Few industries have gone through such intense disruption as healthcare over the past year. Prior to the pandemic, patient experiences had been static for years. Take going to the GP. If you were lucky enough to live or work near one, it meant phoning to make a booking, finding time to go to the clinic, waiting to be seen, waiting to process payment, taking a prescription to the pharmacy. For the 7 million citizens living in Australia’s regional communities, long distances and lack of convenience often resulted in comparatively poorer health outcomes.
The COVID crisis catalysed rapid adoption of digital tools and forced the healthcare industry to become more agile. The near-overnight switch to nationwide telehealth services has proven a gamechanger for the patient, practitioner, and employee experience. In the same way that Uber reimagined what it means to catch a taxi, telehealth, remote patient monitoring services, and data-driven personalised services are reimagining healthcare.
After years of lagging in digital innovation, the healthcare industry is finally investing in technology designed to improve efficiency, convenience, and accessibility for all Australians. IT spending by healthcare providers in Australia is forecast to grow more than 8% in 2021, as the industry ups the ante on digital transformation.
[Read also: The COVID dividend]
The rising demand for better patient experiences coincides almost perfectly with the once-in-a-generation transformation underway in healthcare. This has already had profound impacts on the accessibility and convenience of healthcare. In future we’ll see more personalisation, connected services, and proactive management of health and wellbeing through digital tools, built on trusted relationships and technology.
Capitalising on these new opportunities requires technology to work in service of everyone.
Swapping friction for freedom
Leading demographer Bernard Salt predicts a major post-COVID shift that will see Aussies delegate more tasks to technology to manage all areas of their daily lives and work. Health and wellbeing has the potential to be at the forefront of this change, as consumers pursue seamless interactions, with routine tasks and interactions increasingly automated.
However, the healthcare sector faces a key challenge to realise the potential of post-pandemic conditions: evolution will require deep levels of trust. With an explosion of richer data from sources like wearables, and the innovation that this data enables, citizens want to feel informed and protected.
Digital workflows offer a new pathway to build trust and benefit communities by connecting stakeholders in new ways, while managing health and cyber risks.
Consider the last time you sat with a GP while they made phone calls to reception, nurses, or specialists to locate or validate your most up-to-date information.
One recent advance in the patient experience has been online booking portals: an innovation that pales in comparison to the transformation other industries have undergone to survive. If we can tap, swipe, and click from an app to manage nearly every aspect of life, shouldn’t healthcare services be the same?
Prior to COVID, only 3% of Australians had participated in a telehealth consultation; now 73% have. Digital workflows have streamlined the prescribing process for maximum efficiency. Prescriptions are now managed digitally, so patients can go from diagnosis to collection in minutes. GPs who may have spent years building a thriving practice can now take their patients with them—virtually—if they move. New technologies make access to data instant and secure.
When we get workflows right, they create better, more empathetic experiences for people and new revenue streams for business. Automation of manual processes allows us to sidestep physical and virtual barriers, unlock gaps in information, and connect across silos or disconnected systems, freeing up more time and energy for higher-value work.
Workflowing the vaccination process
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout is one of the most daunting logistical challenges of our generation. The compressed timeframe calls for agility and speed. Every delay creates a very real human cost.
Digital workflows can help solve the challenges of a nationwide vaccination program. Think about it like this: Vaccine delivery is a workflow, just like employee service delivery or customer service. It relies on seamless, secure solutions to distribute vaccines, configure clinics, enable online bookings, gather relevant information about patients, manage movements of people on the day of vaccination, and effectively inoculate patients. Intelligent workflows can connect every step.
Despite the immense and complex challenge, many of ServiceNow’s global healthcare customers have told us they were using spreadsheets to track who received vaccines, at which location, and when they’re due for the required second dose. Others said they were using paper records to manage vaccine storage information. Such manual processes compromise the vaccine delivery, and they aren’t necessary.
ServiceNow’s Vaccine Administration Management solution digitises these processes, enabling healthcare providers to inoculate more people, faster. AI and machine learning support data integrity, as patient information moves from one place to another. The opportunity for human error is greatly minimised, regulatory compliance is integrated into every process, and the rollout effort becomes more data-driven, transparent, and accountable.
Dr. Zoran Bolevich, chief executive of eHealth NSW, said: “In June, New South Wales Health deployed ServiceNow’s VAM in just ten business days to help support the acceleration of our state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The system has simplified and automated workflows between administrators, clinicians, and patients, so that we can vaccinate more people, faster, with less duplication and risk of errors. Capability of VAM to enable the vaccination process to be managed end-to-end has enabled our amazing clinical and administrative staff to provide a seamless and efficient service to hundreds of thousands of people across the state.”
Transparency builds trust
When people aren’t concerned about online fraud or preoccupied with vetting information sources, they can concentrate on more impactful tasks. Technologies like AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) can embed safeguards into systems and processes, eliminating the risk of human error in critical health and safety procedures.
For Ardent Leisure Group, the operator of Dreamworld theme park, maintaining temperature compliance for more than 100 fridges and freezers involved hourly, round-the-clock manual checks by employees. Getting it wrong meant customers could unwittingly consume compromised food.
The resource-intensive process was amplified during audit time. “Our government food safety inspectors want to see every temperature reading,” explains Brett Aspel, change and implementation manager at Dreamworld.
“It was a three-day job for a senior team member to source every piece of paper relating to a particular outlet, retrieve and analyse hundreds of sensor temperature readings, find all the work orders that had been generated, locate notes securely from overnight readings, and collate it all for our inspectors.”
Dreamworld employees have reclaimed 500 hours of customer service time annually.
Aspel’s team deployed ServiceNow Connected Operations, connecting IoT data with business context and digital workflows, to transform their occupational health and safety compliance. “Now we click a button and it’ll just pop up on the screen; we hit print and it’s done,” Aspel says. “The whole process has been reduced to 30 minutes for the entire theme park.” Moreover, Dreamworld employees have reclaimed 500 hours of customer service time annually.
Ardent Leisure Group has also digitised all safety incident reporting, transitioning from paper-based reporting to automated checklists. “Now, safety and engineering teams can very quickly log issues, automatically raising a work order if any inspection item fails or is outside of acceptable tolerances,” Aspel says.
Fit for the future
Technology and social behaviour have combined over many years to deliver better health outcomes with more efficient use of limited resources. This was evident when lockdowns restricted contact and movement: We turned to digital apps that managed check-ins with a few taps and saved hours for contact tracers, keeping citizens trackable and contactable, safely and securely.
As Australia enters a new era of living and working, a national data sharing intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to make more data available across all jurisdictions for policy development and service delivery will help both public and private sectors build on that success. It lays the post-COVID foundations for connected agencies to improve public health and social wellbeing services. This will enable a more innovative, citizen-oriented future that includes personalised health plans, total transparency, and anytime accessibility.
For the national healthcare system, the past year has shown a brighter way forward for all Australians.