Digital transformation is set to revolutionize how hospitals deliver care. But is digital technology being harnessed equally effectively across all aspects of the healthcare system? “Not quite,” pointed out Pamina Göttelmann, Business Development Manager of imito AG. “Digital technology is well-adopted in areas such as diagnostics and treatment. But if you look at systems for documentation management and communications, technology can still play a bigger role in improving how these processes work.”
In hospitals today, for every hour a physician spends with a patient, they spend an estimated two hours updating the patient’s electronic health record. Unsurprisingly, a recent survey by Merritt Hawkins found that more than 78% of physicians experience periodic feelings of professional burnout due to factors such as loss of clinical autonomy, diminished time with patients, and the administrative burdens of updating electronic health records. “The workload and documentation load of nurses and doctors have increased. Today, everything needs to be documented, and this can be incredibly time-consuming. This is where new technologies can help,” she elaborated.
We rely on medical professionals to provide excellent medical care especially in their direct interactions with patients. So, when hospitals utilize digital technology to improve their legacy documentation management and communication systems, doctors and nurses will be able to focus on what matters most – the patient.
Smartphone technology makes better doctors
We recently spoke with Pamina, who shared with us about how her team is harnessing smartphone technology to streamline clinical processes in hospitals in Switzerland. The imito mobile app integrates seamlessly into the various systems used in hospitals (e.g. user identification, electronic medical records, archival of images), equipping medical professionals with a user-friendly tool to document photos or videos and communicate directly at a patient’s bedside, scan and save important documents, and digitally measure wounds, everything directly saved in electronic medical records, only while using a smartphone.
“Smartphone technology is not a new technology, but it is relatively under-utilized in the healthcare sector, especially in hospitals,” she explained. At least officially. According to survey results, more than 50% of doctors who work in hospitals use their smartphones for clinical documentation. These are exchanged via Messenger apps such as Whatsapp to gather feedback from more experienced colleagues. Under these conditions, data security is a concern.
When implemented effectively, however, app technology can help keep electronic health records accurate and facilitate the transfer of patient medical data between different healthcare institutions.
The cost of going digital
The benefits of digitally transforming processes in hospitals are well-documented. In fact, healthcare professionals Pamina’s team spoke to want these systems improved. But convincing decision-makers in hospital management to invest can be a challenge. “If the IT department in the hospital is strong and innovative, they are more likely to get pilots funded. Otherwise budget can be a real issue,” shared Pamina.
This is because overhauling legacy documentation management and communication systems, while necessary, can be costly. As a significant example, The Lucerne Cantonal Hospital purchased a new clinical informational system from the American software manufacturer, Epic, for 65.4 million francs (excluding MWST) in 2016. This cost includes the investment and operational costs for 8 years. A centralized IT solution for all medical, patient-related, and administrative data, implementing it requires the hospital to significantly rethink how its systems operate, how its medical professionals work, and the care that its patients receive.
Though hospitals that opt for digital health products that integrate with their current systems instead of a complete overhaul will find it lighter on their wallets, budgets for such changes still remain tight. This is where having the support of healthcare professionals can make a huge difference. “You have to be very patient. But if your product’s core functionalities are based on solving real pain points that doctors and nurses feel every day, it will eventually succeed. If you show healthcare professionals the potential benefits, their support could mean convincing hospital management to implement your solution,” explained Pamina.
Transforming patient care by supporting digital hospitals in improving its processes, therefore, is a marathon, not a sprint.
The future of the digital hospital looks promising. Many new technologies continue to emerge to bridge the gap between patient care and process. New models of digital hospitals continue to develop, such as the “cognitive hospital”, a next-generation hospital that is a “smart” facility itself and a strategic partner in patient care.
However, much of this future depends on how the healthcare industry solves this major challenge: Ensuring medical data security while enabling interoperability between systems. “The digital hospital is data-driven. Sharing medical data across healthcare institutions, however, is so difficult because it remains in isolated information silos. This is one of the reasons why progress continues to be slow,” concluded Pamina.
About Pamina Göttelmann
After completing her master thesis “Setting Investment Priorities for Mobile Solutions in Hospitals”, Pamina deepened her acquired knowledge with valuable field experience in mHealth. As a project manager at the University Hospital of Zurich, she initiated the introduction of mobile clinical app solutions in the hospital and was responsible for the development of its corporate mobile strategy. She has co-authored and shared some of her field experience in two publications. Pamina joined imito in November 2018 as the Business Development Manager.
About the author
Aisha Schnellmann is a Singaporean sociologist by training, interested in healthcare, education, and sustainability issues. She is passionate about producing content that promotes meaningful dialogue, focusing on print and digital content that resonates with a strong call-to-action. Based in Zurich, her interest in digital healthcare grew from the conversations she had with committed medical staff in rural hospitals in Asia, who remain hard-pressed with the technology available to them.