Ricoh Europe: The Speed of Change is Healthcare’s Biggest Technology-led Headache

New data from a study sponsored by Ricoh1 shows that 92.5 per cent of healthcare, biotech and pharmaceutical executives have become more reliant on technology during the last three years.

The majority of healthcare executives (70 per cent) agree it has made their employees more creative in terms of developing new healthcare services, medicines and products. However, it is clear that key challenges remain in integrating technology to improve patient care, service and administration. More than one third of respondents, (35 per cent) said that a computer error had cost their organisation money on at least one occasion in the last six months. The research titled ‘Humans and Machines’ was conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and highlights the increasingly critical role that technology is playing in the healthcare sector.

“As telehealth grows across all healthcare disciplines, the need to accelerate its integration and transform traditional processes has never been more important,” says Carsten Bruhn, Executive Vice President, Ricoh Europe. “The digital economy is believed to be growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy2, so the pace of technology-led change is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. Technology will continue to be a key driver in healthcare and will inspire new business models that will change the way healthcare professionals communicate with patients and deliver services in the future.”

However, the technology-led changes are unlikely to mean that robots and computers will replace humans to manage patient care in the future. The healthcare, biotech and pharmaceutical respondents specified diagnosis of patient conditions (36 per cent) and the development of new treatments and medicines (32 per cent) as the two most critical areas for human intuition to prevail. In contrast, only 5 per cent said that healthcare professionals should be spending time managing patient records, and just 8 per cent said their time should be spent improving administration processes.

But they are united in agreeing that there is further scope for technology to deliver efficiency gains with 65 per cent saying that more can be done. The top challenge the healthcare sector faces when dealing with technology is that it is evolving more quickly than the internal processes that support it. This is compounded by the fact that often, different systems across the organisation are not connected to each other, as cited by 38 per cent of healthcare executives. And while there is a widely recognised need for process-driven improvements within the healthcare industry, the majority of executives surveyed (78 per cent) acknowledge that technology in isolation delivers little or no value.

“The human touch is essential for patient care, but it is also necessary to create innovative processes that convert technology investment into benefits. For example, by integrating information management systems in a hospital, a doctor can access patient records more easily, get instant access to test results and send prescriptions directly to pharmacists, making healthcare delivery faster and more efficient,” says Bruhn. “Technology alone cannot deliver such measureable impacts on healthcare services. It is the human intuition and expertise that makes it work and meet the needs of the healthcare sector.”

“Successful automation of critical processes such as patient records require more than just investing in digital tools. Innovative processes will ensure critical information is captured, integrated within the organisation and can be easily accessed 24 hours a day. In addition, automated processes will support the standardisation of documentation, enhance information sharing, reduce administration costs and improve patient confidentiality,” says Bruhn.

Best case examples of what can be achieved through automation are cited in the European Commission e-health action plan3. In Denmark savings of $120 million a year were achieved and doctors are saving on average 50 minutes per day usually spent on administrative work. In Italy, overall savings from the introduction of information and communications technology in the Health Sector are estimated to be around 11.7 per cent of national health expenditure (i.e. €12.4 billion). Savings from digital prescriptions alone are estimated to be around €2 billion.

“By focusing on process optimisation, healthcare professionals can benefit from increased agility which means fewer headaches when adopting new technologies and ways of working. Most importantly they can focus on what they really care about – finding new innovations in patient care and continually improving healthcare delivery,” concludes Bruhn.