COVID-19 forces adoption of digital technologies for UK healthcare clinicians

Healthcare organisations have dramatically increased their adoption of digital technologies during lockdown, according to a new report from the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions.

The report – Digital Transformation: Shaping the future of European healthcare – found that as a result of COVID-19, 78% of UK clinicians surveyed say their organisation has increased the adoption of digital technologies to support clinicians’ ways of working. Meanwhile, 80% say their organisation has increased the adoption of digital technologies to provide virtual support and more effective ways of engaging with patients.

Karen Taylor, Director for Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions, comments: “The pandemic has unwittingly removed a major obstacle in the adoption of digital technologies – a reluctance of both clinicians and patients to change the way they interacted.

“By providing the opportunity for both sides to see the benefits of digital healthcare we would expect technology-enabled diagnosis and treatment to be a central part of the new normal, freeing up resources and reducing waiting times.

“Some of these changes were already underway, but adoption was slow and fragmented. There was a rise in the use of technologies between 2019 and 2020, most dramatically in the use of telemedicine, which increased from 17% to 47% in the space of twelve months, according to Deloitte research.

“Telehealth allows long-distance patient and clinician contact – including a wide range of activities notably consultations, advice, reminders, education, interventions, monitoring and remote diagnosis. In rural settings, where a lack of transport may restrict access to care, telehealth can be the answer.”

The report also confirms that COVID-19 is increasing the adoption of digital technologies to transform clinicians’ ways of working across Europe for 65% of respondents from seven countries, while for patient engagement it is 64%.

The country with the highest adoption rate for changing clinicians’ ways of working is Norway at 84%. When it comes to improving patient engagement, Portugal has seen the highest increase at 81%.

Taylor concludes: “There is a realisation in all countries that digital transformation is crucial to bridge the gap between the demand for healthcare and the supply of staff and resources available.

“Despite numerous policies to help drive digital transformation progress pre-COVID-19 was slow. In fact the digital maturity of provider organisations varies both between and within countries. There is no doubt that the pandemic has effected a permanent change in how clinicians work and engage with patients, not just in the UK, but right across Europe.

“Moreover, citizens are no longer prepared to be passive recipients of care, but variations in digital literacy rates – in 2019 a fifth of UK citizens lacked digital skills, according to our research. This needs to be addressed if digital transformation is to help improve and not increase health inequalities.”