New technology inspires both optimism and trepidation in the healthcare industry, but it is an important way to improve the delivery of care, an expert panel tells the audience at ITWC’s Digital Transformation Conference and Awards, held in Toronto on June 14.
Karim Ramji, CIO of Kinark Child and Family Services, explains that digital transformation isn’t about “a new computer system or moving to digital records, it’s about adaptation and how quickly you can transform to understand what clients want.”
He admits that his organization, an Ontario youth services agency focusing on mental illnesses, did not have an “epiphany moment” that spurred its digital transformation, but instead, realized its existing infrastructure was terrible and needed to be updated.
Similarly, Peter Bak, CIO of Humber River Hospital, dubbed “North America’s first fully digital hospital,” says that embracing digital technologies came about when leaders grasped how much they would need innovative tools like robots and connectivity to maintain quick and efficient care with a cash-strapped budget.
“We didn’t plan to be fully digital originally, but once we saw that this space was two or three times larger than the old one, we knew we had to re-think the whole process,” he explains. “Healthcare is such a pressurized industry, and not only do we need to digitally transform to keep up, we also need to invest in care transformation.”
Echoing these thoughts is Samantha Liscio, senior vice president of enterprise planning and reporting at eHealth Ontario. She says the government agency did not have an epiphany moment either, but pursued digital transformation as a way to empower patients.
“There’s been a recent political and policy focus on patients instead of doctors, and we’re at a pivotal point where technology can really help put them back in the driver’s seat,” she tells the crowd. “I saw the potential in how technology can help patients access their health records, and while we’re not there yet, it will continue to be a focus going forward.”
Liscio acknowledges that many people wonder whether giving patients access to potentially overwhelming amounts of data is a good thing, especially given the complicated nature of health records, but stresses that it is important for people to know and verify their critical information.
Adding to this is Ramji, who points out that while privacy and security are reasons to be cautious, these shouldn’t overtake safety and efficiency.
“Having access to health records is important because it will make patients more health literate, which will allow them to make better decisions,” he states.
Integrating consumer technologies
All three panelists highlight the possibilities of emerging technologies like wearables and mobile applications that monitor consumer wellness, and how they should be integrated into the existing healthcare system.
“Wearables are not a fad; they’re here to stay and can be very powerful tools for doctors if used properly. Canada’s demographics are changing and its been predicted that the number of healthcare professionals needed in 2030 will be double than what we have today, and that’s really just not possible. We need to keep people well and out of hospitals for non-critical things, and monitoring devices can help us do that,” Bak emphasizes.
And while wearables have “opened the floodgates in terms of data,” Ramji believes that if analyzed properly, it can create more comprehensive records. If a doctor examines a sick patient’s daily Fitbit data, for example, they may be able to diagnose the illness more efficiently and point out what is wrong faster.
What comes next
Looking forward, the panel point to several tangible changes they would like to see. In conjunction with the integration of wearables, Humber River Hospital’s Bak hopes to see better use of data and analytics.
“We’ve moved into the digital space and created lots of data in the process, so now we need to invest in analytics to understand it all. It drives efficiency and can help us handle greater capacity,” he says, adding that updating regulations to allow for things like e-visits from doctors would also help increase efficiency.
eHealth Ontario’s Liscio highlights patient record access as her top priority, with Kinark’s Ramji building on this by continuing to promote more health literacy among the public.
“We need to keep connecting people and educating them so they can better understand themselves and how to get the best treatment. Digitally transforming the healthcare industry will make it more accessible, comprehensive, and efficient,” he concludes.