The electronic patient record is a good example of how far Germany lags behind countries like Scandinavia and the Baltic states in digitalization. It doesn’t look much better with other digital health solutions that could improve the dialogue between physician and patient. The lobbyists of the established players like to invoke legal barriers and data protection to explain why digitalization in the healthcare industry is progressing at only a sluggish pace. But in fact, the real motives, besides a lack of billing opportunities, are also the fear of losing control and fierce competition. In addition, change is usually experienced as a painful process accompanied by difficulties. That there are cases even in the healthcare sector where “Industry 4.0” is taking place today, can be seen in areas where patients are not directly involved.
Job descriptions shaped by digital requirements have arisen, for instance, in the drug development process. Here, researchers aim to identify targets where a medicament could be applied in the course of an illness. Quantitative system pharmacology supports them in describing biological networks as a numerical model. Take, for example, big data: large quantities of tissue or DNA samples of healthy and ill patients are compared in order to identify patterns. This would not be possible without digital tools such as learning systems and artificial intelligence.
Anomalies in, for instance, individual molecules are then analyzed more precisely in a dialogue held among IT experts, biologists and medical professionals. By means of algorithms, the studies are quickly screened that are relevant in a particular context from the thousands of medical articles published around the world. In this way, such pharmaceutical researchers compare their own results with the literature and recognize what substances may be effective and possibly alleviate or heal diseases.
Learning from others — practical experience
Speaking of researchers: as Lars Hanf, Director Marketing Communications at the pharmaceutical and laboratory equipment supplier Sartorius, explains in the video, 74 percent of scientists search for information online nowadays, no longer going to libraries. He explains in six and a half minutes how Sartorius started digitalization via e-commerce, and provides tips for digital projects. There is no one digital master plan, but rather every company has to develop the plan that best suits its individual circumstances. Lars Hanf advises beginning first with straightforward projects and then expanding them systematically. He stresses the importance of a learning and error culture, and proposes putting together teams with both specialist and digital skills. Above all, you need people who enjoy trying something different as an end in itself.
Starting out right and creating value right from the beginning
The hardest part is getting started, and digitalization doesn’t begin with e-commerce for every company. As experience shows, forward-thinking companies make use of digitalization for three different strategic aims:
- Optimizing processes
- Better collaboration with customers and suppliers
- New business models
This raises the question for healthcare decision makers of how and where the deployment of digital solutions should begin, what tools are useful for this, and how digital change processes can be managed.
When prioritizing possible topics and activities, it helps to evaluate the potential of digital solutions along the value chain. This view highlights what work steps become superfluous through digitalization. Since the actual disruption often begins here, a potential and competitive analysis along the value chain shows which other players are ahead in the game. It is first necessary to gain clarity about what areas of your company can achieve the greatest added value by using digital solutions, as well as to clarify at what junctures it would be better to work together with partners with greater digital expertise.
As soon as you have established your strategic aim in deploying digital solutions, you need to select, adapt or develop from scratch suitable technologies. But caution is advised. Though technology providers like to imply that IT solutions can be changed as needed and adapted to a company’s specific situation, the reality is frequently quite different. It is therefore crucial to recognize potential conflicts of interest and learn from previous experience. A dose of pragmatism is a good guide here.
In the subsequent technical implementation, which entails adapting and improving structures and work processes and thus involves cultural changes, the added value for companies is in consistent implementation. Only in this way will the gains in efficiency be reflected at the end of the day in results. Starting digitalization therefore requires, besides thinking and acting in an entrepreneurial manner, the right combination of industry experience, strategic competence and technological understanding.