Bringing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to healthcare

Dr. Jason S. Lee, The Open Group Healthcare Forum Director, explores the possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the healthcare sector

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is disrupting and transforming almost every industry in every country, uncovering both opportunities and challenges that businesses simply cannot ignore.

In healthcare in particular, 4IR technologies hold immense promise with several transformational use cases that could revolutionise the sector.

Whether that’s using robotics in surgery to improve outcomes and lessen hospital stays or the impact of AI on increasing access to care, reducing costs and driving up quality — the impact of these innovations will be felt for many years to come.

The irony is that even as 4IR technologies evolve to ensure better health and healthcare, often at lower cost and higher value, the industry as a whole continues to struggle with the adoption of proven and less complex technologies that have been mature and stable for many years. 


The healthcare sector is falling behind in technology

This means that time and time again, healthcare is empirically ranked as one of the worst industries for digital maturity, along with industries like agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. And the impact this has, both on people and the development of standards to help people in global healthcare contexts, is huge. 

But why is this? The healthcare industry is data-rich, but poor interoperability means data exchange, information sharing, and security deficiencies plague our healthcare systems at every level, on a worldwide scale. With the diversity of organisations in the healthcare system, getting them all on the same page at the same time can be tough, and this is only exacerbated further by the fragmentation that exists across payers, providers, organisations and offices. When they do not or cannot share information between one another, it poses considerable challenges for IT vendors and their customers. 

That’s before you take into account the complexity of health and medical data, which makes automation cumbersome, at best, compared with more traditional industries and methods of data capture. Add to that the complexities on the business side of healthcare and the result is a highly fragmented industry that is meant to help people when they are in the greatest need of care.

Barriers to healthcare IT adoption come down to four key reasons: 

  1. Reluctance to share data: Due to a perceived threat on revenue streams and maintaining a competitive advantage
  2. Dual power structure: Administrative and clinical departments working against one another and hindering IT decision making
  3. Increasing system complexity: Due to hospital mergers and acquisition activity 
  4. Cost: Efforts to keep operational costs flat have exacerbated IT departments’ ability to adapt to new processes and technologies

All of this naturally leads to the question, how can the healthcare industry change to securely embrace technological change, in order to compete better in a world in which digital transformation is key to success, if not survival?


Enterprise Architecture holds the answers for Industry 4.0

Enterprise Architecture could well hold the answers for this problem. In 2016 and again in 2021 the international consulting firm McKinsey published results from their research on Enterprise Architecture and the rapidly changing importance of technology in driving business value. 

They concluded that the Enterprise Architecture function “Is a core element of the foundation that both enables and accelerates the tech transformation that companies need in order to compete in a digital-first world.”

What is it, then, about Enterprise Architecture that can help the healthcare industry achieve the digital maturity it so desperately needs?

The objective and purpose of Enterprise Architecture is made up of three parts. First, it looks to help businesses succeed by identifying and prioritising strategies. Second, to get there, it helps to devise and align goals to achieve those strategies. Finally, it creates innovative and agile solutions for even the most challenging technology problems. 

To tackle them, Enterprise Architecture requires high-level and rigorous thought processes, as well as painstaking attention to detail. To achieve the very best outcome, Enterprise Architecture requires coordinated, deliberative action among the diverse stakeholders that it is designed for.

The value proposition of Enterprise Architects lies in their ability to help an organisation exploit disruptive forces – such as automation and digitisation – to drive change through optimal performance of core business functions. By focusing on how key parts of an organisation are interrelated, Enterprise Architecture helps others understand the organisation, communicate this understanding to stakeholders, and move the organisation forward to embrace and achieve its digital transformation goals. 

The contribution of Enterprise Architecture to the digital advancement of the healthcare industry is clear. By helping decision makers gain a firmer foothold of how their businesses function, how the different parts of their companies are organised and structured, and how those parts are interrelated in the production of services, Enterprise Architecture makes it easier to document and define the current landscape to effectively change systems, embrace the technology of the Fourth Revolution, and plan for future.


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