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DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN HEALTHCARE

Health management carried out by citizens, professionals, and health administrations have gone through a turning point in recent years thanks to digital transformation. The World Health Organization (WHO) understands this fundamental right as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of infirmity or disease." The applications that digital technology already provides and will offer in the future make it easier for this concept to materialize in a comprehensive approach to Health.

Digital Health is sometimes thought of as a concept linked only to mere technological advances (electronic prescription, mobile applications, etc.). Still, its scope goes much further because it implies a model change. Silvia Vigara, an e-Health expert at Telefónica Tech, believes that the digitization we are witnessing is "a facilitator of the transformation we are experiencing: we are moving from reactive healthcare to a proactive one that focuses on prediction and prevention and seeks to be able to anticipate and minimize the impact on society."

This change of focus allows us to glimpse the scope that the transformation that has begun will have. Carlos Mateos, vice president of the Association of Innovators in e-Health (AIES), highlights how the culture of prevention is gradually making its way: "People are more aware of the importance of physical exercise and all kinds of devices not to cure, but to prevent." This trend has been observed for years, but it has worsened with the coronavirus pandemic, which has accelerated the implementation of innovative approaches linked to e-Health.

The Digital Health Strategy of the National Health System, prepared in 2021, recognizes that covid-19 has acted as an accelerator for e-Health. Crises, including health crises, present an opportunity because they force us to seek solutions in situations marked by uncertainty and risk, and sometimes in record time. Silvia Vigara highlights the global epidemic's impact on the clinical field. The adaptation that the professionals had to make facilitated the implementation of new work and care formulas. Among others, "connected care solutions (telehealth and remote monitoring), advanced analytics tools and artificial intelligence to diagnose, monitor and treat patients, implementation of e-triage systems or development of simulation models to optimize planning in hospital emergency services."

During the most challenging confinement stage, many citizens incorporated technology into their daily lives to monitor their state of Health or improve their activity levels. Covid-19, which put the Health of the entire population on the entire planet at stake, helped them "to be aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle," points out the e-Health expert from Telefónica Tech. The consequences They also reached the health administration. "The pandemic revealed the critical importance of having a solid public health system backed by a consistent data infrastructure that allows decisions to be made based on the real situation and the needs of society," says Vigara.

Global benefits of digital transformation in the health sector

The disruptive nature of the e-Health sector lies in the fact that it brings benefits to all the actors involved in the management of assets as transcendental as personal and collective Health. The combination of genomics and artificial intelligence advances promotes a more predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory medicine that benefits the entire chain (professionals, patients, researchers, and administrations).

Two or three decades ago, no one would have thought that a computer could have anything to do with the response to a viral infection. However, the contribution of the IBM Summit supercomputer was crucial for accelerating the search for possible therapies against covid-19. In just two days, 8,000 active ingredients were analyzed, a task that would have taken specialists months or years to detect 77 active ingredients with the capacity to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from transmitting its genetic material to host cells. It is an example of the reach that e-Health already has in public Health.

Big data techniques allow the storage and processing of large amounts of precious data at all levels: research, clinical, or management; thanks to the processing of this data by artificial intelligence (AI), the way of looking for new drugs, the analysis of medical tests or the diagnosis of diseases has changed. "Artificial intelligence makes much more accurate diagnoses than the best of specialists, for example, in diagnostic imaging. It is occurring in many pathologies", points out Carlos Mateos.

Thus, a study from the University of Heidelberg (Germany), published in the Annals of Oncology, demonstrated, after analyzing 10,000 images of benign and cancerous moles, that a computer can be more efficient than the best professionals when diagnosing melanoma. The same goes for diabetic retinopathy. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the go-ahead for marketing devices based on AI algorithms that detect the disease.

The challenges of the 'e-Health' sector

Big data, AI, and other applications and technologies linked to digital Health handle millions of data. Its reliability is based on reaching conclusions with a minimum margin of error. Still, this volume of information has a critical point for the e-Health sector: cybersecurity. Protecting it is a priority objective, especially when personal data is handled. The privacy and absolute traceability of the information of each individual must be guaranteed: It is vital to comply at all times with current legislation and regulations, and ensure the maintenance of the highest security standards, to avoid information leaks or the manipulation of data. Data by third parties.

