INSIGHT: Rethinking business processes will unleash value of digitalisation

Creating maximum value from embracing digital technologies won't be realised if IT solution architects merely insert digital technologies into existing business processes...

Peter is an intensive care unit caregiver in a hospital.

On an average day, he carries a clipboard with a patient's chart into a patient's room, examines various health-monitoring devices, copies key information from them onto his paper, and walks back to a central station to file the paper or transcribe information into an electronic health record (EHR) system.

A typical approach to digitalisation in this scenario is to have a nurse carry an electronic tablet rather than a clipboard with papers, and use the tablet to enter data directly into the EHR system while conducting the rest of the process the same way as before.

While "mobile-enabling" the process adds a few new benefits (more accurate data available more quickly), it does not present a fundamental change to the work. It still involves manual entry data and still takes a lot of time.

Worse, Peter is still spending a significant time on activities that don't involve providing direct care to his patients.

Instead, if caregivers like Peter and others work with a team of technical and management individuals with healthcare experience and skills, the hospital where he works could radically rethink the work and embrace even more digital technology.

Such Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will vary according to the problem they need to solve, but in a hospital this could include smart beds, connected physiological monitors, and smart ventilators and IV pumps.

By instrumenting the bed and a variety of other physical objects, vital patient information can now be transferred electronically directly into the EHR environment – no paper, no human data entry.

Data collection and automated alerting to nurses frees them up to focus on what they were hired for: face-to-face and touch-based caring for the patient – and this has been proven to improve patient outcomes.

Beyond IoT, emerging smart machines like IBM’s Watson could provide high-level cognitive activities to identify issues that may warrant immediate attention or assist diagnosis.

"This more aggressively digitalised process adds situational adaptations and enables the work to become more flexible, increase quality for each patient and improve engagement in the work itself,” says Bruce Robertson, vice president and distinguished analyst, Gartner.

“It also helps staff to do more of the better work and enables them to make further suggestions about changes.

“In our example, Peter and other caregivers have more time to rethink their work, make more time for more patient care, and consider how much different and better things could be done for the patients, internal staff and the healthcare institution, and more.”

Creating maximum value from embracing digital technologies won't be realised if IT solution architects merely insert digital technologies into existing business processes rather than rethinking the work that is the essence of the business process.

So much so that the entire set of processes should be revisited.

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