Healthcare is entering a digital era. The rise of new technologies, squeezed health budgets and a rapidly ageing global population are spurring the industry to hone digital tools.
Digital health has the potential to develop cheaper and more efficient means of delivering patient care. From monitoring devices and data analytics, to the more advanced nanodiagnostics technology and additive manufacturing — 3D printing — innovation abounds.
“Digital disruption is playing out in healthcare,” says Rick Ratliff, managing director of digital health solutions at Accenture, “as witnessed by the emergence of new business models and technology that will change the nature of patient interactions, alter consumer expectations and ultimately improve health outcomes.”
The consultancy forecasts digital health solutions could save the healthcare sector $100 billion over the next four years in the US alone.
The dawn of digital is fuelling demand for more specialized skills in healthcare. From overseeing development of mobile tech to analysing the wealth of data generated by remote patient monitoring devices, health executives will need to hone their digital skill-sets.
“Healthcare managers and executives understand that IT needs to play a role in their overall healthcare strategy,” says Professor Jeremy Petranka at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, who researches IT strategy. “But what that role should be is still being defined.”
Trends are pushing up demand for tech savvy managers across all areas of healthcare.
“We are seeing an improvement on the number of graduates with specific digital experience who are hired by pharmaceutical companies,” says Elisa Zagami, head of career development at MIP Politecnico di Milano, the leading Italian business school. Eli Lilly, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer and Bayer are all recruiting, she says.
The speed of change sweeping through healthcare means leaders will need to keep pace with digital innovation. Accenture predicts that FDA approvals of digital health solutions will triple from about 30 last year to 100 in 2018.
But experts warn this will be challenging. “Digital health has great potential, but we need to see more solutions achieve scale and persistency to really drive meaningful change,” says Kimberly MacPherson, associate director of health management at Haas School of Business in California.
One sign of the effects of digital on recruitment is the rise of senior IT-related posts across healthcare organizations. Increasingly, the C-suite includes a chief analytics officer, chief information officer or a chief information security officer.
The role of analytics chief in particular is already gaining in momentum, according to the staffing frim Robert Half Technology.
Healthcare professionals at all levels will need to be equipped to handle the flow of health data. Machines and devices in hospitals and patients’ homes are transmitting more data than ever before.
The rich vein of information trickling down from the public domain is coming from wearable tech and even social media, says Professor Fred Hagigi, director of global health initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
“The social media apps are feeding into this IT frenzy,” he says. “This has a substantial impact on healthcare. It’s a perfect storm coming from different directions.”
But he warns that the public are concerned about data privacy. Experts agree that tough safeguards are needed. The fragmented nature of medical data is also highlighted as a hurdle. “The major challenge right now is that there needs to be standardization [of data],” Fred says.
Nonetheless, analytics has become a job description for many healthcare management roles.
“Analytics is a key tool and competence to work in the field,” says Dr Rainer Sibbel at the Institute for International Health Management at Germany’s Frankfurt School.
He says big data will become a powerful tool, and a source for analysing population health and population-segment-based concepts for disease prevention. “By using technology we can avoid delivering non-quality or low value [care], and the unnecessary waste of resources, which has huge potential for effectiveness and cost savings.”
Data are also having great impact on clinical trials. Using large sets of epidemiological data will allow the earlier detection of trends and patterns. “Collecting real time data from patients living with diseases is a trove of amazing input that we’ve never had access to before,” says Haas School’s Kimberly.
The use of analytics in clinical trials is floated as having the potential both to reduce patient risk and optimize preventive care. “In the medium-term, this is a real possibility,” says Duke Fuqua’s Jeremy.
Healthcare executives are acutely aware of technological innovation. But to successfully implement the solutions represents a huge managerial challenge.
For the existing healthcare industry — known for being slow moving and conservative — the pressure to innovate is immense.
A recent report by the professional services firm PwC highlighted the opportunities for new players to enter the $9.59 trillion global healthcare market.
“We’re seeing new entrants in health crossing national borders and forging symbiotic partnerships with traditional players,” says Vaughn Kauffman, PwC leader for global health new entrants, “overturning old paradigms as they introduce greater choice and innovative health solutions.”
There is already a shift in emphasis in the education of healthcare professionals. There is increasingly a merging of medical and management degrees. Many healthcare management programs are including and fine-tuning their digital elements.
At Frankfurt School, for example, its healthcare programs are including health systems’ transitions, IT, and innovation and change management. “If necessary, we will adjust the curriculum according to the relevance of these trends,” says Dr Rainer.
Other business schools honing healthcare programs include Cambridge Judge, Vanderbilt Owen, George Washington, Michigan Ross and Rice Jones.
Meanwhile, the announcement last month that Boston’s College of Management is to launch a new MBA concentration in Healthcare Informatics with a focus on analytics, is a sign the trend is widespread.
The era of digital health may be here, but the full benefits of technological innovation will take time to materialize. A recent report from the consultancy Deloitte found that the biggest barriers are cultural and regulatory.
Karen Taylor, director of Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions, says: “Technology alone is not a silver bullet for health and social care, but it is an enabler that should not be overlooked.”