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The Internet of Health: How Not to Become Obsolete as Healthcare Technology Advances

Author: Duncan Weatherston, CEO, Smile CDR Inc.

Technology has an incredible impact on our day-to-day lives and plays an important role in every sector of the economy. Technological advancements in healthcare, however, have been somewhat sluggish when compared to other industries such as banking, personal computing, retail, and travel. The reasons for this are complex and multi-faceted and yet, obsolescence is a concern that even the healthcare sector should be considering carefully. 

Traditionally, healthcare has been a largely face-to-face equation for patients and care providers, from presenting at the emergency department of your local hospital to visits with your family doctor for regular check-ups. By necessity, client and care provider appointments have been conducted in person for as long as healthcare has existed. However this typical type of interaction is soon to be turned on its head. As technology advances in healthcare and the Internet of Health becomes a more widely understood concept, the world of healthcare will soon look quite different. Far from advancement for advancements’ sake, the Internet of Health represents a healthcare revolution, putting the client at the centre of their healthcare journey for better outcomes across the board. 

In this article, we take a closer look at how obsolescence can and will play an increasingly important role in the decisions made by care providers, patients, and tech firms in the rapidly approaching future, as well as how best to avoid becoming obsolete in this as the pace of technological change accelerates. 

Technological obsolescence and lessons learned 

Since 2000, some 52% of Fortune 500 companies have become obsolete and, according to the Harvard Business Review, a key factor for many (if not most) of them was an inability or unwillingness to keep pace with the digital revolution. We need only look at the list of the world’s leading firms today - the Googles, Apples and Amazons – to understand that technology is not only a driver of change, but a winning business proposition in itself. 

While inflexible businesses either refuse to recognize the importance of technological advancement or are unable to keep up with rapidly developing technologies, more nimble organizations make hay. Adopting new technologies is the key to survival in the digital age. After all, if your business isn’t doing it, your competitors sure are. 

Microsoft and Adobe are excellent examples of how traditional software firms are embracing the cloud computing revolution by adapting their service offerings and keeping abreast of shifting trends in customer behaviour. Adobe emerged in 1982 as a leader in software for desktop PCs, and yet by 2019 had exceeded $11 billion in revenue and enjoyed 24% annual growth by shifting its service offering to cloud services. Unfortunately for many other companies – Yahoo, Nokia, AOL, Blockbuster, Borders, and Kodak, to name but a few – the story was a very different one. Failure to adapt, to recognize the changing market, and to take notice of their competitors’ behaviours led to some 88% of Fortune 500-listed companies since 1955 fading into obsolescence. 

While the healthcare sector faces a number of challenges when it comes to the digital revolution, there’s no denying that it is not immune to the disruptive effects of technology. 

Healthcare and technology – the future is now 

A fundamental element missing from today’s healthcare interactions is the patient. Rather than being positioned at the centre of their healthcare journey, clients are often on the periphery – excluded from their healthcare decisions due to a lack of understanding, limited resources, and imperfect control over their circumstances. But that is quickly changing. Even now, we are seeing technology firms put health information at users’ fingertips with the likes of smart watches and phones that can take blood pressure readings, track steps, and come standard with ‘Health’ applications designed to assist clients in monitoring everything from sleep patterns to menstrual cycles, blood oxygen levels, and more. Technology firms, like Google and Amazon, are rapidly entering the healthcare sector and this tells us one important thing: If healthcare players aren’t willing to put technology at the centre of their business model, there are others who are prepared to take their place. 

Currently, delivering healthcare to the market (which is vast and consists of every living person who requires healthcare) is constrained by factors such as location, the size of an organization, and the number of resources at a provider’s disposal. Advances in healthcare technology aim to remove these constraints and open up the market to unprecedented growth. The industry is primed for a revolution, and here’s why: 

Devices are the norm for clients: Increasingly, devices are an important part of peoples’ lives. Our smartphones are responsible for our banking, our communications, our access to information and news, and, increasingly, our health information. As people become more comfortable with – and in fact, more reliant on – devices, this introduces enormous potential for the healthcare sector. Clients will begin to expect these types of service delivery options from their healthcare providers, and thus, those providers who move with the tide of technology are likely to come out on top. 

