Digital mobility in health - Focus on patient outcomes

By Terrence Teh - June 25, 2018

Digital technology has considerable impact in our lives. Digital technology has become pervasive, creating an explosion of connectivity, data, ease of use, and computing power, accelerating the pace of technology development.

Compare the first Apple iPhone (released in 2007) to today’s facial recognition technology on the iPhone X. Through the take-up of smartphones, digital technology is now clearly woven into the fabric of everyday living. Family and friends stay connected, scheduled, and amused. Technology is now necessary for entertainment, health, shopping, banking, traveling, and learning – just to name a few key areas.

The health care system is no different to the everyday person experiencing change driven by digital technology. However, it has been generally acknowledged that the health care system has been considerably slower than many other sectors in adopting digital technology effectively. Many of the fundamental building blocks of Australia’s digital health eco-system are now being established (e.g. My Health Record, e-prescriptions, interoperability of systems). According to recent roundtable discussions, facilitated by Consumers Health Forum of Australia, the majority of Australians have little exposure to useful ways to leverage these building blocks for health benefits. A view was expressed that although consumers need to be confident these building blocks are built to a high standard, they are not in themselves useful until they are translated into everyday applications that have clear value in supporting health actions and health care experience.

One of the key areas that can create tremendous positive impact is defining and designing a digital mobility strategy for healthcare. This year, Pitcher Partners has been researching and interviewing medical, nursing, community and allied health professionals on the topic of mobility and the findings have highlighted three key themes.

1. Legacy processes and IT infrastructure are creating barrier to better health outcomes for patients

Doctors and nurses are forced to deal with technology in an “outdated” fashion. Much of health care information is captured manually, on paper, then transcribed or scanned into a computer system only if deemed necessary. Nurses still find themselves heading towards fixed workstations to “enter information into the system”, no different to someone working in an office environment – except for the heavy activity of healthcare workers and patients moving about around them whilst they are trying to focus. Doctors are wasting time searching for the right person to get the right information about their patients.

2. Workarounds exist today – enabled through the ecosystem of applications through smartphones

Healthcare professionals rely on their smartphone and specific applications that sit on it. Interestingly enough, these devices generally belong to the staff personally. One Melbourne hospital showed (through a sample survey of doctors) 18 different applications being used by the doctors to help with their daily tasks. These applications could be clinical assistance tools (e.g. dosing calculators) through to a guide on relevant antibiotics. While these devices are Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) IT has little or no control over the applications used.

3. Mobility solutions are more efficient than what is currently offered in the hospital IT infrastructure

Health care staff choose applications to help make their jobs more efficient and effective in delivering high quality patient outcomes. For example, accessing Medical Information Provider in Australia (MIMS) allows staff to quickly access information of Australia’s comprehensive list of approved medicine. WhatsApp is a very popular alternative to sharing information between doctors, due to the ability to share text and images in a very simple manner. What becomes interesting is defining what information can be shared over a network that is not controlled by a hospital. Whilst doctors have acknowledged the risks associated with data privacy, they balance it with being more effective in their everyday role.

A clear path forward for mobility in healthcare

At Pitcher Partners, we are working with health care professionals to help shape our thinking, utilising a methodology that can help health care clients work through the technology challenges of today and tomorrow in a more effective manner.

Any strategy should be focused on creating better patient outcomes. Digital mobility should be no different. What a mobility strategy should articulate is how a healthcare facility creates and manages an eco-system of applications specific to their needs. Whilst test cases have shown information is already being shared through social applications like WhatsApp, the challenge is bringing that information sharing back into the network so that it forms part of patient medical records. Everything that clinicians do today should be viewed in terms of benefitting patients and creating better health outcomes.

Whilst every situation is unique and highly complex, we have crafted a way forward that helps our health care clients navigate through this easily and effectively. Technology will continue to change and evolve at a rapid pace. Hence, the key to a robust mobility strategy is keeping the focus on better patient outcomes, the only true “north star” to helping healthcare shape how mobile technology is used.

Terrence Teh is a Client Director at Pitcher Partners Consulting, Melbourne. He leads the Strategy and Digital service line.

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