Going digital in health: the impact of the ‘consumerism’ shift

Following the example set by other industries such as retail and manufacturing, healthcare is becoming far more customer centric. We hear from experts at Avanade about what this means for the future of the industry

Rebecca Lambert
Rebecca Lambert
By Rebecca Lambert on 21 July 2015
Going digital in health: the impact of the ‘consumerism’  shift

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows

In Paris, nurses and doctors have been equipped with Windows tablets so that they can access and update medical records on the go. This is allowing them to provide patients with acute or chronic medical conditions the same quality of care and attention as in a normal hospital, but in the familiar and comforting environment of their own home.

The initiative is run by the Home Hospitalisation division of Paris Hospitals in collaboration with Avanade. Using a Windows tablet and a custom-built app, medical professionals can remotely access the information systems used to manage patients’ medical records. Gone are the days where they had to update the patient record manually in two files – one held at the patient’s home, the other back at the department’s central care unit. Now, they can do it in one go during a consultation, and it’s saving them time and unnecessary travel.

Driven by the need to help medical professionals work more productively, but also deliver a better service for their patients – not to mention a more cost-effective one – innovations like this are becoming increasingly widespread across the healthcare sector as more providers realise the benefits of going digital.

According to Sheetal Shah, director of health at Avanade, this digital revolution is inevitable and it’s being driven by a number of factors – cost savings tend to top the list, but providers are also being impacted by a ‘consumerism’ shift.

“Just look at what’s happening in the US,” he says. “The Affordable Care Act has opened the door for consumers to take control. For the first time, they are starting to have access to comprehensive information about the price and quality of healthcare services. Like what’s already occurred in other industries – think shopping and holiday comparison sites – consumers can now research their healthcare provider and make informed decisions before committing to receive treatment from a provider.”

This is not something that is happening in the US alone. Everywhere, consumer expectations are changing. “Historically, the consumer has been very passive, but in today’s connected world, they can research, share reviews, and compare services and providers,” explains Suzanne Williams, managing director of North America health industry at Avanade. “They’re empowered and sophisticated, and this means that healthcare providers are having to refine and sharpen their focus on the consumer. It’s a change that is rocking the healthcare world.” To better serve their patients, healthcare providers are finding that it’s in their interest to learn more about them.

“At Avanade we’re really focused on helping providers know more about each individual they’re serving,” says Shah. “This requires a holistic consumer-centric view of the individual – not just their profile when they’re a patient.”

Tools like Microsoft Dynamics CRM are proving particularly useful in helping providers to gather consumer data and centrally store it so that it may be securely accessed by the professionals that need it to deliver a more personalised level of care.

Craig Gettelman, senior director of global health solutions at Avanade, highlights Bupa in Australia as a good example. “The private health insurance provider is using a new knowledge portal built on the Microsoft platform to give its frontline consultants access to customer information at their fingertips, helping them to efficiently deal with enquiries and provide an improved level of service,” he explains.

Once they’re in a position to gather customer information, beyond disseminating it among their employees, healthcare providers can start to analyse it and use those insights to target particular customer segments, such as by sending dietary information to diabetics or encouraging a particular age group to book in for a flu vaccine. “In effect, they can start to determine what the patient will want or need before they know it themselves,” says Williams.

“This ties in closely with another important growth area – population health management,” adds Gettelman. “If providers are able to share and connect information across their organisations, they can gain access to the bigger picture and really start to manage the health of entire populations.”

Technology can also be used to better engage with patients during consultations, while helping hospitals and surgeries get closer to the reality of providing better care for potentially less money. “This isn’t about replacing doctors and nurses,” says Shah. “This is about equipping them with the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively. Like the nurses in Paris that are saving time on unnecessary journeys to and from the hospital, healthcare professionals can take advantage of the latest mobile and social technologies to communicate with their patients in new ways.”

In the UK, an online community called Big White Wall has been set up to help people who are anxious, down or not coping. The site is monitored by trained professionals who are online 24/7 and provides a safe, anonymous environment for people to share what’s troubling them.

“People don’t always have time to book an appointment to go and see their GP or travel to see a specialist; it can be inconvenient taking time off work and making the journey,” says Shah. “That’s why we expect monitored online communities and Skype consultations to take off in a big way over the next few years. Online consultations are discreet and convenient for patients, and they allow health professionals to work more productively too.”

While some providers are leading the charge and embracing innovation, many are daunted by the changes taking place in their industry. “These organisations are in the business of medicine, not health,” says Williams. “Some are running on very old technology and they don’t know where to begin to traverse the gap between old and new.”

But as Shah explains, they can’t afford to sit back and do nothing. “Remember that these healthcare professionals are also consumers themselves – so they get it and they want this change. They’ve just got to figure out how they can achieve it, and this requires a big culture shift.”

The good news is that the technology they need to transform into the modern, patient-centric healthcare providers they need to be is already available. And with more and more services being made available via the power of the cloud, they can get up and running on new solutions very quickly.

“Cloud-based solutions such as Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online are proving very attractive options,” says Gettelman. “It’s allowing organisations to make the leap to modern technologies without having to make the huge capital outlay usually associated with a modernisation strategy.”

In fact, Williams believes that Microsoft technology is one of the best kept secrets in healthcare. “Many don’t realise just how flexible, scalable and cost-effective the Microsoft platform is,” she says. “It provides a solution that is completely contrary to the experience the healthcare industry has had with IT thus far.”

As one of the largest Microsoft partners in the healthcare space, Avanade has developed deep industry experience to help its clients adopt modern, agile technologies that support their existing operations and grow with their future needs.

“Instead of ripping and replacing everything, we’re bringing in components to help them adapt,” says Shah. “We don’t know exactly what the future of health will look like, but we’re committed to putting them in the best possible position to lead the revolution.”

One thing is clear, though. Health is becoming more patient centric and by knowing more about their customers, service providers will be able to move away from reactive to proactive care.

“Using the latest in predictive analytics, doctors will be able to identify health issues before they become problems,” says Shah.

Virtual care is also expected to take off in a big way. “We’re already seeing the rise of online communities, Skype consultations and Kinect rehabilitation, and that’s happening because consumers want it,” says Gettelman. “I believe that we’re only just beginning to realise the potential of this. Microsoft’s new holographic computer, Hololens, for example, could help to transform training – student medics could practise certain skills virtually in simulated scenarios. Nurses could provide detailed discharge instructions using hologram models. Expect to see many more virtual applications being developed over the next few years.”

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