Saudi Gazette – KPMG International and the Nuffield Trust, a charitable trust with a mission to improve healthcare services in the United Kingdom, have recently published a report that highlights how digital technologies can help enhance health services.

The report, ‘Digital Health – Heaven or Hell’, discusses the fact that health services have been slower than most industries in adopting information technology to increase productivity and quality of services. The use of technology to enhance productivity in the sector has so far been confined to raising efficiency in back office operations and some minor transactions, while leaving the vast majority of patient-facing activity unchanged.

The report aims to cut through both the narrow approach of ‘doing the same things, but digitally’ and the fanciful predictions about technology’s potential to transform healthcare. KPMG has examined the real-life stories of success and failures around the world to find out what really works in achieving productivity gains in health, how organizations can get this right (or wrong), and how the delivery of healthcare is set to realistically change in the years to come. The report has identified seven evidence-based major opportunities together with seven practical lessons to capitalize on them.

The report listed seven big opportunities to improve productivity using technology:

1. Using decision support and standardized workflows is a key step in realizing improvements. Creating such a support system can help reduce variation and improve the accuracy of decision-making.

2. Rewriting the relationship with patients and caregivers by providing tools for patient engagement and self-management can create more meaningful participation of users and more satisfying outcomes while reducing the workload on staff.

3. Reducing costs through more proactive and targeted care can enable providers to intervene earlier to ensure people wellness.

4. Cutting the costs and effects of fragmented and duplicated services by coordinating care and supporting providers to collaborate more effectively.
5. Reducing referrals and readmissions by improving the ability of providers to get things right the first time through easier access to specialist expertise and advice.

6. Improving resource management by using technology to plan staff rosters and manage patient flow as well as match capacity to demand and improve scheduling.

7. Creating continuous cycles of learning and improvement through a combination of analytics, improvement science and organizational development procedures.

The seven lessons for realizing these opportunities:

1. Transformation first – Transformation comes from new ways of working – not the technology itself. A transformation program supported by technology is needed. This is the fundamental lesson that underpins everything else.
2. Majority of issues faced along the way are people problems not technology problems which require sophisticated leadership and change management capabilities.

3. System design – Sufficient attention is required for designing the systems. Technologies need to solve the problems faced by people using them, be they patients or professionals.

4. Invest in the analytics – not just the digital systems. Far too often providers overlook the capabilities to use the data collected – hence the payback is never seen.

5. Even with careful design there may need to be a number of iterations in the design of systems. This is a continuous process and there may be several cycles before systems reach a tipping point where all this investment starts to pay off.

6. There needs to be a coordinated approach as the inability to share and combine data between different systems is a major cause of limiting the benefits of technology in healthcare sector.

7. Data sharing requires strong information governance and security, particularly in the face of a growing threat from cyber-attacks. Action is required at all levels to help organizations hold and share data safely.
Commenting on the report, Abdullah Al Fozan, Chairman of KPMG Saudi Arabia, said “the Saudi government is fully committed to improving the healthcare sector and has set strategic goals for this purpose, the most important of which are improving efficiency levels and quality of services and optimizing the country’s potential resources.” It is possible to begin examining carefully-studied transformation plans before putting them into action in the short run. Such plans should be based on clear and transparent principles that contribute to increasing the flexibility of public health systems, Al Fozan added.

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