"The inflection point is here": how Covid is driving digital transformation in health
It’s been one of the most challenging years for healthcare providers, but Salesforce sees lasting change from accelerated digital transformation
Covid has put unprecedented strain on every sector, but none so much as healthcare. During the peak of the pandemic waves, the NHS had to significantly scale back many areas of non-COVID care. Access to health services for people with pre-existing conditions dropped by an estimated 20%. The BMA reported that there were an estimated 1.3 to 1.5 million fewer elective admissions, 274,000 to 286,000 fewer urgent cancer referrals, and 2.5 and 2.6 million fewer first outpatient attendances. The resulting backlog is now worse than many expected and some are speculating that it could extend long after the country gets a handle on the virus. David Maguire, Senior Analyst at The King’s Fund, predicts that Covid’s impact on waiting times “will be felt for years to come.”
But with great challenge comes innovation, and that’s why Salesforce, the world’s largest provider of customer relationship management (CRM) software, believes the time is ripe to drive lasting change. “The backlog is building consistently,” says Jane Tyacke, the company’s Director of Strategy and Business Development for Public Sector Healthcare. “But we see that as an opportunity to re-imagine delivery of outpatient and elective care services,” she says. “There’s no better time than now to rethink how we can engage the patient in the delivery of these services.”
Louise Ashbrook, Salesforce’s Regional Vice President for Healthcare, says this is an inflection point for health. “The situation with COVID has been difficult for many, but we are seeing accelerated digital transformation and digital patient care within the healthcare space,” she says. “We want to support the NHS as they move to a more digitally engaged world.”
“There’s no better time than now to rethink how we can engage the patient in delivery of these services.”
One of the most hotly-discussed topics at the nexus of health and digital technology is “integrated care,” a model for care delivery that aims to join up services and provide a seamless patient experience. Just last month, the Department for Health and Social Care published an integrated care policy paper that aims to “shape a system that’s better able to serve people in a fast-changing world.” The paper proposes legislation to reduce bureaucracy, incentivise collaboration between health bodies, and increase accountability of healthcare decision makers. “It’s all about bringing the same standards of service and integration that we expect elsewhere into how we deal with healthcare,” Tyacke says.
But there are major hurdles to achieving integration. As Ashbrook points out, there are many different entities in the healthcare ecosystem (the NHS, social care organisations, voluntary organisations, etc.) and information sharing is a challenge. “There’s often complexity in the handoff,” she says. “We've all probably experienced an elderly relative in hospital, and they're ready to be discharged but can’t because they don't have the right things in place for them to be looked after in the community.”
Tyacke says that’s because data sharing has always been “a bit of a sticking point.” “Sharing data across different entities, even just within the NHS, is incredibly challenging,” she says. Tyacke, who has years of experience implementing digital and IT strategies for NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), says that even when complex system integration was needed, getting multiple organisations to sign-up to a data sharing agreement was “three times more time consuming than building the technology.”
“We're seeing an exciting acceleration in adoption of digital patient care, we are keen to support the NHS as they move to a more digitally engaged world”
Underlying all these issues is what Tyacke calls “separate access to separate systems” – precisely what CRM technology is designed to solve. Salesforce Health Cloud, for example, integrates data from different electronic patient record systems to create a panoramic view of a single patient. “It’s an intuitive data tool,” she says. “There are a lot of other competitors who can manipulate data and bring data together, but then they need separate systems that enable patients to access their own records.” Health Cloud integrates all these functionalities and includes omni-channel communication features that allows healthcare professionals to collaborate and offer patient care personalised to the patient. “I really do feel like we have a unique proposition,” Tyacke says.
Ashbrook says that proposition can be understood very simply: taking existing data and providing a different front-end view. “Really all we’re doing is reimagining how things have always been done,” she says. “We’re taking information that already exists and reorganising it at a level of engagement to enable joined up care.”
Such a simple idea has countless applications. By using different configurations of their platform, Salesforce has been able to address some of the most pressing issues that have arisen from the pandemic. A number of countries and 35 US states have used Salesforce for contact tracing, for example, and the Republic of Ireland notably teamed up with the company and IBM to create a nationwide vaccination management solution. “These are all solutions built rapidly on the Salesforce platform,” says Ashbrook. “So we know we can deliver a number of different solutions into integrated care.”
“Now is the right time to start leveraging digitally enabled patient engagement solutions to help with the challenges of re-setting patient services post the peak of the second wave of the COVID pandemic,” Ashbrook adds. “These are things we know we can really help with, bringing industry service and engagement ideas to the healthcare sector.”
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