Digital transformation is not linear, so why is our thinking?

Posted on: 16.05.2019
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Digital health is such a new phenomenon that it raises many speculations, big hopes and brings about futuristic visions. Many of them are utopian visions, desires, dreams of a better, healthier world, more efficient and sustainable healthcare. Let’s try to understand why outlining the same visions of digitisation for years does not enhance its real development.

Digital futurology

The success stories of technological leaders like Apple, Amazon, Google or Facebook helped coin a new term “disruptive technologies”. It is used to refer to solutions that change the rules of the game, turn everything upside down, replace the old with the new. Following the hotel and transportation sector, it is time in healthcare for a leader like Airbnb or Uber that offers a universal digital service which democratises access to medical services. Some people point out Apple that introduced a solution last year enabling users to access health records on their smartphones. The media follow all Amazon’s moves related to their entrance into the healthcare market. Some people hope for a miracle, others are looking at it with fear, possibly expecting an apocalyptic situation.

In the wake of this, the “Move fast and break things” philosophy has become an indicator of many startup activities. Ironically, in healthcare, it is often a nail in the coffin. In a highly regulated market with traditional relationships – resulting from the specific character of healthcare – not only technology itself but also the values that have been preserved for years are crucial. Even the adoption of breakthrough technologies takes a lot of time because the healthcare market is a completely different world with strict rules. The story of the fraud committed by Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, shows that the atmosphere of waiting for a medical company that would join The Big Four is very tense. As the healthcare industry is now crawling in digitisation, the opportunities for change and implementation of digital products and services are vast.

Improving healthcare through digitalisation. But how?

Nevertheless, healthcare is not a desert island waiting for development. This area needs fundamental reforms and tighter control because, in the current model, it is cracking under the weight of new social and financial challenges. Unfortunately, many companies offering new technologies, especially the ones that have not had anything to do with medicine so far, look at this sector in a superficial manner, in the light of other industries, without noticing the complex internal structure, treating digitisation as a multi-purpose glue (intentional analogy – scattered information about a patient is one of the main problems in healthcare). What is missing is a realistic analysis of the local and partial problems that can be quickly solved with digital tools. The simplest applications adapted in Africa, where medical infrastructure is poor, and basic patients’ needs can be addressed thanks to mobile applications, telemedicine and access to the Internet can serve as an example here.

Making innovation is like storytelling

Digitisation has become an opportunity for a better future. We should take a closer look at other industries while planning the future of healthcare. By introducing the first smartphones to the market, Apple reminded us that, first of all, the real revolution is not about the linear improvement of things but about the implementation of rapid changes and, second of all, inventiveness has a lot to do with an element that has been connecting people in a community for ages – telling incredible stories. Apple’s commitment to improving people’s lives and increasing their opportunities continues to attract crowds, which is seen in the media’s excitement about the release of a new iPhone. And although health is the greatest need, unfortunately it is not as “sexy” as the social belongingness, or rather the need of making up for loneliness, pursued on Facebook. At least as long as we are healthy. That is why even though the idealisation of innovations is very controversial, the promise of a healthier life, thanks to Big Data analyses, monitoring of mental and physical condition (wearables) may seem attractive. And it is the first step towards making healthcare digitisation a social movement.

Smart changes for a better future

Healthcare needs new heroes – innovators. And it also needs a good change strategy and rethinking of the current rules. Without them it will be difficult to implement new solutions in old structures and even if it works out, their efficiency and range may be very limited. Before technology makes a transformation, we need a transformation in the healthcare culture. Although the comparison may seem exaggerated, in my opinion, we are facing such important changes and decisions that need similar agitation as in the case of the climate changes.
If we cannot make it, healthcare inequalities, resulting from the growing needs and unlimited resources, may become a source of social disturbance. It is also possible that in the upcoming years technologies will grow gradually, naturally adapting to everyday life, in an evolutionary, not a revolutionary manner, without disruptive changes. All in all, there may be different scenarios of digital transformation.

Artur Olesch

Artur Olesch

Freelance Digital Health Journalist

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