Is India’s healthcare industry ready for a digital transformation?

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Ashu Kajekar, Founder and CEO, 7EDGE Internet, elaborates on  the need for healthcare companies to integrate latest technologies into existing business models and IT architectures to deliver superior customer experiences

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Ashu Kajekar

The Indian healthcare industry has traditionally been a slow adopter of digital technology mainly due to the fragmented and complex nature of the industry. The healthcare environment is becoming more distributed and complex. As digital technology becomes more affordable and more accessible, a change in mindset becomes more and more essential.

Digitisation of healthcare products and processes, will dramatically change the game for everyone. Healthcare providers, to thrive in this environment,  must be willing to look to the future and embrace change. It is also essential that they fully understand those issues which will have the most transformational impact upon their sector. Healthcare companies need to integrate the latest technologies into existing business models and IT architectures  to deliver superior customer experiences.

Digital transformation requires you to rethink all your issue processes. It requires an appropriate use of data and digital technology by putting the needs of the customer at the centre of the business. The disruption will motivate insurance companies and healthcare providers to shift from a health system driven model to a customer-oriented model.

Getting ready for the digital era

In the last few years, the healthcare industry is being disrupted by digitisation in the quest to focus on enhanced customer experience — and CEOs and boards are taking notice. The benefits of the cloud, data and mobile technologies has brought about a fundamental mindset change in the healthcare industry as they now shift from a volume-based to a value-based approach.

Traditionally in India, doctors and healthcare providers act as the custodians of patient information and data. With the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), wearable technology, and smart devices, this too is changing. Patients are being given the opportunity to increasingly take charge of their health and decide when action is needed. As the Indian population begins to rely more upon smartphones and mobile apps to provide individualised health information, they will gain the ability to track their own health metrics. Increased accessibility for patients to their own personal data will create a demand for greater transparency from healthcare providers.

The healthcare industry will need better strategies to keep costs low, while also driving engagement and transparency up, through carefully planned record management and the digitisation of paper processes. Digital capability can not only improve profitability by boosting productivity and efficiency, it will also support an overall better standard of care – one that is both compliant and secure, and which meets customer and patient expectations by being personal, responsive, and completely future proof.

Challenges in the transformation of processes and business models

As healthcare companies in India look to transform themselves, they are discovering that digital technologies are to be managed not as utilities but as strategic assets. Some are attempting to bridge the gap between legacy and digital IT by undertaking complex systems transformations. Others are experimenting with ways to maintain its existing IT architecture while using analytics to securely mine the data it collects for useful business insights. A large drugmaker is exploring the use of cloud platforms to reduce data storage and processing costs and to boost the speed of its R&D efforts.

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Most healthcare companies are lagging behind in digital, as compared to companies in travel, retail, telecommunications, and other sectors. Their digital-transformation efforts can stall for many of the same reasons such efforts are thwarted in other sectors—for instance, a limited understanding of the specific ways that implementation of new technologies across complex product and services lines can create business value, a shortage of native digital talent, and insufficient focus on digital topics from senior leadership.

The framework for a successful industry-wide digital transformation

Though this is a potentially exciting time for healthcare providers in India, it is also a challenging one. The ability to adopt new systems and processes is limited by a need to keep costs low and maintain a delicate balance between quality and affordability. There are four basic principles for achieving success with any digital transformation program.

Identifying and prioritising the value propositions: As a first step toward digital transformation, healthcare companies must determine the distinctive value propositions they provide to their consumers and stakeholders. A simple value proposition could be creating intelligent medical devices such as IoT-based medical devices, inhalers, and auto-injectors, that can monitor and manage specific conditions or assist in medical procedures.

Another value proposition could be building a digital platform to collect and analyse historical medical data, conduct synthetic clinical trials, manage market access, and accelerate their research efforts. This will help companies get closer to customers to give them targeted products and services, and engage them in value-based relationships.

By establishing a clear value proposition, healthcare companies will be in a better position to understand how the use of digital technologies could enable those activities. Also, they can determine how best to adjust investments in digital technologies and development approaches to meet the highest priorities during the complicated transformation process.

Establishing service-delivery capabilities: Once the value proposition and the priorities have been set for digital transformation, healthcare companies will need to establish the delivery mechanisms and processes by which digital products and services can be delivered to the end-consumers. This will require a re-invention of workflows and processes through automation and personalisation through data-driven insights to complement the user needs. For instance, insights about the supply chain could help healthcare companies reduce general and administrative costs and improve customer service.

Agile development, data sciences, and customer-experience design can be useful approaches for these companies to explore. Healthcare organisation can realise tangible business benefits as a result of combining these approaches. Some device makers have already initiated the process of adding digital capabilities around their products to create better patient outcomes—allowing for predictive diagnostics, early disease detection and remote monitoring of patient care. Meanwhile, some pharma companies are using data analytics and artificial intelligence to discover drugs or identify new uses for established ones.

Modernising infrastructure foundations: With digital priorities identified, and service delivery models established, healthcare companies need to make a critical analysis of their current IT infrastructure. Legacy systems and on-premise infrastructure are the primary hurdles for digital transformation. Organisations need to opt for cloud-based infrastructure to support strategic priorities, promote speed and transparency in operations, and build service delivery capabilities at scale.

For companies investing in smart medical devices, incorporating connectivity into their IT architectures is of paramount importance – for instance, collation of data from sensors and other monitoring technologies from medical devices in the field. Building a cloud-based information backbone will allow for a holistic management of services and help stakeholders access data sets with ease. Johnson & Johnson, for instance, runs a majority of its computing workload on a cloud-based platform. This has allowed them to manage capacity based on demand, ensure network reliability, and hold costs in check.

Augmenting core capabilities: Digital transformation is not just adopting and adapting to digital technologies, but a complete change in a number of core areas. It is not possible to drive a digital transformation strategy without establishing a cultural change. Companies must establish healthy work environments that are open to new ideas and best practices. They need to invest in talented resources and upskilling of existing resources to take their digital strategy forward. They will also need to develop partnerships with other companies in the healthcare ecosystem and in other relevant industry clusters to reinforce their capabilities.

Digital initiatives will requires a dedicated budget and formal governance structures where internal and external stakeholders weigh on investment decisions. Leadership teams need to communicate investment priorities clearly and ensure the alignment of investments to successful business outcomes.

Final word

The digital transformation of the Indian healthcare industry is not just starting – it is already underway. However, it will need a considerable amount of strategising and planning to put a method to this madness. They will need to embrace open systems that allow for sophisticated analysis of multiple streams of data and the development of customer-centric services. They must be able to view processes as end-to-end flows rather than discrete handoffs, embrace more risk, move at higher speeds, and engage in innovative partnerships.

The winners in Indian healthcare are moving quickly to initiate change and capitalising on the strategy cited earlier. They are investing early in promising technologies and risk-sharing relationships with other companies, inside and outside the industry. They are embracing new development and operating models, and relying more on data-driven insights to make critical business decisions. More importantly, they are re-imagining themselves as digital enterprises—adaptive, collaborative organisations that can keep pace with changes in the healthcare marketplace. This helps them undertake their transformation programmes successfully, creating better patient outcomes and more value for all stakeholders.

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