5 Roadblocks to Digitalizing Healthcare Services

Updated on January 5, 2023

The digital revolution has upended nearly all industries, even the typically traditional healthcare system. The 2014 federal mandate of electronic health records and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated IT adoption and digitalization. 

According to research firm Deloitte, more than 90 percent of healthcare systems rank digital transformation as a top priority. However, there are many obstacles that can slow or halt the digitalization process. 

Legacy systems and lack of technological integration

Many healthcare systems rely on outdated and difficult-to-replicate or integrate infrastructure to handle patient data.

These legacy systems may be costly to upgrade or transition into more modern platforms. In other situations, migrating to a new platform may be impossible without time-consuming manual inputs.  

As many healthcare providers are compelled to retain patient data for up to six years by law, simply removing these systems is not a viable option. This obligation also forces many healthcare companies to divert IT funds into system maintenance rather than upgrading to new technologies.

Modernizing a legacy system requires significant financial investment and time. For this reason, healthcare systems should target legacy infrastructure that will have the most impact on operations and patient care. 

Further, selecting new systems according to the no-legacy principle. This means that systems are tailored to the needs of each department while remaining flexible and accessible across the entire enterprise. This prevents problems such as data or technology silos and ensures interoperability throughout the IT infrastructure. 

Investment costs

While digitalizing healthcare systems can lower costs for administration and patient care, it can take a long time for providers to recoup the sizable upfront investment. The Michigan Center for Effective It Adoption estimated that the initial cost of installing an electronic health record ranged from $26,000 to $33,000. 

Providers that digitize additional services, such as patient monitoring through wearable, sensors, and patient portals may invest several times this amount. According to Medicare data, hospital IT budgets have increased by 6 percent on average between 2020 and 2021.

Healthcare systems can cultivate support for IT investment by sharing their long-term plans and projected return on investment with stakeholders. This includes public health agencies that have a vested interest in lowering healthcare costs. 

Staff re-training and updating workflow

Implementing a new IT system is only half of the work of digitalizing healthcare. Staff, including administration, providers, and vendors, must incorporate the new technology effectively into their workflow.

Healthcare providers must follow change management best practices to train staff on updated systems. This includes implementing the change in discrete stages, communicating the benefits of the upgrade, and differentiating training for employees based on computer literacy. 

Many healthcare providers also face obstacles in convincing staff to integrate new digitalized systems into their existing workflow. Demonstrating the benefits of digitalizing operations, such as improved patient monitoring and more effective decision making can encourage staff to embrace new systems. Healthcare providers can find help with operational reporting by outsourcing to an experienced third-party firm.

Security Concerns

As providers digitize higher volumes of patient data, the risk of cybersecurity breaches grows. According to IBM’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report, the average data breach costs healthcare providers more than $10 million. 

Healthcare systems are targeted by cybercriminals and bad actors for various reasons. Firstly, identifiable patient data is valuable on the black market. Hackers may infiltrate healthcare systems to collect patient data to sell to other criminals. 

Further, the internet of things in the healthcare system often includes medical devices with low-security protections. Since these are wifi-enabled, cybercriminals can gain unauthorized access to healthcare networks. 

Staff themselves can also be weak links for cybersecurity. For this reason, healthcare providers must invest in ongoing IT awareness training for all staff.  Healthcare providers can also mitigate their risk of attacks by installing preventative solutions, such as firewalls and strict password policies. 

Patient Awareness and Education

Patients are one of the largest beneficiaries of healthcare digitalization. Research has shown that digitized services increase patient access and result in more positive health outcomes. 

In order to reap the benefits of digitalization, patients must learn how to access and interpret their data. Healthcare systems can facilitate this by choosing platforms with user-friendly patient-facing interfaces. Medical providers can also incorporate IT education as part of patient interactions.

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The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.