Digital Transformation in Healthcare Series: Let’s get started

Digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we live. It has changed the way we communicate with people, the way we work, the way we trade and the way we take care of our health, among other things. At one point we called it “technological disruption”. This is due to the way technology has abruptly eliminated some of the functions certain companies and agencies had been using in their routine business practices in the past. The immediate impact has been called “disruption”. In the banking industry, for example, the function which consumers have experienced firsthand is the ability to transact their funds at home using banking applications. There is no need for us to physically visit banks, wait in a queue and write withdrawal slips, etc. To consumers, this is not a disruption. It is in fact a blessing, resulting from digital technology. What we have to do is to learn how to use it and adjust ourselves in order to get the most out of the available digital technology. Banking, retail and parcel delivery/logistics industries have all launched themselves into the digital technology space already quite quickly, but even more rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients’ need more “digitalized healthcare services” experiences

For the healthcare industry, technology and innovation have always been the core. However, the utilization of innovation and digital technology so far have been used in upstream segments of the industry, such as research and development, laboratories and production lines. Technology “disruption” in the healthcare sector has so far not impacted patients experiences by a significant extent yet. Digital technology moves at a slower pace in the healthcare sector and it is understandable. People don’t get injured or die in other industries if technology goes wrong but for the healthcare industry, patients’ lives and well-being are at stake. While we, of course, would love to see healthcare stakeholders (such as physicians, hospitals, MOPH, pharmacies and pharmacists) embrace technology fully, we know that we have to move with extreme caution.

Trust helps digital technology work effectively

Before people start to become more willing to use banking applications at this scale, it takes time for people to learn that the digital software we download onto our smartphones can actually connect to the relevant banks systems. We need to know that the amount of money in our accounts will remain there even though we use these software applications. We start to then enjoy our little liberty in managing our own money and no longer have to go through banking tellers at banks any more. We have learned to appreciate all the time we have saved by using applications and other conveniences. People appreciate the benefits of banking applications even more now that other services are also connected to the applications and assist retailers in receiving funds. The retailers are happy knowing that customers receive their products they sell through digital applications. The food and the products purchased get delivered safe and sound, arriving in most cases still warm. With repeated good experiences of the reliability of the applications, trust is established.

Is privacy unavoidably compromised?

An example during COVID-19 is how the Thai Chana platform collects data. The platform is based on the application “Line”. When we enter into any premises (such as an office building, restaurant or any service providers location) we check in and we check out when we leave that location. The purpose of Thai Chana is to ensure that the infection investigation is done in a more efficient and safer manner as well as provide more accurate data about the period of time relevant people might get exposed to the virus if they are at the same place at the same time, and possibly interact, with an infected person. It was announced in the first few weeks after Thai Chana was launched that the government will only keep information obtained from the platform for six months. In fact, when you think about it, the six month period does not last only six months in reality as we will go out for our routine activities in life every day and thus the six month period in question in fact ends after the last check in/check out we do in the future. Therefore, in reality, this means six months after Thai Chana terminates (for example, after we have the vaccine).

It seems Thai Chana has won trust from most people and most premises have cooperated in putting it in place. Luckily, we don’t have cases inside the country and thus, it is unclear if Thai Chana’s infection investigation is going as intended in reality.

In some countries, the purpose of the technology that was put in place is more to the side of prevention. For example, in South Korea, the data collected from credit and debit card transactions, phone location logs and surveillance cameras are used to trace the movements of those who have been infected before they tested positive. The personal data are posted online and get sent to residents via cellphone alerts so people who may have been in contact with them can self-isolate.

Japan is expected to roll out a smartphone app to record encrypted smartphone data of people who come in close contact with each other. If a phone user is found to be infected, people who spent a certain time within a certain distance of the infected person will be notified and alerted to seek medical consultation. However, the message will be sent only if the infected person gives consent and the person will remain anonymous.

 As mentioned above, technology is useful. However, until we embrace it and have confidence and trust in its purposes, in the commitments of the government and integrity of the private sector managing it and its benefits, and thus play a positive role in the process, nothing meaningful would come out of digital technology. We would never see how it could change our life in the way that we have seen in the finance and retail sectors. We are not supposed to blindly believe in what the government tells us either, especially when it comes down to our health data and our own safety. We need to learn more and, in fact, the relevant government agencies could play a significant role in helping us enhance our learning through various platforms and media channels available, both formally and informally.

Health and Safety vs. protecting privacy

In summary, technology is nothing without the people who use it and who benefit from it, regardless of how advanced, complicated or costly it is. In order to benefit from it in the healthcare sector, we cannot leave everything to the government. We, as a patient or as a citizen, have to learn about them, embrace them and help them improve. Again, like everything else in life, nothing comes without a price. In this specific circumstance, for example, we need to compromise our privacy in order to allow the government to manage and control the pandemic. It is odd to think how much we are willing to give up regarding our privacy when we share our information with various social network companies in exchange for “being able to socialize” online. Now, when the government needs our help and we have to compromise certain information about ourselves to support the endeavor to save lives, why are we hesitating? This brings us back to where we were at the beginning of this article, that is the issue of trust.  Now we trust department stores more than the government. When we become a member of certain clubs or department stores, we willingly give away all personal information (such as our date of birth, address, phone numbers), our habits (how often we shop), our tastes (things that you buy), our financial liquidity (our credit terms and so on in case the card is tied with certain card companies) and so on. Why are we willing when it comes to lifestyle and hesitating when it comes to our own, and our nation’s, health and safety?