COVID-19 has taught us an important lesson: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our healthcare sector is understaffed, under-resourced, and was unprepared for a public health crisis like the one we’re now facing. Hospitals have rapidly filled with critically ill patients, ventilators are in short supply, and other areas of medicine and patient care delivery have been hugely impacted by the diversion of resources to pandemic response. Moving healthcare into the online space will not only help to avoid overcrowding of hospitals and over-use of already limited resources, but will reduce physical interactions between patients, limiting the pandemic’s spread.

Preventative healthcare benefits everyone: The Internet of Health presents us with an opportunity to turn healthcare on its head, for the benefit of clients, providers, and insurers alike. It is universally understood that patients are notoriously ineffective at managing their own health, from compliance with healthcare advice, to waiting too long to seek help for symptoms. Well-informed patients are less expensive for insurers, are less of a burden on the healthcare system, and have overwhelmingly better health outcomes. For patients themselves, being put at the center of their healthcare journey means reducing the need for in-person visits to clinicians, a reduced risk of hospitalization, and a closer and more engaged relationship with their healthcare provider. Both as a business proposition and a healthcare initiative, the Internet of Health is undeniably appealing. 

How to avoid becoming obsolete as healthcare technology advances

To take full advantage of the benefits that the Internet of Health presents, and thus avoid obsolescence, providers must consider several key innovations.

Access to comprehensive information: Interacting effectively with clients to manage their health requires access to much more comprehensive information than is currently available. In order to retrieve this information, providers need to have access to subsets of information that might reside with the patient, with their GP, with various hospitals, with insurers, and with specialty providers, for example. To effectively use analytical tools for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, access to the full set of a patient’s information is crucial. What FHIR and the Internet of Health aim to do is to break down these information silos and allow for seamless, secure and on-demand access to data. 

Embrace responsive healthcare: Imagine that your analytical tools could detect patient behaviour or symptoms–such as a night of alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, or low blood sugar–and conclude that your patient is at risk of a heart attack, stroke, an insulin deficiency, or kidney failure, before prompting you to contact that patient to administer responsive and preventative healthcare solutions. With the Internet of Health, this kind of thing will soon become a possibility. Embracing that technology means being of huge potential benefit to your clients, thus becoming an integral part of their lives and creating close, long-term relationships with them. 

Become an early adopter: Being prepared to adopt these revolutionary technologies by incorporating the FHIR standard into your organization means being ready to access these technologies as they are developed— allowing the rapid application of advanced healthcare solutions for both better patient AND business outcomes. On the flip side of that equation, businesses that are slow in adopting these technologies will become less relevant to their clients and ultimately less profitable. While brick-and-mortar operations will always have a place, they will become more niche and less comprehensive in their service offerings. For example, once patients begin to be remotely diagnosed and prescribed and need only visit their nearby specialty services for the necessary treatments, hospitals will start to see a reduction in patient visits, as well as a decline in the revenue associated with those visits. In the foreseeable future, even patients with chronic health conditions, given the right remote healthcare services, will be able to avoid visiting hospitals altogether. As such, hospitals that rely solely on patients coming through their doors will soon see a marked decline in revenue. The volume of patients and the types of healthcare events that happen on-site in hospitals will see a gradual yet significant shift. Failing to meet this new technology-enabled landscape with richer digital engagements will see a reduction in patient confidence, unpredictable and unreliable value from the in-person patient visits that do occur, and poor flow management. Alternatively, institutions that understand the value of this technology shift and adapt accordingly will be able to deliver better value to patients, on better terms, with better control, and experience interactions that are more valuable from both a healthcare and financial perspective. 

The benefit of the Internet of Health to providers hinges on two key factors: 1) gaining access to comprehensive information about your clients, and 2) delivering value to them. As the technology quickly develops—and as the FHIR standard is adopted more widely—providers are presented with the opportunity to diversify their service offerings, provide greater value to clients (thus building patient confidence), have greater control over their interactions with (and value derived from) clients, and avoid obsolescence by becoming a part of the technological revolution of healthcare.

Read Part 1: Why Now is the Time for FHIR to Live Up to the Promise of Interoperability

Read Part 2: Why Collaboration Matters for the Internet of Health

Read Part 4: Why We Need to Build the Internet of Health