As the biggest global healthcare crisis of the modern era, the COVID-19 pandemic put the sector under scrutiny like never before.
The knock-on effect of the rapid response of healthcare providers and pharma companies is likely to raise consumer expectations about how quickly and efficiently treatment can be delivered.
According to Hannah Graham, Group Account Director at Equator, that presents both problems and opportunities for providers.
“The healthcare sector is attracting investment in a way many other industries are not. But it also means a shift away from outmoded systems and processes is paramount if user demands are to be met,” she explains. “Modernisation isn’t easy. There’s a recognition at management level that legacy systems might not be fit for purpose. But there’s also a battle over how to replace them - and what exactly should be replaced. The cost of making changes can be immense.
“Board-level clinicians will be keen to buy into new tech that maximises patient outcomes, from diagnostic equipment to robotics.
Yet without robust operating systems to underpin use of the technology, providers face leaving a big gap between patient expectation and experience: digital records falling between silos; booking systems that fall over; treatment pathways lost in a forest of red tape.”
Equator is seeing clinicians and senior operations managers working more closely on digitisation strategies, in order to deliver better outcomes. But there’s so much more to be done.
Digitisation is driving healthcare change
“Digital and marketing directors continue to compete with clinical colleagues to get the best return on investment from technology,” continues Graham. “In our experience there are several ways to make sure everyone pulls in the same direction. Here are just a few examples:
- Take the view that only by offering an enhanced ‘digital patient experience’ across the industry can digitisation be effective and efficient, with long-lasting benefits
- Healthcare organisations can directly sell or promote advances in tech-based medical treatment and services e.g. robotic surgery can cut knee operation recovery time from 12 to two weeks
“It’s also important to note that many healthcare professionals aren’t just on board now with digitisation of processes: they’re already using them to improve their own roles and the patient experience."
“During the pandemic, huge numbers were forced to adopt digital tools overnight as part of the frontline response: reducing time on site e.g. in hospital settings; reducing registration time by shifting admin online. Professionals were upskilled almost instantly - and now realise the value of digital. It’s been a serious shift in mentality.”
The benefits of adopting digital operations
“There are three clear benefits that result from healthcare organisations updating their operations as well as their technology,” says Graham. “First, improved patient experience. With individuals expecting to access an ‘Amazon-style’ frictionless healthcare model - thanks to the logistical success of many brands in this area - they want digital services to be present in all of their interactions. This means managing appointments, accessing test results, making any payments and so on, via online channels.
“Second, ROI. Revolutionising and connecting back-end systems with front-end digital products and services - through a website optimised for user experience - improves operational efficiency and reduces administrative headcount. These new processes are also the bedrock for intuitive marketing campaigns and new patient acquisition in private healthcare.
“Third, data. With digitisation and access to data, healthcare organisations are empowered to take control of acquisition and market share, rather than waiting for patients to come to them. A data-powered campaign we ran for a client, featuring PPC activity, journey mapping and keyword automation, resulted in a +48% increase in conversion.”
Balancing efficiency and experience for patients
This is not to say that all is plain sailing when it comes to digital transformation in healthcare.
“We hear many tales of the patient experience being as much of a barrier as an opportunity,” says Graham. “Integration of on- and offline experiences is challenging, with expectations of medical treatment and digital excellence often misaligned. Seamless journeys rely on data as well as technology - and patients can still be sceptical of both.
“That’s why putting the patient at the centre of strategies is key. When preparing for all digital transformation projects we follow a robust three-phase process: diagnostic; planning; and implementation. This allows us to assess the existing state of an organisation, set objectives, and design a roadmap to implement change in manageable work streams, over various lengths of time.
“Business change is tricky, especially in a sector that touches the lives of every citizen, and often does so in critical fashion. By working with patients and collaborating across organisations, we’ll collectively ensure digitisation and the technology that drives it can make a big difference to people’s lives.”
This article was originally published in Healthcare Digital in March 2023.