Accelerating Digital Transformation in Healthcare

The global pandemic has shined an epic spotlight on digital technology. Digitization isn’t simply providing a new way of doing things, it’s changing how we do most everything. And in many cases, the change is permanent and permeates every vertical sector, delivering productivity gains, actionable insights, and higher efficiencies. Indeed, Digital Transformation is here to stay.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in countless categories and businesses. The change has been mostly out of necessity, because of the logistical advantages it brings during a time when almost everything has moved online. This necessity may diminish now that we live a ‘new normal’, but the benefits will remain. And the prospect of these benefits is motivating industry leaders to further accelerate their digital transformation journey.

While every journey must start somewhere, digital transformation is already well underway for many market segments and companies – necessitated by unique drivers that spur both the applications and the speed with which they are deployed. Healthcare is a great example. Digital transformation emerged out of necessity triggered by the confluence of an aging population, an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes and rising costs. As a result, Healthcare needs to evolve and meet people where they are, and address their unique individual needs. Recognizing this trend prompted an industry-wide shift toward digital technology and a push for advancements in connected health. There will be no returning from the transformation happening in Healthcare, and we can expect the same to be true for the wider digital transformation triggered by COVID-19. I believe we should view the ‘new normal’ with a “glass is half full” mental model, recognizing that these inevitable changes will bring many positives.

By embarking on its own digital transformation journey, Phillips-Medisize has remained operational throughout the pandemic. As a producer of essential medical devices and equipment, including insulin pens and adrenalin auto-injectors (EpiPens), as well as components for equipment such as defibrillators and catheter delivery systems, closing operations was never an option. Through prescriptive and strategic measures – some which required notable shifts in our operations and processes – the Phillips-Medisize workforce has remained as safe as possible. Steps taken included reconfiguring manufacturing lines to allow for social distancing, providing personal protective equipment and the installation of plexiglass shields to create safe workplaces. These measures have been successful in minimizing COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. 

Due to the increased demand for products, capacity also had to increase. As a supplier of components for COVID testing equipment and respirators, Phillips-Medisize had to expand production rapidly. This involved reconfiguring existing workplaces to accommodate the expanded production lines, remotely collaborating with customers on new product designs and working with suppliers to find creative solutions to demand spikes for key critical raw materials.

New Medical Platforms for a Digital World

The pandemic has forced acceleration of macro trends that were already underway in Healthcare. Social distancing and the need to isolate means people face new challenges in accessing the healthcare they need. The requirement for new ways of working led to a flurry of new technologies that have allowed people to not only connect with providers remotely but also enable more diagnosis and care to be completed in the home.  

Of course, there are still limitations in gaining access to these new technologies, as well as the challenge of finding an available healthcare professional equipped to leverage them. This is putting the emphasis on technology, to fill the widening gap. Interest is building around solutions that can provide essential functions.

One of the applications where technology is fundamental is remote monitoring, where the patient connects to a device that can take regular readings of vitals such as temperature, glucose levels, or blood pressure. The data is sent securely over the internet to a cloud service, where it is analyzed leveraging technologies like AI and Machine Learning – before being stored or sent on to a doctor or other professional. The next step in this process is to use technology to provide remote diagnostics. In this case, the intelligence may be embedded in the equipment itself. This is increasingly possible thanks to advancements in digital technology. Advanced algorithms, to the point of being artificially intelligent expert systems, can now reside in small, battery-powered devices that can be worn by patients continuously.

There are other aspects to consider in a world where physical contact is less common. Ensuring patients can self-administer the drugs they need is one example. It is important to know that patients are adhering to the prescribed doses. Any deviation, either inadvertently or purposefully, can have serious consequences. Again, technology can provide the answer here, in a way that is recognized as meeting the duty of care and not diluting the accountability we expect with professional care services, even as the point of care is changing drastically.

Home Diagnostics and Self-Administering Drugs

Even for an industry that is comfortable with digital transformation, the changes in store are going to be significant. We can expect a huge increase in the number and variety of home-diagnostic and drug delivery devices coming to market. The way drugs are administered will also change. We are seeing this already, from companies like Subcuject and its wearable injector. The company behind this innovative device collaborated with Phillips-Medisize to manufacture its drug delivery solution, which uses osmosis to create the pressure needed to deliver a liquid drug. The pre-measured drug is provided in a sealed unit and the entire device is worn against the skin throughout the day. The engine that drives the delivery is powered entirely by water and salt; it doesn’t need any motors, batteries, or additional electronics.

While this is an excellent example of innovative design, the majority of connected devices will be enabled through advanced electronics. Realizing this vision will require devices that are designed to be cost-effective, reliable, and simple to use. They must also be tamper-proof and, because demand is likely to increase exponentially as a result of evolving conditions for care, they will need to be designed in a sustainable way. This means that they will either need to be developed to be used multiple times or to be as recyclable as possible where a single-use model is unavoidable.  This is where the Phillips-Medisize technology accelerators for connected health provide a competitive advantage in these rapidly changing digital times.

Digital transformation will continue to evolve long after the threat of COVID-19 has subsided. The two will always remain linked, but the impetus behind the transformation goes beyond one single event.

In the Healthcare space, we don’t need a crystal ball to anticipate how that change will continue. As the point of care moves closer to the patient, we can expect some contraction in hospitals; they may become smaller, providing only those treatments that need to be ‘hands-on’. Likewise, home health equipment that’s currently viewed as “alternative” may quickly become the default, while hospitals themselves take on more qualities of a data center that gathers and interprets the data to drive more personalized care and better outcomes.

Molex and Phillips-Medisize are committed to participating actively in the evolution of Healthcare, delivering the digital solutions needed to bring patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals together in real time to help ensure people live healthier more productive lives. COVID-19 is simply a catalyst that will help accelerate fundamental changes that were already underway in how healthcare is delivered.  At Molex and Phillips-Medisize, we are committed to doing our part to ensure these changes continue to accelerate, given the enormous value they can create for individuals and society.  

Senior Vice President, President Medical and Pharma Solutions Division