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Coronavirus crisis prompts digitalization drive and cultural change in healthcare

KPMG survey of Swiss healthcare providers

According to a KPMG survey of Swiss healthcare providers conducted both before and after the coronavirus pandemic: Only clinics that had already invested in their IT systems prior to the coronavirus crisis were capable of developing new digital offers swiftly and smoothly while also strengthening their relationships to patients in the process. Lessons learned from the pandemic are now accelerating the transformation process.

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Dominik Weber

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KPMG Switzerland

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The coronavirus pandemic has put the Swiss healthcare system to an acid test and revealed the strengths and weaknesses of various aspects of it. With cost pressure and the regulatory burden both on the rise, the necessity of a digital transformation has become apparent. This was also revealed by a two-part survey conducted by KPMG, initially of 38 leading Swiss healthcare providers in December 2019 and then among 10 CEOs of those institutions in June of this year: Digital transformation might have been cited by over 70 percent of those surveyed as one of the three most important issues currently facing healthcare organizations, nevertheless only 13 percent indicated that they considered themselves as being “extremely well” prepared for this digital transformation in December 2019. More than half of the healthcare providers surveyed indicated that they were only “satisfactorily” or “poorly” prepared for digitalization.

Patient safety and communication as main drivers

The December survey revealed that healthcare providers consider patient safety and improving the ability to communicate with downstream and upstream healthcare providers as being the main drivers of digitalization in the healthcare system. All institutions surveyed agreed that these factors are pivotal with respect to digital transformation. The clinics also cited improving patient experience and satisfaction (97 percent) and reducing costs (94 percent) as the main reasons for digitalization. Some 90 percent of the institutions surveyed agreed that reducing the shortage of skilled workers through digital means and improving employee satisfaction were key drivers of their digitalization initiatives.

Complexity and lack of resources are the biggest obstacles

Although the healthcare providers have acknowledged the necessity of this digital transformation, its implementation is a complex process associated with a multitude of obstacles. In December of last year, the healthcare providers surveyed felt that the complexity of the IT landscape (100 percent), the lack of resources (94 percent) and the availability of IT specialists (87 percent) were the biggest obstacles. A large majority of healthcare providers also considered the reluctance to make radical decisions (81 percent) and the desire to defend existing structures and processes (77 percent) to be obstacles on the path toward digital transformation.

In fact, the last two obstacles mentioned are primarily entrenched in the organizations’ culture and have only recently diminished due to the coronavirus crisis, thus underscoring yet again the urgency of a digital transformation in the healthcare system. For instance, seven of the 10 CEOs surveyed indicated that the externally driven changes have brought about a cultural transformation among their employees and enabled developments that had previously been inconceivable. These include virtual ways of interacting, both within the organization and also with patients. At the same time, eight of the 10 CEOs found that decisions were made quickly and efficiently in order to expedite digitalization.

Not only that, but nine of the 10 CEOs surveyed indicated that they were able to overcome obstacles in the treatment process thanks to external pressure related to the coronavirus crisis. The situation has accelerated the use of mobile and digital health solutions enormously, for example. “Medical processes experienced a veritable digitalization boost,” explained Marc-André Giger, Sector Head Public Sector at KPMG. All respondents indicated that telemedicine, in particular, has become significantly more important and is currently the industry standard. Additionally, individual healthcare providers have identified new strategic business areas over the course of the coronavirus crisis, with some examples including rehabilitation via video or physiotherapy via app.

Investment focus on ERP and clinic information systems

The healthcare providers surveyed see the greatest potential for optimization in the areas of patient admission, patient assignment and the treatment itself. Investments in digitalization are needed to fully exploit this optimization potential. Healthcare providers are focusing on workflow tools that are already in widespread use. For example, 91 percent of the clinics surveyed indicated an intent to invest in ERP and clinic information systems while investments in cloud solutions are top priorities for 41 percent of healthcare providers. They are attaching less importance to artificial intelligence and blockchain technology at present: just 12 and six percent, respectively, indicated a desire to invest in these technologies.

Collaboration as a key success factor

Overcoming the obstacles mentioned above calls not only for investments in the IT infrastructure but also willingness among the players to collaborate and make use of synergies. “We’re already seeing a huge willingness to collaborate with other institutions,” explained Marc-André Giger. Some three quarters of the clinics surveyed indicated that they were either willing or somewhat willing to consider a collaboration, for example. The willingness to collaborate is particularly pronounced among the psychiatric clinics surveyed (83 percent), whereas it is considerably lower among the rehab clinics at 60 percent. Some 75 percent of all acute care clinics indicated that they were either willing or somewhat willing to consider a collaboration. In the eyes of experts, collaborations between different stakeholders are the order of the day in the healthcare industry: Since internal cost-cutting potential has already been exhausted at many of these institutions, they need innovative solutions. At the same time, the seamless linking of several stations of treatment across multiple healthcare providers increases both patient satisfaction and safety. Here, selecting the right kind of collaboration, in particular, will be pivotal to its success.

Eight strategic action areas for digital transformation in the healthcare system

  1. Develop or enhance a digitalization strategy
  2. Tackle or continue IT backbone transformation
  3. Align the business model to patients' specific needs
  4. Examine and implement digital business cases
  5. Define and implement cyber security solutions
  6. Reduce the complexity of the IT landscape and step up the level of integration
  7. Draw up and implement a big data management concept
  8. Orchestrate change management

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