The second challenge facing digital health security is cyber threats. "They are unavoidable," assures the Telefónica Tech specialist, "so it is essential also to have a prevention, detection, and appropriate response system to reduce attacks, protect digital health services and thus guarantee the cyber-resilience of the service."

The advantages of digital Health are unquestionable: it reduces costs and allows care to be provided to populations with more difficult access to many services. Digital Health is equitable and makes universal access to health care effective. However, it runs into a stumbling block: the digital gap that still exists between the new generations and the older population. Three fundamental aspects must be worked on to save it and advance digital inclusion. First is digital skills, "the ability to use digital devices such as computers or smartphones." The second key aspect is connectivity and internet access, and the third is "accessibility, related to the design of services that meet the needs of all people who can use them, including those who depend on assistive technologies to access services." digital."

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Impacts of Digital Transformation on Health

The future of healthcare will be digital; that's a fact. But being digital does not mean, in any way, being less human. On the contrary: the digital transformation in Health is increasingly in the direction of bringing more convenience to the work of health professionals for the well-being and quality of care for patients.

Clinical mobility of the significant impacts of the digital transformation in Health was the socalled clinical mobility. Clinical mobility talks about using mobile devices, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, by health professionals on the front line.

Improvement in care, reduction, and increase in the security of patient data

Using mobile devices combined with intelligent technologies led hospitals to improve workflow and patient safety, reduce operating costs, facilitate communication between teams, and facilitate access to data, which is now available in real-time and in line.

According to the study "Clinical Mobility and Digitalization in Latin America," 72% of hospitals in Latin America improved their care thanks to the clinical mobility provided by the digital transformation in Health. The same study indicates that the current impact of mobile technology in hospitals in the region reduced operating costs by 55% and improved patient safety by 61%. The tendency is for these numbers to grow as health institutions adapt to new technologies.

  • More agility and efficiency in processes
    The availability of the appropriate technology and rapid access to data bring more agility and efficiency to the processes. In this way, healthcare professionals can spend more time treating patients and less on bureaucratic activities.
    Automation tools, such as medical records, agendas, and electronic prescriptions, also facilitate the routine of these professionals, bringing greater visibility and organization. This prevents delays, misses, and errors and facilitates patient access to their information.
  • Digital and precise diagnostics
    Intelligent technologies such as data analysis and Artificial Intelligence (AI) enable much more accurate diagnoses based on a series of patient information and not just a single blood test, for example.
    Thanks to these technologies, the possibilities of diagnostic errors are reduced, and the patient can easily access their analyses through the website or through applications.
  • Telemedicine
    Another significant impact of the digital transformation in Health is telemedicine as a new modality of medical practice. It is about remote medical consultations, although it does not apply to all modalities. Through the use of software that facilitates online communication and care, doctors and patients can access various resources that streamline and considerably improve the quality of remote care.
    Telemedicine gained more strength after the impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused social isolation and the readaptation of the routine of all people. In this context, telemedicine and the use of technologies that facilitate the management of online consultations and care have played an essential role as an alternative during the crisis. During this period, some tools managed to register over 5,000 services on the platform daily.
    Today, the practice has become an opportunity to generate income, maintain care, and reduce bottlenecks and waiting for lines at hospitals. In the case of Latin America, telemedicine is already a reality for 95% of health institutions, according to data from NTT DATA.
    With more and more institutions in the sector adopting telemedicine, everything indicates that this will be a strong trend for the future since it allows caring for and attending to regions that are difficult to access.
  • Physician-patient approach (humanized care)
    The search for increasingly humanized care is constant. Faced with this, another impact of the digital transformation in Health is precisely the rapprochement between doctors and patients, either due to the agility in consultations, the closer monitoring of treatments, or the possibility of faster conversations through applications of Messenger service.
    In addition, many teleservice practices are a benchmark in humanized consultations, demonstrating that physical presence is not the only thing that counts.

