Digital tools like telemedicine and electronic patient records have been transforming healthcare for years now. The pandemic has only accelerated that process—sometimes exponentially.
RGP Healthcare VP Mikhail Gorbatenko recently provided insights in this Q&A into how digital transformations are rapidly changing the face of healthcare and what positive impact this could mean for practitioners.
What are you seeing specifically when it comes to healthcare’s digital transformation?
There are many, but I’d start with two interaction areas: patient, doctor or clinical team interaction, and then employee interaction.
On the clinical side, many of today’s new digital tools are allowing physicians and clinicians to interact with people remotely pretty much at the same level as they would face-to-face. Telemedicine had already been long underway. The pandemic only caused it to balloon in use and now everybody’s using it.
Today, you can access a doctor or nurse from anywhere. And unless you’re dealing with an acute case that requires immediate in-person attention, this is actually a good thing.
A lot of people don’t realize that providers nowadays are able to send patients remote monitoring tools so they can keep track of a number of vitals including weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, blood oxygen levels and so on. Patients don’t always need to go to hospitals or clinics as much anymore but can stay at home with loved ones in a more comfortable environment.
It’s a win-win scenario. Clearly, patients benefit, but so do healthcare professionals. The improved efficiency and convenience of these solutions allow them to focus on prevention and improvement in quality of life rather than being reactive.
Is this improving access in under-served areas?
It already is. For example, say you’re working in a rural hospital. Many practitioners there have to play the role of “jack-of-all-trades” since these hospitals often don’t have enough scale to have as many specialists as hospitals in more densely populated areas.
Now say you have a patient there with a significant cardiac problem but you aren’t sure of the care because it’s not your area of expertise. Here’s were telemedicine is making a difference. Video consults with specialists who can access digital records, imaging, and so on, can now take place essentially anywhere around the globe.
All three—the patient, the doctor, and the specialist—can be on the call. You can see all the medical records all the notes, all the vital signs all the lab results, real-time at your fingerprints. In some ways, the pandemic made it more possible than before because these types of consults are becoming more common.
What about the omni-channel experience in healthcare?
Omnichannel is a buzzword you hear a lot these days, but it’s here to stay. It means a person can get an answer with not just one, but multiple ways of communicating with physicians or a hospital clinical team.
With older people, for example, they often prefer communicating via the phone. Younger people, on the other hand, are gravitating towards online bots with an AI interface.
Technology allows us to connect into one centralized area or processing area, so no matter how you connect with your group, you get the same level of care.
The same goes for the business side of the healthcare sector. With so many M&As, you face the challenge of integrating so many different systems—a challenge both patients and employees face.
Again, this is not just about efficiency. It’s about making the employee experience easier so there are fewer frustrations, and more work satisfaction at the end of the day.
The question then becomes: “Do I transition everybody into my systems, or do I create a third kind of a sequel build where data is aggregated and all the inquiries go to that one centralized area to provide an answer?”
That answer depends on the complexity of the systems being integrated as well as the time horizon. Often, these multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects create a middle platform where they pull data from both systems.
Where are the biggest strides being made in healthcare’s digital transformation? Where can we expect to see more progress?
The answer is clear. Two areas in particular stand out: artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic tools to remove simple tasks.
The message is clear, too: Your job will be changing. And by that I mean all sorts of tools are going to eliminate redundant or repetitive tasks. Face it, nobody wants to do repetitive, mundane tasks day-after-day. These technologies remove those tasks and allow employees to instead focus on higher-value, more cognitive-driven skills to accomplish their work.
We’re already seeing AI improve revenue cycles, examining lab results, diagnostics imaging, and so on. AI does the heavy lifting so the practitioner can focus on quality delivery.
As far as the future goes, AI is going to start really expanding into predictive analytics. By amassing so much data and now being able to make better sense of it all, AI will be helping physicians predict conditions further ahead of time with far greater accuracy. The result? Improved outcomes because you’re able to catch conditions earlier when they’re easier to treat.
By taking the drudgery out of the work, the medical professional can focus more on care—exactly what he or she trained to do in med school in the first place, ultimately leading to greater workplace satisfaction.
How about the day-to-day work of physicians?
We’re seeing improvement there, too. It’s happening in what I call “documentation burden,” a major negative in the profession today and can be a source of workplace frustration.
For example, these new tools are making it easier for physicians—either through dictation or some kind of a template—to write up their notes. Instead of spending half your day typing, technology does it for you faster and more efficiently.
Another example is what’s called “rounding.” Every morning, physicians will do their rounds visiting patients with nurses and sometimes medical students. HIPAA-compliant iPads and video consoles are making it easier and faster to record data, collaborate, and seek out specialized consults when needed.
Any final thoughts on human-first digital transformation in healthcare?
Like many industries, we’re seeing a lot of talent mobility these days. Healthcare is no different. Like in other sectors, highly-skilled individuals have options these days. But it’s not always about a paycheck. Compensation can play a role, but it’s not the only why reason why people stay or leave.
First, they believe what they’re doing is truly makes a difference. They see the impact of their actions and they see what they do is valuable and appreciated. They have a connection, a human connection, to their boss and their peers.
Although technology is not a 100% perfect substitute for that conversation in the cafeteria, hallway or the elevator, what’s happening spontaneously is that technology allows us to still have face-to-face interactions that are at least better than a phone call. Why? Because I can see you. I can read your expressions and I connect with you on a human level.
It also allows you to connect with your team as what we all want is to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—part of a group where what we do matters.
The other thing is that many of these efficient technologies are freeing up healthcare practitioners and business support people to help them perform better at what they were trained for in the first place, either at med school, an MBA or an accounting degree.
Better use of cognitive skills instead of drudgery means greater workforce satisfaction, which in turn means greater retention of talent. Win-win as far as I can see—especially important for an industry as critical as healthcare, which impacts us all.