Widespread digital transformation
As the director of international relations at NHS Confederation, Dr. Layla McCay, explains, “One of the more remarkable features of the NHS’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been its rapid uptake of technology in the UK.” She states that the country experienced near-instant digital innovation that otherwise may have taken years. These included the implementation of remote working platforms, shared care record projects, and virtual clinics.
Likewise, this was seen across Europe, with the Dutch Government collaborating with Philips to create an online portal to securely exchange COVID-19 patient data. This allowed patients to be moved safely across different care settings to balance capacity. 95% of Dutch hospitals signed up for the service within weeks. Meanwhile, the Regional Health Command Europe implemented a secure messaging service that enabled patients to talk privately with healthcare professionals for non-emergency advice, to renew prescriptions, and to request appointments and referrals.
Transformation to continue
Many healthcare professionals wish to see this digital transformation continue. The UK’s Royal College of GPs, for example, acknowledged the “remarkable” role technology played during the pandemic in its new report ‘General practice in a post-Covid world’. The report asks the UK Government to continue investing in digital tools - and skills - in the NHS. This includes wider infrastructure requirements such as high-speed broadband in rural areas.
The benefits of using technology
The benefits of digitizing the healthcare sector are undeniable. Not only does it increase access to care for those unable to attend a healthcare setting in-person, but it can also streamline processes, improve costs, and increase workforce agility.
Automation, for instance, will free workers up for more value-added, human tasks like connecting with patients and their families. Mundane, time-consuming activities can be completed through automation, leaving healthcare professionals more challenged and satisfied by their work.
Sharing patient data across healthcare organizations can improve patient care and outcomes, as well as contribute invaluable insights to research. One UK-based primary care setting uses data to improve the patient experience for vulnerable, homeless adults. Instead of repeating their complex, emotional medical history with every new referral, patients can choose to opt-into the service that brings professionals up-to-date with their latest concerns, diagnoses, and care.
Changing talent needs
Of course, with this transformation of healthcare services, comes a unique pressure on healthcare professionals to adapt to new roles - with new skill requirements. Healthcare organizations will have to re-assess their workforce skills and plug any skill gaps that may hinder progress. Many digital transformation strategies fail due to a lack of skills with four-in-ten organizations stating that they lack the required skills in-house to invest in innovative technologies.
To obtain much-needed skills, organizations will have to be creative. The healthcare sector faces widening skills shortages and there are not enough permanent hires available to plug this gap. Instead, more organizations will turn to alternative talent pools, such as on-demand, contingent talent. Collaboration across other sectors may also arise, such as staff sharing agreements between the technology and healthcare sectors.
The digital progress made during the coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate as the healthcare sector faces new opportunities and challenges. The aging population across many parts of the world (including Europe, the U.S, and the UK) will put additional pressure on healthcare systems - and many will turn to automation and other efficiencies as a result. Indeed, the global AI in healthcare market is expected to grow 44.9% from 2020 to 2026.
As the sector evolves, so too with the type of work that healthcare professionals are asked to complete. It’s worth getting ahead of this now, by understanding the changing skill requirements in your organization, identifying digital skill gaps, and acquiring those skills through permanent and contingent staffing. Otherwise, any technological advances made in 2020 will be undone in 2021.