A three-country survey* carried out by international management consulting firm McKinsey reveals that the digitisation of health sector systems is now moving to what the authors call a ‘third stage’. The McKinley analysts give their view of the paths to follow and the pitfalls to avoid.

Healthcare Now Moving into a ‘Third Phase’ of Digitisation

Use of the new information and communication technologies in the medical field began in the 1950s to manage administrative and statistical tasks. A second wave came some twenty years later when electronic health records appeared. Now the McKinsey report talks about a third step which the healthcare field is about to take: calling on the new technologies to actually serve patients better. Nevertheless, issues such as regulation, data privacy and the broad range of stakeholders involved seem to be impacting the health sector in particular and threatening to delay this third wave of technological progress. So where should the health sector start in order to fully incorporate digital technology into the strategies of its various players? The McKinsey analysts point out that in other sectors this third wave has been based on a study of the real needs and expectations of users, and the medical sector ought to be doing exactly the same. The report authors have organised their write-up of the survey results so as to highlight – and dispel – a set of five myths, the first being that people do not want to use digital tools for healthcare.

Digital healthcare: targeting the channel according to population segment

The results of the survey reveal that the primary reason why patients are being slow to adopt digital healthcare is that existing digital services do not actually meet their needs or because they are of poor quality. More than 75% of the survey respondents said they would like to use digital healthcare tools as a complement to more traditional services. The second myth is that only young people want to use digital services. In fact, older (over 50) patients said they wanted healthcare services based not on mobile devices but on fixed email and Internet. When it comes to using mobile apps and social networks for health matters, only 11% of the 50 - 59 age group said they might do so, compared with 40% of the under-30s who believe they will use them at least once in the future. This finding leads McKinley to demolish the third myth – that ‘mobile health is the game changer’. This is not the case, says the report. However, although ‘mobile’ is not the only channel to find popular favour, this does not mean that innovation in mobile apps should slow down but the sector must avoid developing service with strong potential using the wrong channel. McKinsey recommends developing different tools for different patient/user segments.

Quality and efficiency the primary prerequisites

A fourth myth the report dispels is that patients want innovative features and mobile apps. In fact the core features patients say they expect from their health system are quality, value creation and usefulness. They are looking for efficiency, easier access to information, integration with other channels, plus the right to speak to a human being if the digital service does not give them what they need. The survey also indicates that closely-targeted, specialised services that respond to a precise need may be the key to success, thus dispelling the fifth and final myth - namely that a ‘comprehensive platform of services is a prerequisite for creating value’. The McKinsey authors argue that the transition to digital in the healthcare sector calls for a clear prior analysis of the needs and expectations of patients and the technology resources which already exist, in order to optimise investment and provide a continuous flow of new functionality designed to serve patients better.

* Survey conducted among over 1,000 patients in Germany, Singapore and the UK, from different social classes and ages, who use digital tools in a variety of different ways.

By Lucie Frontière