The healthcare ecosystem has had multiple setbacks since 2020, from the initial spread of COVID-19 to the recent emergence of highly contagious variants. Adapting to the new way of work, by itself, was a concern that every industry had to deal with. But the healthcare industry faced additional pressing concerns like planning the logistics for COVID-19 testing and vaccination. Because of these disruptions, many of the healthcare companies that did not have a digital-first ecosystem in place were compelled to adapt to a new era.
At a recent digital roundtable hosted by Equinix and organized by Jicara Media, leaders from hospitals and pharmaceutical organizations expressed how they have adapted to the pandemic era disruptions and how they have reshaped the landscape with a digital ecosystem. Participants shared where the healthcare industry is at in terms of the digital supply chain, infrastructure requirements, as well as key technology challenges that are impeding progress. We also looked at some of the silver linings that appear to be slowly revealing themselves as the industry adapted to the challenges.
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Challenges in digital transformation
Digital transformation has been the differentiating factor that drives the growth of our customers, and their ability to respond to both internal and external factors with agility. However, among the roundtable participants, digital transformation came with various challenges. While each had unique circumstances, they also faced common concerns, namely:
- Internal complications
- Digital engagement
- Partnerships and data exchanges
For some participants, their concerns were specific to their organization. For instance, it’s common for large organizations to lack the agility to get things done quickly while complying with internal procedures. Taking a too cautious approach may also hinder the adoption of cutting-edge technology. By the time all internal approvals are obtained, the technology they plan to implement may have already become outdated.
Others mentioned that while their organizations are focused on science and data, they acknowledge that some in their sector don’t truly understand digital technology, and associate it merely with Zoom and webinars. This makes education within the industry even more crucial, so that they understand it and use the right technology for the right outcomes.
For others, one of their biggest challenges in digital transformation is enabling end-to-end visibility, which would give them practical and timely insights. The organization is already mature in terms of individual functions or sectors. But when it comes to end-to-end visibility from their suppliers to consumers, they encounter difficulties.
There’s also the matter of legacy systems, many of which are siloed. Even if certain systems talk to each other, only some information is shared as they are not fully integrated. One hospital, for example, has about 170 individual IT systems, and each is supported by its own specialized vendor. This makes it challenging to harmonize the data.
In my recent podcast with Talking HealthTech, I shared the importance of having the right foundation for healthcare and life sciences organizations.
Several organizations shared that their early digitization steps were “easier than expected” and the acceptance of their customers was straightforward. The reception was met with enthusiasm until digital fatigue started setting in. Customers expressed that they wanted to interact with actual people and were not eager to communicate through virtual meetings, resulting in frustrations among their clientele.
One of the main challenges to digital transformation raised in the roundtable was regulation. When a healthcare company operates in a region like the Asia-Pacific market, they need to comply with different laws in every country.
While organizations push beyond their limitations, drive health literacy, and take on disruptions caused by COVID-19, they also need to stay aligned with and attuned to government regulations. Staying compliant, however, is sometimes a challenge as the rules can change as lawmakers respond to evolving circumstances. Regulation also plays a huge role when collaborating with others within the industry for data exchange.
Partnerships and data exchanges
One major area for innovation in the healthcare ecosystem is teaming up with other organizations to share data, which can lead to more unified platforms and simplified processes in the future.
However, data exchange within healthcare brings about several key concerns that need to be addressed. When asked, roundtable members touched on the following:
- There needs to be a standard
To successfully share data, the industry needs a protocol or way of communicating with different systems across organizations. This, however, comes with a few challenges in Singapore, which includes cybersecurity and the Personal Data Protection Act.
Furthermore, the shared data needs to be harmonized as well. For example, it can be especially difficult in a multicultural environment, where names come in different formats. Organizations must also deal with system limitations for names with special characters.
- Who leads?
Data exchanges cannot simply come together by themselves. The healthcare industry will need someone to sit down, map all the nodes, bring organizations together, and lead the effort while remaining neutral in the process. As it is, companies struggle with system intricacies in their own environments. Data sharing means collaborating with other entities, which will lead to even more complexities.
One possible avenue we suggest is to form a consortium with several participants like research agencies, academia, and industry peers who will have to pull resources together to solve common health challenges. In such situations, Equinix can serve (and has served) as a neutral location for consortium members to build their foundational infrastructure leveraging their own preferred infrastructure and technology partner.
- How do we establish trust?
As consortiums may include competitors in the same space, a lack of trust can impede data exchanges as well. Each may have their own motive in joining such partnerships, which cannot be helped, but the industry needs to have an open dialogue. After all, the ultimate objective of such undertakings is the patient’s benefit, so taking the first step is important. By building a consortium and the basic framework, members can balance between their interests and the common good.
- Are we willing to share our data?
If we can establish a data exchange consortium or partnership with our competitors, are we willing to share our data with others? Are we willing to do it in a safe environment? Unfortunately, some may hide behind regulations to avoid sharing anything. It is easy enough to establish a vision and design an active system, but a data exchange is ultimately about serving patient outcomes and transforming the future of healthcare.
Equinix currently serves over 300 healthcare and life sciences organizations in transforming their infrastructure and fast-tracking their advantage. We have pharmaceutical organizations leverage our platform to collaborate on the COVID-19 vaccine research, healthcare providers addressing surges in digital healthcare services demand in a matter of days rather than months. Within our healthcare ecosystem, we host partners that include research institutions, clinical platforms, specialized technology platforms collaboration (E.g. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc), cloud platforms and more.
As more organizations in the industry move towards digital transformation, it’s certain that healthcare will never be the same. Having a digital infrastructure is critical in the new normal, and even changing how organizations do business, engage, collaborate, and provide better care.