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Suzanne Wait, Managing Director at The Health Policy Partnership, explains why organisational digital innovations may be key to streamlining and sustaining our health systems

In the fast-paced world of digital health, there is much excitement around Artificial Intelligence, telemedicine and mobile apps and their transformative potential to improve people’s health. One area of innovation that receives less attention is organisational digital innovations: incremental changes to administrative processes and operational aspects of healthcare that improve the efficiency of care. Why are these important? It has been estimated that up to 20% of healthcare is inefficient and does not deliver any tangible benefits to patients. But digital solutions are working to improve this.

In the UK, initiatives such as Choosing Wisely and Getting It Right the First Time aim to direct physicians towards interventions that achieve the best patient outcomes with the resources available. However, greater organisational efficiency is about more than just choosing the right intervention.

It’s about ensuring people are offered coordinated and continuous care, being able to share their information securely and effectively between the different health professionals caring for them, and relieving health professionals from time-consuming administrative or bureaucratic processes so that they can focus their time on caring for their patients.

With health systems worldwide facing workforce shortages coupled with increasing demand for care, addressing these needs is desirable and essential to protecting the sustainability of our health systems. This same message was conveyed when leading innovators in digital health convened at ‘Les Grandes Tendances de la e-Santé’, a conference in Paris looking at the digital innovations shaping the future of healthcare – and a significant proportion of them fell under the ‘organisational’ umbrella.

Enhancing the capacity of health professionals to deliver effective care to more people

One of the scarcest resources for health professionals is time, so anything that can speed up time-consuming processes is of tremendous value. In the administration of radiotherapy, careful planning is needed to ensure treatment is tailored to each patient, both in terms of the dosing and the location of irradiation. The UK
currently lacks a third of the radiologists needed, while up to a quarter of people in Europe who need radiotherapy do not have access. But new AI-based techniques are increasingly being used to guide individualised planning, cutting the time required for planning from a whole day to less than 30 minutes, with the same – or even better – levels of precision. These innovative techniques could significantly expand cancer centres’ capacity to deliver radiotherapy to more cancer patients sooner.

Improving coordination through centralised and shared data

Hospitals and health systems’ complex and siloed nature creates significant inefficiencies for patients, who often have their information lost or tests duplicated as they navigate health providers. This structural inability for ‘data to follow the patient’ also deeply affects health professionals. Suppose they are not confident they have all the data necessary to provide the best care for their patients. In that case, health professionals may often find themselves chasing data between different departments or health settings before making clinical decisions.

Cloud-based systems allow information to be shared with the whole team involved in a person’s care. This has been transformative, offering a secure, centralised and virtual repository of all relevant data surrounding a person via electronic medical records. Data analytics also allow this data to be compiled into a clinical dashboard in minutes, providing clinicians with a real-time overview of their patients’ medical history, test results, treatments, and diagnoses. The impact on patients is also tangible in terms of faster diagnoses and, access to care, and improved communication with their care teams.

Enhanced learning and minimising the risk of error

Medical skills are learnt through observation and practice, and repetition of tasks is key to developing expertise in given interventions. The need for repetition is possibly most recognised in the field of surgery, where the risks involved in this training are popularly depicted across film and television.

The advent of digital twins, however, now enables doctors to practice interventions on digital replicas of human patients, providing a safe space to acquire expertise and perfect their skills. For example, digital twins of human hearts are being used at Boston Kids Hospital in the US to allow surgeons to practise-test interventions in different conditions to find the optimal conditions for each person. Researchers are also using digital twins to test cancer treatments on digitally derived cellular models, which can reproduce patient and tumour characteristics with high levels of precision. This technology helps with negating the need for animal testing and trial-and-error scenarios with people.

Where innovation meets system readiness

Organisational digital innovations will only achieve their full potential if they can be fully integrated into the evolving architecture of health systems. Flexibility in financial planning and procurement practices is also needed to integrate digital approaches and supporting technology into organisational budgets. In France, the social security system has created a special reimbursement tariff for organisational digital innovations, creating opportunities for healthcare settings to include them in their existing ways of working.

Health professionals are a precious resource, and we need to think about how technology can best serve their needs to make their jobs easier and enable them to care for their patients with more information, precision and confidence. Digital innovations that optimise organisational efficiency have a vital and growing role to play in doing just that.

This article follows the publication of Our Health in the Cloud, a report published in 2023 by The Health Policy Partnership with support and funding from Amazon Web Services.


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