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How the pandemic changed our attitude to digital technology

At the start of 2020, a research team from Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation set out to investigate the challenges health and human services (HHS) organisations face in implementing digital and data solutions.

Little did they know that the world was about to be enveloped by one of the most extreme health crises in living memory. And while the outbreak was catastrophic, it presented an opportunity to find out whether Covid-19 was the catalyst to embrace lasting digital change.

Sixty-two per cent of HHS (health and human services) increased their use of digital during the pandemic. (Embracing digital: is COVID-19 the catalyst for lasting change?)

Why tech was adopted so quickly in the pandemic?

  • Care providers were guided by policy to use technology to triage patients before appointments and to shift to remote consultations
  • Care providers shifted their focus to protecting the safety of staff and service users– using tech solutions to mitigate the impact of social distancing.
  • Procurement processes were generally sped up to complete purchases and implementations more quickly

What helped with such rapid progress in digitalisation after years of slow progress?

  • Increased demand from service users
  • Rapid development of a strategic plan for digital and realigning of priorities
  • Improving digital literacy of staff
  • Emergency funding to purchase tools, technologies and equipment
  • Alleviation of practitioner concerns around loss of human interaction
  • Leadership buy-in

The report, which surveyed more than 2000 respondents from 6 countries, found that 66% agreed that their staff quickly adapted to using new tools, and 59% reported that digital solutions had enabled better cross-organisation collaboration.

And while rolling out new tech so quickly can often present new challenges to organisations, most respondents reported that there had been a positive effect on access, experience, outcomes and staff productivity.

Despite this, the data also shows some trepidation about the future of digitisation and ‘what happens next’.

5 ways organisations can maintain momentum in digital transformation

Create a business case for funding – In the past, it has often been hard to make the business case for digital investment. But the pandemic has shown that digital transformation can improve staff productivity and deliver lower-cost delivery models.

Focus on user needs – Governments should evaluate where and when remote care is appropriate, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all stance. And organisations need to adopt a person-centred approach to better understand the needs and preferences of service users and to use this insight to design and deliver services.

Promote integration & data sharing for more powerful insights– Sharing data within a common framework has been a major issue across the sector. Unless software providers and policy-makers make a concerted effort to develop regional or national-level strategies to support data standardisation, care organisations will struggle to derive the full benefit of these tools and technologies.

Help users adopt & buy-in to the new technology – Less time with paperwork. Reduced staff mileage. And a greater focus on personal preferences. These are just some of the benefits we hear about our care planning and rostering software from our service users every day. This means more time with clients, which can result in greater quality of care.

Rethink attitudes to risk – Organisations need to find ways to safely embrace innovation and experimentation. This requires a culture where risk-taking and risk management is carefully balanced. An MVP mentality may be the perfect solution, offering a more basic digital platform quickly, that can grow based on user feedback.


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