refers to mathematical technologies and models for clinical use, will spread in more than 3 years. (Source: Osservatori Digital Innovation)
For activities that affect the business and everything that doesn’t fall within an individual department, investments should be dedicated to IT platforms and interfaces, with the goal of revolutionizing and dematerializing all business processes.
Based on what emerged during the Doxee Digital Club, the essential condition for the successful digital transformation of a healthcare company is the knowledge base or database information system. In fact, without proper database analysis, business processes cannot be properly monitored and segmented.
Having digital tools that enable standardization of business processes helps to improve information control, reduce errors, foster collaboration between different areas, and thus allow more time for patient care.
However, even for IT investment, there is still much work to be done. The latest AGID Report on ICT Spending in Italian Health Care shows that investment in the introduction of digital solutions and data-driven technologies is still very limited: about 80% of the total expenditure is for maintaining and ensuring the operation of existing systems.
The low concentration of projects based on Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and the Cloud, which can offer numerous benefits in terms of system interoperability, architecture modernization, and performance improvement, shows that there is still a large gap to fill when it comes to the digitization of the healthcare sector is still very large. (Source: AGID Report on ICT Spending in Italian Health Care)
Primary goal: the patient at the center
We shouldn’t forget that, among the many opportunities that healthcare digitization offers, the most important one is definitely about patient-centeredness.
As we mentioned in a previous blog post, patient-centeredness can be defined as the ability and willingness to put the patient first and to create an open environment for providing the best experience and outcomes as respectfully and compassionately as possible.
Tools like electronic health records, remote care apps, hospital reception kiosks, digital CUPs, and tele-monitoring can be excellent allies in achieving the goal of patient-centeredness.
An example of this is the “Easy Hospital” app from Sant’Orsola Hospital in Bologna, which we talked about during the Doxee Digital Club.
The app was created with the goal of providing an outdoor navigation system via GPS and indoor via eBeacon-BLE technology, but it’s not limited to only guiding the patient within the Sant’Orsola campus to the appointment location. In fact, it is capable of providing information regarding other points of interest for the patient, such as parking lots, halls, the emergency room, etc.
Furthermore, what makes this app an excellent example of digitization of the patient experience is that, once inside the outpatient clinic, it is able to check the payment status of the service (if required), issue a virtual ticket, and send a notification to let the patient know that the doctor is ready to see them.
It’s important to highlight that these tools must be supported by clear, immediate and personalized communications in order for patients to truly feel heard and cared for.
Here, communications like appointment reminders, follow-ups, and invitations for prevention screenings, which are often still paper-based, can be transformed into digital, personalized, and interactive communications.
If the primary goal is patient-centeredness, here is where personalized communication enhances the individual even more and allows for a true one-to-one dialog.
And why make it interactive? Because patients expect digital technology to simplify not only communication with specialists, but also activities such as booking appointments, paying their co-payments, sending documents, and accessing referrals. Through personalized communications, such as Doxee Pvideo®, these actions can be accomplished with the click of a button.
In summary, there are many benefits of digitization in healthcare and they touch various aspects of medicine.
The digital technologies we have considered, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, telemedicine apps, and communication tools are truly transforming health care, improving its quality, efficiency, and accessibility.
Digitization of the health sector, then, is an ever-evolving path from which there is no turning back but only moving forward, and whose only goal is to have patients treated in the best possible way and in the shortest possible time.
This goal can only be achieved through investment in highly innovative technologies that can digitize and simplify processes, from the perspective of both healthcare facilities and of the patients.