Remote digital care: promising and demanding

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Hospitals are facing many obstacles to introducing digital remote care, according to research by IG&H among 20 healthcare vendors. Funding is a problem in particular. Nevertheless, hospitals are ambitious and want to continue to develop a digital healthcare portfolio. Digital remote care is the means for them to address the growing demand for care with more self-management. The health insurers are important partners to achieve this ambition.



Healthcare is stuck in a tight spot. Too many patients, too few staff and costs are rising. This requires a different, more digital way of providing care. Technology will be the backbone of the hospital of the future. Digital remote care has long since become a choice. There are more and more good applications becoming available. For many healthcare providers and patients, digital care has become the new normal.

The first COVID wave was the big stimulus for digital care. Video calling between colleagues, as well as with patients, increased by 74 percent. Platforms for information exchange (such as patient portals) were also used much more often.

Promising

Despite the recent upturn, digital care contributing to affordability and labor productivity remains more of a promise. The introduction of digital care is anything but smooth. After the resurgence of COVID, the use of digital care even seems to be somewhat decreasing.

The Netherlands is doing less well in terms of the introduction of digital care compared to other countries such as Spain, Portugal, England and Sweden. On the Digital Health Index, the Netherlands is in eighth place. There are estimates that up to 40 percent of care can take place outside the walls of the hospital. However, this is mainly theory, not practice.

This is not due to a lack of ambition. Digital care is at the top of the priority list of healthcare providers and health insurers. The goal of many hospitals is to offer at least 10-25 percent of the care outside the hospital walls, digitally. Caregivers and patients are also benevolent. Previous research shows that about 70 percent of the specialists and also about 70 percent of the patients feel positive about digital care. This mainly concerns chronic care.


Digital transformation is demanding

In recent research, we have mapped out the use, drivers, barriers and support of health insurers in digital remote care. For this overview, we interviewed healthcare vendors and innovation managers from about 20 different hospitals.

The research shows that the most important driver for hospitals is to meet the growing demand for care through more efficient use of care providers. In addition, it is almost as important that digital care increases self-management and accessibility of care for the patient.

There are massive differences between hospitals in their maturity levels of digital remote care. Hospitals already often use communication applications (84 percent), but less of monitoring (55 percent) and even less of applications for treatment (14 percent). In this study, the hospitals indicated they want to implement between two and five new applications in the coming years. The supply will therefore continue to grow rapidly.


Not easy

The large-scale use of digital care is not easy. For half of the hospitals, funding is the biggest obstacle. The financing is difficult to get around and the production falls away, but costs remain. Being able to properly declare digital care has been a long time coming. The result is that healthcare professionals are not always eager, and the hospital sets different priorities so that digital care disappears into the background.

According to the hospitals, digital remote care stands or falls with enthusiasm and good support. Nearly two-thirds of healthcare vendors indicate that this is the most important success factor. According to the hospitals, good technical and project-based support (also together 60 percent) is important for the development, too.

Hospitals don't have to do this alone. They can rely on the expertise and resources of health insurers. More than 80 percent said health insurers offer good substantive and financial support. According to 40 percent of the hospitals, Zilveren Kruis fulfills this role best out of all health insurers. Health insurers are indispensable for digital care, a topic that should not be missing in long-term agreements.


Digital first, digital last

What we learn from this research is that for many hospitals, digital care is still mainly a collection of pilots. The ambitions are great, but few hospitals fundamentally opt for digital transformation in their strategy. There are even fewer hospitals that really dare to invest substantially in technology development. To change this, we offer five pieces of advice:

1. Contact strategy

The point has been reached to think about a coherent contact strategy for patients and caregivers. This requires a regional approach together with other healthcare providers and the health insurer. With the common goal of smooth contact, regardless of the time, place or type of care.

2. Digital hospitality

The use of digital care stands or falls with ease of use. A user-oriented approach has this as a starting point. Consider what the biggest pain and benefits of patients and caregivers are within patient care, then develop the application around them. Next, ensure an optimal user experience by setting up the care paths digitally together with patients and caregivers.

3. Value case

Many applications are unprofitable. They arise from passionate focus in the workplace without too much attention to the financial effect. But what would happen if we took the business case as a starting point? A start of such an approach is that hospitals make an inventory of which proven applications there are and set these against which care paths lend themselves well to a digital healthcare application.

4. Smart collaboration

Hospitals are not alone. Health insurers face exactly the same task and have a duty of care to provide insured persons with access to care within a reasonable time and travel distance. They are partners in digital transformation. Therefore, learn from each other's experiences and work together as much as possible in your own region. This checks the following boxes: competencies are bundled, investments are shared and a coherent (digital) care offering is created.

5. Data valuation

All applications provide enormous amounts of data with the potential for huge value. Combining data sources provides so many new insights to better organize healthcare. However, not all healthcare providers have the time and resources for a 'data science' team. It starts with asking sharp questions, such as where do the waiting lists run up at the expense of the care outcomes? To answer this, a competent data science team, an IT infrastructure and an organization that embraces and supports these capabilities is necessary.



Author of the health monitor:


Walter Kien, Director (walter.kien@igh.com)