Deploying digital capabilities in healthcare: do more with what you’ve got

By David Pare

Years of underinvestment in healthcare IT have taken their toll on both the public and private sectors in Australia and New Zealand.

In a 2020 report, the New Zealand Ministry of Health estimated that, over the next 10 years, a NZ$2.3 billion investment in health IT at district health boards would be required to address problems with legacy systems and deliver an efficient digital health environment. The same issues pervade the public health system in Australia and for a population that is five times the size.

In both the public and private sectors, problems with health IT are well-recognised. Many hospitals and healthcare systems have aging, disparate applications, and many are still working on paper. Data is hard to access, which has resulted in problems such as missed claims opportunities in the private health sector, poor patient outcomes, and a less than optimal clinician experience.

At the same time, private healthcare organisations have struggled with falling revenue, exacerbated by fewer patients taking out private health insurance. According to a report from the Grattan Institute less than 40 per cent of the Australian population is expected to be covered by private health insurance by 2030.

The health sector faces a Catch-22 situation: On one hand, investment in health IT will help to improve processes and achieve the objectives of improved models of care; on the other, with less money, how do both the public and private sector invest in much-needed IT advancements? After all, new systems are costly, and the procurement process can take months or even years.

However, investment in digital technologies doesn’t have to be an-all-or-nothing approach. There are many options for leveraging your existing IT application landscape to derive more value, with small investments that do not require a costly and long “rip and replace” approach.

Creating value – quickly

My first recommendation would be to work with your existing technology vendor partners. Most are eager to help but they do need to be engaged early, and strategically, so they can suggest applicable solutions that will allow organisations to achieve their objectives. Most vendors can invest resources in various ways to resolve a problem, but don’t wait for the last minute. Bring the vendors to the table, describe your challenge or goal, and work with them to find the best affordable solution.

There are several examples of these types of initiatives where DXC Technology and others have worked with health organisations (sometimes in collaboration with other vendors) to solve a business problem.

In one case, a New Zealand district health board needed to open a telehealth service, since it was key to re-opening outpatient clinics for appointments as quickly as possible. As the organisation did not have the time or budget to go to market for a new solution, it decided to work with DXC to develop a solution that facilitates the automatic booking of a Microsoft Teams telehealth appointment from a patient administration system (PAS) booking and manages the associated workflows. This agile project was delivered in 8 weeks.

Another example is a Western Australian health service provider that has issues with clinicians using the insecure and unregulated WhatsApp messaging mobile app. The health service worked with DXC and Microsoft to solve this problem by creating a simple, affordable and efficient clinical experience proof-of-concept that presents patient data from the existing PAS directly to Microsoft Teams. This allowed them to trial a new tool that provides a set of useful digital ward round experiences and moves clinicians away from an unsecured mobile app.

We worked with a hospital in Saudi Arabia to establish a command and control centre for patient flow. The idea was to create an integrated care record for patients on top of the existing systems of record. We built dynamic dashboards for insights into emergency department lengths of stay, readmissions rates, outpatient no-shows and operating room optimisation. Without any changes to the existing application landscape, administrators and clinicians now have improved visibility into the end-to-end patient journey across the hospital departments, prompting them to actively complete tasks to ensure that patients are flowing through at an optimised rate. This has helped to improve the patient experience and reduce the overall costs of the patient visit.

These examples demonstrate how healthcare organisations can create great value by simply leveraging what they already have and by engaging with their vendors and partners. It is important when designing these solutions to have a future state in mind, using the perspective of a digital technology strategy. This will ensure that the choices you make now will be viable in the future. And if they are interim disposable solutions, you are doing so knowingly. Without a view of the future or a clear strategy, you may end up creating isolated point solutions that will increase your technology landscape complexity, slow your future agility and increase your operational costs.

About David Pare:
David Pare is an innovative thinker with 20 years of experience in business and technology management consulting, helping organizations through their digital transformation. At Dedalus, David is the global portfolio director for the ConnectedCare solution. Previously, he was the chief technology officer for DXC Technology’s Healthcare and Life Sciences in Australia and New Zealand.

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