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E-health needs to be about people, not tech

By Kathleen O’Brien*
Monday, 02 October, 2017

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Funding alone will not usher in the next wave of digital innovation in health care.

Health is undoubtedly a sector on the rise. And we’re on the cusp of a huge opportunity for digital health care to be a driver of further innovation in Australia.

If the public sector is to be trusted with the digital delivery and security of health care, there needs to be a concerted effort to get Australians on board. To fully realise the opportunities that exist with digital health care, services need to be geared toward patient outcomes to garner support from the very constituents it is designed to help.

This focus will require a fundamental change in the way services are delivered.

In the most recent NSW Budget, digital services received $536 million, to be focused on two projects: a digital patient record and a system-wide digital platform. Both are vitally necessary for the delivery of digital health care, and to futureproof the system for upcoming technology advances.

The level of investment is an important and significant step, signalling a clear willingness from the NSW Government and the sector to embrace digital technology and foster innovation. It also comes at a critical time, with a number of recent IT problems challenging public sector bureaus, dominating news headlines and shifting public opinion on government tech expenditure.

The power of digital services

Personalisation and consistent, timely delivery of services are the end goals of these recent investments.

Every industry and organisation is feeling the impact of customer empowerment. Customers expect to be able to interact across channels including the web, mobile and in person. They also require a consistent service experience. This is no different in the public healthcare sector.

For instance, of the healthcare IT investment cited in NSW’s Budget, more than $286.3 million across nine years will be used to “enhance the digital infrastructure that supports clinical and other health-related systems cross the state”. This includes connecting all local health districts to a broader area network and creating a path for mobile health care and video conferencing within the system.

A further $236.2 million over seven years will go to an integrated digital patient record, including $18.7 million this financial year.

From a patient’s perspective, these platforms have the potential to create a singular healthcare network — rather than a disjointed experience where the onus is on citizens to fill in the gaps. For example, a digital health record helps Australians recite their patient history and ensures doctors instantly have a more complete picture of their needs, enabling consistent treatments regardless of where the services are accessed.

The linchpin of digital health is data. Instead of having records in multiple databases and sitting in Excel spreadsheets, a platform that brings all of this information together would be necessary.

If we extend that into the future, a digital platform and holistic patient record has the potential of being integrated into new technologies. From artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, data can predict what problems patients have now and will potentially have in the future. Blockchain could store important health records for citizens, accessible when they travel, move abroad or come to Australia from other countries, ensuring a holistic and trustworthy source of health history.

Addressing patient expectations

If the move to digital health care is to be adopted, it needs the public to be brought on the journey. To do this effectively, health providers must adopt the same approaches leading brands use to satisfy consumers.

At the top of that list is developing a holistic view into all citizen interactions through a journey map detailing each touchpoint in the engagement. These platforms display key information about an individual and provide a visual timeline of all interactions, allowing public sector staff to ensure consistency across interactions that might take place through different channels. Having a record of past interaction also allows communication to be personalised to the individual when they choose to engage.

These journey maps have a direct impact on the overall success of public sector engagements. An Aberdeen Group study, commissioned by SAP Hybris, found public sector institutions that provided personalised communications outpaced those that didn’t across multiple rankings — net promoter scores, employee engagement and first-contact resolution. Journey maps also drove down the cost of service for these organisations as a result of these improvements.

The digital roadmap for success

Moving towards this digital, personalised system requires the support of the public. It means any digital transformation needs to tick a number of boxes; namely that it is successful, has a clear patient benefit and is secure.

An agile approach in delivering a digital roadmap is the best guarantee for success. It’s centred on the smaller steps which make up an overall journey — that is, delivering on one thing fairly quickly and then continuing to iterate. With this approach, mistakes and concerns can be found before they reach disaster stage and improvements can continue to be made as need grows.

This approach also helps get complicity from the public. With a change regarding information as personal as health care, it’s important for the public to know that it’s not only secure, but to understand how things are secured, under what conditions information can be accessed and how they would be notified, and how they can control of their own data. It is important for the government to outline these conditions and address concerns before the digital health system rolls out any further or becomes mandatory.

We’re at a critical juncture in the move to a digital healthcare system. The foundation we build now will directly impact the success and the future innovation of the sector. Support from the public, and mechanisms to ensure the system is designed to meet their needs, is a crucial part of this infrastructure.

*Kathleen O’Brien is Global Industry Principal for Public Sector, SAP Hybris Australia and New Zealand.

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