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article imageDigital healthcare requires new workforce skills and strategy

By Tim Sandle     Sep 22, 2017 in Health
Digital healthcare represents a fast-moving field. However, as a new survey indicates, job skills are creating unevenness within the field — and problems for the industry overall.
The appreciation of ‘human factors’ in healthcare, pharmaceutical and life science organizations and the need to spend time focusing on technology skills is one of the finds from a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Three key trends
The report looks at three key trends that are shaping, propelling and sometimes inhibiting the digital transformation of these sectors: the attitudes of CEOs, the relative skills of the workforce, and confusion and misunderstanding over the extent of digital transformation. These headline trends are revealed and discussed in the Digital Journal article “Benchmarking the adoption of digital health technology.
Looking at the people factors the report draws put some interesting data. Healthcare and pharmaceutical company executives note that a key obstacle to implementing digital technologies is the lack of properly skilled teams (which 63 percent of those polled raised as an issue).
A related factor is with the perception of medics, either in relation to using the technology or in seeing the value of the technology in the first place. This second point is weighed by in the Digital Journal article “Where is digital health technology heading next?
The issue of workforce skills is not so much an issue for startups, which tend to arise from those with entrepreneurial drive and technology skills, but for workforces within healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. This is most applicable to companies that are seeking to develop health technologies, especially those of the patient-centric variety. One measure that could be taken to address a shortfall is with encouraging the exchange of talent and ideas between academia and industry.
Another area where progress is being made is with launching apprenticeship schemes so that health and technology training can be combined, which is something GlaxoSmithKiline has invested in.
To add to the above, the U.K. government, in an attempt to boost skills in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors has issued a paper which suggests, among other measures, organizing closer collaboration between businesses and specialist providers able to deliver industry tailored elements to address skills gaps, such as with technology. Another area is with connecting those who develop technology with those who will be using it; this requires are better understanding in order to bridge the gap between bench and bedside.
A new form of education
New ways of learning and training are also required to introduce new technology into the healthcare workforce. For example, researchers in the U.S. studies the effects of using an automated prescription filling system in a pharmacy.
The optimal way was found to be with the use of videotapes and work sampling techniques to show pharmacy staff how the new way of working was more efficient. Related to the skills that people possess is the issue of recruitment. According to the Industry Forum, the most critical, and hardest-to-fill occupations, are those of the scientific and technical type.
Startup all over again
Moving back to startups, many new companies are emerging and the application of digital tools can be rapidly developed and scaled-up within a startup environment, far more quickly than with bigger players. By having a team built up of business people, technologists and those with the necessary medical skills startups can often bring products to market faster than can larger healthcare organizations. Two examples of start-ups are Neuromotion and Circulation, which are among twenty-five companies selected by Boston Children’s Hospital to develop medical technology to solve pain points.
Developing technologies that patients find easy to use and putting the patient at the heart of new developments (patient-centric technology) represents a further key finding from the PwC survey. The implications of this are explored in the Digital Journal article “Digital health technology needs to be patient-centric.
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