Main trends of digital transformation in Health

  • Consolidation of health techs
    After the growth of fintech - a consequence of the digital transformation in the financial sector other technology startups emerged in the market, providing new experiences for the population. This is the case with health techs, startups that introduce new technologies to find solutions in the health sector.
    The scenario of the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the digital transformation in Health, demanding an adaptation by companies in the sector in the processes of digitalization of systems and care. Faced with this need, health techs became partners with large companies in the health sector, offering management solutions, electronic medical records, and telemedicine.
    As new technologies emerge daily, specialists are confident that, with the help of health techs, it will soon be possible to make significant advances in the health sector. Examples are: the 3D printing of organs, surgeries performed with robotic arms operated by doctors on the other side of the world, and nanorobots applied to non-invasive treatments and diagnoses. Faced with this new possibility, the market has been generous for health techs.
    In 2021, global investment in health techs reached the US$44 billion mark in 990 Deals worldwide. The value is double what was invested in 2020 (22 billion in US dollars), which had already been a record, and the trend is for it to grow exponentially over the years.
    In the case of Latin America, specialists are convinced that, very soon, the region will be able to become the cradle of health techs. According to them, the region has become more flexible and observed that technology has been a great ally in saving lives.
    It is no coincidence that Crunchbase's 2021 surveys have registered more than 140 health techs
    in the region with growth potential. According to the survey, Brazil has more than 60 large initiatives, followed by Mexico (37) and Chile (21).
  • Wearable devices
    Another significant digital transformation trend in Health is wearable devices (wearable techs). These wearable technologies have various intelligent functions, such as heartbeat monitoring, which can help doctors monitor patients' Health, being very useful for babies or people with the most vulnerable Health, unable to communicate.
    Many companies in the health area in the United States already use wearable devices, and the trend is for countries in various regions of the world, such as Latin America, to start acquiring them.
  • Automation of bureaucratic processes
    Another trend of digitization in Health is the automation - and consequently, the facilitation - of bureaucratic processes. Thanks to technological advances, several specific automated solutions are available to automate and facilitate processes in hospitals and clinics.
    The trend is that more and more clinics and hospitals use operational and warehouse management software to make processes more agile and effective and minimize errors and corrections. This way, activities such as consultations, task control, medication control, and data storage can be facilitated as simple tools, such as a mobile application. Here, we must remember that this trend will be beneficial in the future since the population is increasingly multi-connected and seeks agility, efficiency, and convenience.
  • LMS Platforms ( Learning Management System )
    Last, we must remember the fundamental trend in developing health professionals. It is nothing new that doctors, nurses, managers, and other professionals in the area must constantly acquire new knowledge. So, whether due to the fight against a virus or for strategic reasons, a learning management platform can be an excellent solution to integrate the entire knowledge base of the institution in a single place.
    An LMS platform consists of a virtual environment powered by various resources and functionalities that allow classes, courses, and training to be carried out online. In addition, this technology optimizes internal communication and the support of development professionals, generating accurate data and information to improve strategic decision-making.

Necessary technologies

According to specialists, global health technology trends are surprising. These must reach more and more and modify how we think about care as a human beings.

In this way, health establishments that start investing in this segment earlier will have an easier time achieving positive results in the future once they will differentiate themselves from the competition and gain user preference. According to these specialists, check the leading technologies to see the digital transformation process in Health.

