Data from The Canadian Institute for Health Information (2016) has shown that $228.1B, or approximately 11% of Canada’s GDP, was spent on healthcare in 2016. Roughly 70% of this spend is public sector expenditure with healthcare comprising the largest single budget item in every Canadian province. Is this healthcare spend sustainable, especially within the context of increasing cost pressure from an aging population and the inevitable increase in the prevalence of chronic disease? What can we learn from the global healthcare market?

The results of a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) indicates that healthcare professionals and executives around the world recognize healthcare is changing. Of the 83 global healthcare leaders who participated, 43% stated that boundaries between the healthcare industry and others are blurring; 54% said that traditional healthcare value chains are fragmenting and being replaced as a result of disruptive technologies; 51% said that competition is coming from new and unexpected places. New and emerging technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and 3D printing, among many others – are converging to change not only how, where and with what precision healthcare is delivered, but also the very definition of healthcare. With the help of these new emerging technologies, healthcare is evolving into integrated ecosystems of researchers, providers, payers and regulators that can interact with patients, caregivers and others on an individualized basis, delivered affordably and at scale.

There is increased pressure on healthcare organizations around the world as shifting demographics, particularly in relation to rapidly aging populations, contribute to dramatic growth in chronic and lifestyle diseases. These healthcare organizations will need to become ever-more proficient in digital technologies. They will, in fact, need to become digital leaders. Technologies will underpin any reinvention of healthcare, with the deeply intimate, individual experiences required. 

How can healthcare organizations make their digital strategy more ambitious to face disruption head-on? They can build new platforms by connecting devices using digital tools to manage health data. They can deploy innovations such as apps and wearable devices to monitor health and integrate data with electronic health records. They can embrace the IoT by using sensors and cloud services, nanotechnology and big data to digitize traditional healthcare operations. These organizations can deploy advanced analytics based on AI and cognitive computing to better understand wellness options for the healthcare consumer to generate better outcomes. They can use ecosystems to help them address likely skills shortages and find more productive ways to engage with employees.

Many Canadian healthcare organizations are already employing new digital technologies to create new value in the industry. The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has developed digital apps for areas such as pain management, arthritis and bowel disease, and it has also implemented a sophisticated telemedicine program. Each year, SickKids helps more than 5,000 children engage with medical professionals remotely through its device-agnostic video conferencing platform.

Yet simultaneously, there are healthcare organizations struggling to fully embrace the technology required to progress. Ontario made a goal to digitize all health records by the end of 2015, yet as of January 2017, 18% of family doctors and 38%of specialists working in the community had not yet made the conversion per OntarioMD, the agency that helps doctors with the transition – and it’s yet to be complete to-date. Ontario is not alone. Until very recently in most countries, medical records and other information remained paper-bound and siloed.

To set out on the path toward digital reinvention, healthcare industry leaders can take four initial steps: envision possibilities; create pilots; deepen capabilities; and orchestrate environments.

They can envision possibilities by conducting vision sessions based on design thinking to produce a definitive reinvention blueprint. For example, through deep conversations and in-depth analysis, develop a better understanding of stakeholders' needs, aspirations and desires; brainstorm new ideas to enhance engagement and visualize unexpected consumer scenarios.

They can create pilots by developing prototypes using agile development, testing them with consumers and getting them to market quickly to promote feedback and iteration. They can establish communities of interest to create "safe" environments to beta test innovations and incorporate them as a central part of design and development of processes, frameworks and creation of rules.

They can deepen capabilities by augmenting digital capabilities with strategic initiatives and continue to build and deploy necessary applications aligned to the target digital reinvention operating model and ecosystem strategy. As pilots evolve, impediments around development will emerge, highlighting limitations in existing capabilities.

They can orchestrate environments by executing through holistic reinvention rather than a series of point solutions, maintaining a clear focus on deep needs, aspirations or desires of patients, caregivers, clinicians and others. They can focus on interoperability and ecosystems to expand and align a broader set of capabilities and to help create and deliver on consumer promises.

When organizations are conceiving the healthcare ecosystems of the near future in a digitally reinvented world, they will find the possibilities limited only by their imaginations.

About the Author

Ian Fish, Partner and Healthcare Services Leader, IBM Canada