IT adoption has generally come in waves, across all sectors. The first, in the 1950s, saw organisations using IT to automate repetitive processes such as payroll and accounting. Then came the second wave, with integration of core processes, and support of B2B processes. In healthcare, its primary effect was to lead to programmes such as the electronic health card in Germany, and the UK’s National Programme for IT.

The third wave

The third wave, leading to full digitisation of organisations, and use of advanced analytics, has already been embraced in many sectors. However, it has not been adopted so successfully in healthcare. This is probably for several reasons. First, many organisations have struggled to manage the multiple stakeholders who need to be engaged. Secondly, it may be because systems have been built administratively, and not around patient needs. But perhaps more importantly, it may be because healthcare providers and organisations do not believe that patients really want to use digital services.

Having carried out a large-scale survey of patients, McKinsey and Company suggests that it may be time to review that thinking. Its research has uncovered five ‘myths’ about digital healthcare, which could show the way for the digital future of healthcare.

These myths are:

  • People don’t want to use digital services for healthcare

In support of this thinking, executives often point to data that show low usage of digital healthcare services. However, McKinsey’s survey shows that people aren’t using digital services because these services don’t work, or don’t meet their needs. In the countries surveyed, 75% of respondents would like to use digital health services, provided that those services met their needs, and were good quality.

  • Only young people want to use digital services

Since only young people would use digital services, the thinking goes, then digital services would not reach most of the ‘frequent users’, many of whom are older. However, older patients, those over 50, are keen to use digital services, with more than 70% of respondents in that age group being happy to use them. There are age differences: older people prefer to use websites and email, rather than social media, but make no mistake, they’re interested in digital services. Build the services right, and they will be used.

  • Mobile health is the development that will change everything

Yes, there is demand for mobile health, or healthcare supported by mobile devices, but it’s not universal. This means that mobile health is not really that crucial in terms of ‘digital healthcare’ more generally. Mobile apps are of much more interest to younger people, which means that they need careful targeting towards suitable subjects. Apps about antenatal health might work; those about managing late-onset diabetes are probably less relevant.

  • Patients want innovative features and applications

Providers seem to believe that their digital offerings have to be innovative. But perhaps surprisingly, users aren’t that interested in innovative. They want efficient services that work, integrate well with other services and give them better access to information. They also want ready access to a real person if the digital services don’t meet their needs. Clever apps really aren’t that important.

  • To create value, you need to have a full menu or platform of digital options

This idea is not unique to healthcare, but neither is it accurate. Instead of waiting until you have everything available, it can be much more effective to ‘go small’, and introduce something useful quickly and cheaply. What users want most of all is help to make an appointment with a doctor, and also to be able to find information. Both those are relatively easy to provide digitally, and don’t require a full platform of digital services.

Better information about what patients want

The McKinsey survey gives plenty of information about what patients really want, and some ideas about how to deliver it, although of course this needs to be tailored to local needs too. Armed with this information, and an understanding of what is already possible with their existing technology, healthcare providers and organisations can start on the process of digitisation. Starting small may be the way forward, especially if the early systems address significant need. Once some momentum has been built, adding more services will quickly build more, and increase the number of users.

The message is clear: build what users want and need, and they will come and use the services provided.




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