Why it’s time to bring digital transformation down to earth

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The recent publication of the Fuller Stocktake report sets out a new vision for the role of primary care in integrated care systems. Digital technology has a supportive role to play in realising the publication’s future vision.
Juliet Bauer discusses why a grounded approach to digital transformation in healthcare is vital for success.

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘digital transformation’? Empty buzzwords, laborious process or something simply too hard to do? In every organisation I’ve worked for, I’ve encountered many of these sentiments. And I’ve found that the secret to enacting any digital vision lies in making it feel real and attainable.

For the UK health system, adopting a practical, grounded approach to this ‘lofty concept’ will be the key. It’s only by bringing digital down to earth that we can hope to meet real needs of both patients and the wider health system.

That starts by looking at real-world examples of what has worked for others. Indeed, there are many tangible blueprints of best practice from our European neighbours we can learn from. And with the new European Health Data Space draft proposal to promote better exchange and access to different types of health data, as well as a framework for European care delivery, we have a window of opportunity to increase collaboration. Thousands of healthcare organisations across Europe have also undergone similar processes and faced similar challenges. And they’ve had success.

France has seen seamless integration of digital tools and structured data sharing because the healthcare system operates nationally unlike the UK. While in Sweden, the ability to analyse patient data means individuals with long-term conditions can often be easily matched to clinicians with the right skillset. There, algorithmic tools have reduced avoidable hospitalisations by 20%. While the country’s holistic view of mental and physical health and integrated approach is a measuring stick to follow.

The pandemic has shown us the benefits of having an international healthcare system we can learn from. We have looked to other countries for guidance on issues such as vaccine passports and contact tracing. It makes sense that we continue to learn from our neighbours to understand where technology is having the most impact and how best to implement it.

However, in addition to looking outside the UK, I believe transformation must also start from within.

I’ve found that in general, businesses understand the importance of digital transformation, but all too often, plans are never put into action. This is usually because of recurring internal roadblocks and fears that hinder progress. To successfully digitise, organisations must look to tackle these concerns head-on.

Taking healthcare as a case in point, data from a global survey by Kry/Livi shows that 87% of doctors across Europe agree better technology can save them time on administration. And yet, there is still a nervousness among healthcare professionals about time and cost to ‘rip and replace’ legacy systems within their organisation.

Indeed, that same survey showed that across Europe, the time and effort involved with implementing tech was the number one roadblock to adoption for doctors. While 62% of doctors also noted complexity as an obstacle for implementation.

For any digital transformation initiative to take root, it’s paramount that organisations dispel concerns about technology being too complex or ‘hard to do’. Digital solutions have advanced to a point where rip and replace should simply no longer be on the table.

It’s why here across our own European business, we ground our digital services in the real needs of our health partners and work to complement existing systems and processes. We know digital care cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution and will not solve everything. But when done well, it can enhance and make the health system work better for both patients and healthcare providers.

Simplicity of systems is integral to making this all work. Technology needs to be straightforward and easy-to-use or else no one will actually want to use it. However, creating great technology that easily integrates with legacy systems is one thing. If people don’t understand the broader purpose of digital transformation, they are unlikely to really adopt and take up the cause.

We shouldn’t assume the value of digital and new technology is self-evident to everyone. Communication is vital to ensuring all stakeholders understand why such initiatives should take place and the benefits they can bring. Digital transformation needs to be grounded in a way that makes sense in the context of a given individual or organisation’s specific needs.

As part of this, organisations need to take time to understand their stakeholders and tailor their messaging accordingly. We have worked hard to really understand the needs of patients, clinicians and partners. For patients, it’s the ability to see a GP the same day. For healthcare organisations, it’s the ability to more easily and efficiently serve growing patient populations and reduce costs.

Many businesses know that digitalisation is a vital step towards achieving their wider ambitions, but don’t quite understand how to get there. If in doubt, think practical. Look at what has worked for others, and rather than ripping and replacing your current systems altogether, take incremental steps to integrate technology in the day-to-day operations of your organisation. Communication will be key, and simplicity of message will be just as important as the simplicity of digital solutions required for the journey ahead.

Juliet Bauer, Chief Growth and Marketing Officer, Livi