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Big Data and analytics, cloud, and security are poised for broader adoption, along with emerging technologies such as machine learning, robotics, and virtual reality

The adoption of breakthrough digital technologies is having an impact on businesses and organizations in every industry. Healthcare, while late to the game, is now playing catch-up, as digitization efforts and pilot programs are on the rise and starting to bring about sweeping digital transformation. Feeling the pressures of accelerated change, global healthcare organizations are recognizing the importance of digital transformation.  And with an anticipated shift to value-based care delivery models in the future, healthcare providers are looking for digital solutions that allow them to accurately measure the quality of care.

This journey to digital healthcare will make slow but steady forward progress in 2018. According to a recent study by SAP Center for Business Insight, conducted in collaboration with Oxford Economics, healthcare organizations have high hopes that digital transformation will bring about positive changes, such as driving down costs and improving patient outcomes. The survey, based on a study of 400 global C-level healthcare executives, offered insights into the key digital technology investments in use today as well as their anticipated investments in the next two years.

The findings from the study reveal interesting trends about which technologies are important now, and which ones will play a pivotal role in healthcare organizations in the future. Here’s a look at the technologies at the top of the list.

The Big Three: Data, Cloud, Security

The survey showed that technology is clearly viewed as essential to healthcare organizations’ growth, retaining competitive advantage, and improving customer experience. The organizations believe that their greatest competitive advantage in the digital economy will come from using the latest technology (82 percent). The organizations also expect to see more value coming from their existing investments.

Currently, the largest technology investments are in cloud (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS), mobile, and Big Data and analytics, respectively. In the next two years, a shift occurs in the top slot, with organizations investing in Big Data and analytics (76 percent), cloud technology (65 percent), mobile (50 percent), and security (48 percent).

As most major healthcare organizations have successfully switched to electronic health records (EHRs), new models come into play for everything from billing and insurance to patient care and treatment. With cloud-based digital data, healthcare organizations are learning how to get insights from these massive data sets. But just storing data in the cloud is not enough. Healthcare organizations have to cleanse, harmonize, and make sense of the data, integrating applications that provide usable analytics. This is pushing Big Data and analytics platforms--ones that can do near real-time processing--to the top of the investment list in 2018.

Healthcare providers also know that data becomes more valuable when it is shared vs. siloed, which is catapulting their security investments in the next two years. Less than five years ago, healthcare organizations didn’t even have an option to store patient data in the cloud, and mobile applications that could automatically relay patient data to a network were nonexistent. Now, the shift to a connected digital healthcare network elevates the need for improved security and privacy for providers and for patients.

Mobile Digital Health

Mobile technology remains an important piece of the digital transformation journey in healthcare. The survey shows that the investment in mobile technology will drop slightly (from 60 percent to 50 percent) in the next two years, partly due to market saturation in mobile health applications.

Also, as more patient health data is stored in larger—shared—digital networks, the need for additional or separate investments in mobile tools diminishes. Most data and EHR platforms offer mobile apps that facilitate secure communications, such as texting and email, between doctors and patients.

Smart tools: Machine Learning, Robotics, and VR

In the survey, the healthcare organizations cited a handful of other technologies as future investments for digital transformation pilots and projects. Investments set to increase over the two-year span include: machine learning/AI (28 percent), robotics (13 percent), and virtual reality (14 percent).

Machine learning and AI tools will be incorporated in specialized ways, playing an important role in medical imaging. For example, machine learning tools can be used to help recognize cancer markers in an image, which could help physicians with early identification.

While the use of AI in clinical situations is still limited, the most practical applications for AI reside in taking on what can be considered the more mundane, data-driven tasks. Pharmaceutical researchers have massive libraries of compounds and results from drug development testing. By using AI tools that can rapidly evaluate the extensive collections of synthetic and theoretical drug banks, the research teams—with an AI assist--can uncover hidden gems.  Using algorithms, AI systems can discover patterns in these data pools. The AI system rapidly learns how to hone in on key information, develop hypotheses. It can refine its answers over time.

Virtual reality (VR) is coming into play for education and training of physicians, including programs that provide virtual settings for future physicians to practice bedside manner. VR-based surgical simulation tools will also have an increasing role in medical education. Investment in robotics will also increase by 2019, as robots are programmed to perform surgical tasks. Robotic technology can also be applied in the development of prosthetic limbs.

Automated Data Input

The emergence of advanced medical devices, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and wearables provide patients and healthcare providers an opportunity to reap benefits from extended and automated monitoring. As devices improve in consistency and utility, healthcare providers will discover new ways to integrate IoT data into the patient record, making it accessible at the point of care.

These automated data-gathering devices can help in disease prevention, especially with chronic conditions such as diabetes where regular patient monitoring is critical. IoT devices can feed an understanding of the data, helping physicians to make better, information-based, decisions. Because of these benefits, healthcare organizations in the survey plan to continue to invest in IoT technologies (46 percent) in the next two years.

A Positive Prognosis for Digital Transformation

Healthcare is going through a digital transformation process in every way. While barriers and regulations present several challenges, the industry understands the critical importance of digitization. In the next two years, organizations intend to increase investments in Big Data and analytics that can support simpler decision-making. These platforms, along with cloud computing, security tools, IoT, mobile, and AI, give healthcare organizations the capability to optimize care delivery and drive down costs.

If you are interested to learn about how SAP Health is helping healthcare providers on their digital transformation journey, please download the “The Future of Digital Health”white paper.


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