  • Artificial intelligence
    Artificial intelligence is widely applied in medicine and should be further developed in the coming years. IDC data estimate that investment in innovative technologies in the health sector in Latin America should reach 1,931 million US dollars by 2022.
    The same study suggests that companies in the sector plan to acquire solutions that already come with embedded AI to optimize their workforce. With the expansion of this technology's use cases and applications, the outlook is that the expenses reach 464 million US dollars.
    Such data can be justified by the fact that intelligent systems, for example, can view the data collected in analysis up to 150 times faster than humans. That can enable the economy in the health sector. For example, a computed tomography that takes half an hour can be completed in a few minutes if the artificial intelligence systems discover the patient's problem in the first images generated. This way, hospitals will have an economy, and doctors will expedite treatments. In addition to having their health problem diagnosed and treated more quickly, patients will pay less for this.
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
    The IoT is one of the simplest technologies applied to Health. Although, we cannot belittle it or eliminate it. Integrating and connecting devices such as smartwatches to the Internet can collect data such as heart rate, weight, pressure, number of steps, and calories expended, allowing extra and broader insight into symptoms.
    In addition, we must remember that these IoT-integrated devices make online care possible, facilitating control over the user's Health.
  • Virtual Assistants
    Chatbots, also known as virtual assistants, are great allies in the care process and digital transformation in Health. These intelligent tools make it easy to solve simple patient questions, optimizing online care.
  • Big Data and Machine Learning
    Big data and Machine learning is widely used today, mainly with the digital transformation in Health. The tools help machines understand human language and interpret data. When combined with Artificial Intelligence, they sometimes analyze data and make proactive decisions without human intervention.
    In the health context, the primary sources of information are internal files, electronic medical records, social networks, internal systems, online analysis and reports, and digital files provided by care institutions. These data are analyzed and processed to develop proposals and actions to promote better quality services. The data also makes it possible to carry out personalized treatments, helping to detect risk factors and possible side effects of certain medications.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
    AR and VR resources help medical students and professionals learn to perform dangerous and delicate procedures like heart surgeries. This is excellent for making medical errors less frequent, for example.
    If we stop to think about the case of LMS platforms, technology becomes more relevant so that these professionals can study online without losing the quality of their education.
  • Clouds
    With the advent of cloud computing technology, the storage and the flow of data and information can occur online without needing a local infrastructure to support it.
    This trend has revolutionized the IT sector and can also contribute a lot to Health. In the end, with cloud storage, a doctor can, for example, access online care software wherever he is. Access the digital solution on the web to access and manage data in real-time.
  • Medical history and digital signature
    An electronic medical record is a tool that digitizes patients' registration and access to medical information. Far beyond notes on the patient's medical record, the electronic medical record contains tests, images, prescriptions, and all kinds of documents about the patient's Health.
    In the opinion of specialists, this is one of the technologies that best exemplifies the potential of digital Health since, in addition to being digital, it can be easily accessed by any device by those responsible for the treatment.
    The digital signature also becomes another essential technology. According to specialists, this is an excellent ally to centralize the information from the patient's medical records. In addition, it is essential to avoid errors and help to identify, safely and correctly, the source of information.
  • Blockchain
    Blockchain is another essential technology in terms of digital transformation in healthcare. The technology can be used, for example, to guarantee more excellent protection of the sensitive data of a health institution and to provide secure access to a patient's medical history.
  • 3D and 4D printing
    With 3D printing, doctors and healthcare teams can work with the help of advanced tools to create accurate prostheses and models to aid in treating all types.
    Already 4D printing is a more advanced type, which acts in areas where 3D printing does not, adding a layer of intelligent material to a 3D object.
    The innovative material is nothing more than a material that can transform over time or react to certain conditions, such as pressure, torsion, humidity, and different temperatures. One example is biomaterials, which can replace tissues in the human body - capable of interacting with other tissues.
  • Predictive analysis (healthcare analytics)
    According to specialists, predictive analysis is another necessary technology to accompany the digital transformation in Health. Predictive analytics uses data, statistical algorithms, and machine learning and Artificial Intelligence techniques to identify the probability of future outcomes from historical data.
    The objective of this practice is to have a vision of what could happen in the future based on the data obtained and, based on that, understand the risk groups and potentially harmful threats. In the health area, predictive evaluation can, for example, build the profile of patients, map regions with the highest incidence of specific pathologies, forecast the costs derived from tests and hospitalization, forecast stretcher occupancy rates, as well as how to apply preventive medicine to avoid infections and potential diseases.
    According to studies conducted by Harvard University researchers, almost 75% of health expenditures are with patients with chronic diseases due to the lack of continuous investment to study said diseases.
    Thus, predictive models will help doctors, support teams, and financial departments receive alerts about results and potential risks, so they are better prepared for the future. According to Reports and Data surveys, predictive modeling in health systems is already trending and will be valued at US$22.4 billion in 2026.

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Conclusion

The digital transformation of the health sector also has an essential economic variable, to the point that some experts perceive it as a lifeline for the sustainability of free and universal health systems, such as the Spanish one. The resources needed to guarantee this provision are increasing due to demographic pressure and population aging.

The innovations provided by digital Health make the management of available resources more efficiently. Telemedicine, or the digitization of healthcare processes, is a good example, as is remote monitoring: It allows real-time monitoring of patients in the hospital and at home, combining data from connected biosensors, health applications, and personal health records; ehealth "offers better quality care, facilitating the work of professionals with the greatest possible budgetary efficiency."

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