The Discussion: The changing shape of healthcare

Posted on 14/09/2021 by vmwareemeasmt

Jens Koegler, Healthcare Industry Director, VMware EMEA

Why did it only take God six days to build the world? Because he didn’t have to deal with legacy. This was one of the many topics covered in a recent roundtable discussion looking at the healthcare sector. Kieron White, business transformation and change consultant guided us through this conversation, along with Christoper Logan, Executive Healthcare Advisor, and myself.  We, of course, had a body of great customers from university hospitals, hospital chains, Government bodies and retail pharmacy from across Germany, UK, Netherlands, Nordics and the METNA region.

Saving the world, and a cool place to be

The baseline for discussions was how and why healthcare has traditionally been a laggard compared to other sectors. One of our speakers cited that they initially left the healthcare sector because, after pushing for innovation around telehealth and E-scripts several years ago, he was met with barriers in the form of reticence and regulation. In his words, “nobody would give us time of day – the things we were proposing were considered too futuristic and not part of the core business”. Of course, today, that’s all changed.

Many barriers to digital transformation have gone, largely driven by the pandemic. For instance, the development of new vaccines used to take 10 years, now it’s 10-months. Despite increased regulation, cutting-edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, robotics and virtual reality are becoming increasingly prevalent. As one panelist put it, “healthcare is saving the world but it’s also a cool place to be”. But it’s not just the change but the pace of it that is so staggering. The entire panel agreed that healthcare providers are uniformly looking to digitise elements of their operation faster, more securely and seamlessly to avoid application and/or information overload. Chris Logan, VMware’s global director of healthcare industry strategy as well as an executive healthcare advisor at the VMware global industries group said, “technology is reaching a stage where equity is being leveraged to deliver better patient care”. And that’s the driving force behind the evolution in the healthcare sector – real-time connected healthcare for improved patient outcomes.

Technology – the treatment and the medicine

The industry used to be focused on providing the best possible outcome for the clinicians – but this is being flipped on its head. Patients now want more digital options while the clinical workforce is looking for a hybrid approach to working. The latter accelerated as healthcare organisations were forced to go virtual almost overnight to keep their care providers safe while caring for patients at a distance. This is backed up by the findings of a recent study we conducted with MIT, which found 89% of healthcare organisations are accelerating their digital transformation journeys.

As I genuinely believe, ‘Technology is becoming the treatment and the medicine and many of our customers are embracing it for a future in which we focus our efforts on putting the patient first’. The consensus from the panel was that creating a patient-centric framework to connect data systems and people with the information they need in real time is the focus because that is what is required to provide the best highest quality care possible.

Patients on the edge

While the delivery of patient-centric care is a top priority, realising it is not without challenge as the panel discussed at length. They highlighted issues surrounding the requirement to have a flexible and scalable infrastructure to empower both the providers and the patients. This is especially pertinent when patient volumes exceed the capacity of a traditional health system as we’re seeing in the a few countries across the globe, right now. Yet most organisations are dealing with a mountain of technical debt and legacy systems that aren’t interoperable or scalable. Security taxes on healthcare also have risen to unprecedented rates while the open sharing of patient information has become a huge risk for healthcare organisations. This is all set in a background of staffing challenges when it comes to managing the complexity of these new operations.

Healthcare organisations must also deliver connected care across networks on devices and improve the patient experience to personalise services at the edge – monitoring patients in their home or meeting them where they are in their care delivery journey is going to be incredibly important as we look to take care of the populations that we’re trying to serve. The same goes for staff. Organisations must empower and scale this modern, distributed healthcare workforce because it’s only going to improve performance, reliability, across those remote locations.

Working hard to reduce risk

One of the major focus areas for the panel was cybersecurity. Attacks are not only increasing in frequency and severity, but the nature of them is changing as well. Sophisticated ransomware is increasingly common so healthcare organisations must work harder than ever before to reduce the attack surface and threat window. As one panelist put it, “it is vital to educate your board that there are only two kinds of CIOs – those that know they’ve been hacked and those that have been hacked, but don’t know about it.”

Each panelist stressed the importance of having visibility to manage risk and understand the threat based upon the perceived value of the operation that that technology is supporting. The NHS was flagged as a good example. In it, there are lots of old technologies. Some can be ring fenced and protected but some cannot. Successful cyber defence is not simply predicated on keeping applications up to date but wrapping around firewalls to be much more comprehensive and ensuring intrinsic security is built into solutions.

Engagement, experience and employees

This summary would not be complete without highlighting the topic of healthcare employees where several themes were prominent. Specifically, the importance of employee engagement – people want to work for great companies. One advantage healthcare companies have is that, by definition, they’re mission-based organisations and a lot of people want to work in this type of environment to make a positive difference to the world.

Employee experience was also a focus. Healthcare has done a lot of things to enable remote or anwhere work, and people are very thankful that they were able to keep their jobs and work effectively when they were not able to go to work in a regular way. But finding a sustainable equilibrium is the next frontier as burned-out staff desperately seek balance, ease of working and a clear separation between personal and professional lives. This extended onto talent too, particularly in light of the technology companies moving into healthcare. The panel universally agreed this is going to be a huge focus for the healthcare industry as it emerges from the pandemic. One person put it, “What is it going to take for somebody to go work for Boots over Amazon or Microsoft because this is our competition. People will seek out who has the best employee experience and ultimately vote with their feet”.

Catalyst for massive transformation

The pandemic was a catalyst for massive healthcare transformation. It removed decades of barriers and relaxed some regulatory requirements all while driving change through technology. The panel lasted for 90 minutes but we could have talked for 90 days given the scope of activity happening in the sector.

If you would like to be part of our next session or would like to speak to somebody at VMware about how we can help digitise your healthcare operations, please get in touch with us at vmcare@vmware.com or visit our new healthcare site here for more information on how VMware can help with your healthcare transformation.


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