While digitalization is rapidly opening up a growing number of opportunities in the healthcare sector, KPMG’s most recent study entitled “Clarity on Healthcare” shows that Swiss healthcare providers have clearly underestimated digital transformation. In an interview, Michael Herzog, Sector Head Healthcare at KPMG Switzerland, offers an insight into a few of the study’s fascinating findings.

Michael Herzog, Partner at KPMG and Sector Head Healthcare

Michael Herzog, Partner at KPMG and Sector Head Healthcare

KPMG surveyed 38 acute hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and psychiatric clinics in Switzerland. One of its important insights is that implementing the digital transformation is proving more difficult than expected. What’s the main reason behind that?

It has taken some time for digitalization efforts to get off the ground in many parts of the Swiss healthcare system. By now, all the healthcare providers have had a chance to examine what digitalization means to them in detail. Those experiences have helped them gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of digital transformation as well as the challenges that go with it. Of course, there are still huge differences between the various actors in terms of their digital maturity, and the implementation of digitalization initiatives made obstacles apparent that hadn’t been identified yet as such. COVID also revealed that there are limits and weak points, particularly with respect to process efficiency, and that these need to be resolved through digitalization and automation. Talking to our clients has made it clear that digital transformation as it relates to communications with people infected, patients and their relatives has played a larger role than previously assumed.

What has changed for good since the last study in 2019? What do you think of this development?

Healthcare providers assess themselves and their digital transformation maturity more realistically now. While circumstances of the past two years have forced many actors to implement digitalization initiatives immediately, this hasty implementation has pushed their strategic alignment as it relates to digital transformation into the background. But since that’s going to be indispensable in the future, this is one area where healthcare providers around Switzerland have some catching up to do.

The understanding of what benefits can arise through a targeted digital transformation and the importance of this transformation has also changed, whether in terms of increasing patient safety, improving the patient experience or facilitating communication between healthcare providers. Added to that is the fact that the actors are increasingly abstaining from making plans to collaborate on digital transformations. In my opinion, this is because of the challenges faced when implementing partnerships in this industry, including the necessity of having a shared vision, difficulties related to contractual arrangements and the not insignificant complexities of collaboration at the organizational and technical level, to name just a few examples. 

In this year’s edition of KPMG’s Clarity on Healthcare, Anne Lévy, Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), stressed the topic of coordinated care. The healthcare system will become more interconnected. Which conclusions have you drawn from the interview with Ms. Lévy?

It’s extremely interesting to hear the direction in which Ms. Lévy and the FOPH want to steer the Swiss healthcare system. The way I see it, the successful, coordinated provision of care hinges on a greater degree of interconnectedness between healthcare providers and, related to that, a stronger digital thrust. We have to make use of the technology available to us to connect healthcare providers internally, with one another and with patients. And as Ms. Lévy mentioned, the flow of data between the various actors and to the administration needs to be optimized further. It’ll be interesting to see which approach is taken to address the cultural barriers identified. Overcoming these is one of the fundamental requirements of a successful transformation of the healthcare system.

Beyond that, we should continue moving toward more personalized medicine and take advantage of the potential offered by that technology, both with respect to diagnostics and therapy. For me, that aspect is ultimately also linked to the topic of quality improvement. More individualized medicine allows us to provide higher-quality services for individuals. Generally speaking, it’s important that the topic of quality in the Swiss healthcare system is now being addressed so systematically with the Federal Quality Commission (FQC) and quality contracts.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a topic of discussion for some time in the Swiss healthcare system – how realistic do you really think this kind of technology is in healthcare?

This technology holds tremendous potential for our healthcare system. It could automate routine tasks and improve the quality of patient care. At the moment, AI is currently being used most successfully in the area of diagnostic imaging. During these early phases, less critical areas of application would be particularly ideal. Prof. Thomas Szucs offered an example of this in our publication entitled “Clarity on Healthcare”: An AI-based tool can check the image quality of a chest radiograph (straight or lateral X-ray of the chest) in a matter of seconds. That way, if the images are poor, examinations can be repeated without having to consult a radiologist first.

This technology also poses some risks, which have to be addressed and weighed one by one. Since it’s often impossible for humans to understand AI-based decisions, for example, the role of the physician setting the standards that control the applications is becoming increasingly important.

In its “Connected Enterprise for Health” model, KPMG defines eight critical capabilities that give actors a competitive edge in tomorrow’s healthcare system. What are the takeaways for executives at local hospitals?

Healthcare systems are often highly complex and heavily regulated. There are also gaps in the digital infrastructure and in some cases, healthcare providers might not have the partnerships in place that would enable them to systematically focus on patients when thinking about which changes to make. The eight capabilities defined by KPMG are what actors need to succeed in this kind of environment.

Many of them sound simple, like offering innovative services. Others are broader, like the ability to develop a cultural compass inside your own organization to inspire your employees. I recommend that every executive in Switzerland’s healthcare system read through this list of capabilities and ask him- or herself: Where do we stand with respect to these eight dimensions? It would also make sense to work through KPMG’s four-step model right away. Because even if those steps might appear to be simple at first glance, I’m absolutely convinced that they’ll give a crucial advantage to anybody who makes the effort. 

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