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Healthcare workers want greater say on technology investment

Photo: Healthcare workers want greater say on technology investment
A rising population and rapidly ageing demographic are combining to place significant challenges on the delivery of healthcare services to Australians that only digital transformation can address.

More than a million people already provide firstline health services to Australians across the health system[1] and the costs continue to rise. In 2013-14 Australia spent 9.8 per cent of GDP on healthcare[2]. This figure is tipped to reach 15.7 per cent by 2040[3].

A new survey of firstline Australian health workers has revealed that 80 per cent feel understaffing is the greatest challenge they face in terms of delivering optimal care. A significant proportion believe that smart application of technology could help with this and many other issues.

Clearly this is a sector ripe for digital transformation and there’s significant appetite for reform among firstline health workers.
About three in five firstline health sector workers (59 per cent) want to work for digitally enabled organisations, and a similar proportion (61 per cent) believe that digital technology will help revolutionise the healthcare industry. A massive 85 per cent of healthcare workers believe technology can also help streamline processes, freeing them up for more direct patient care.

Streamlined access to accurate and up-to-date information is the lifeblood of successful digital transformation in any sector, but people remain the backbone of many of the world’s largest industries and without them the ambitions of many organisations could not be brought to life.

The opportunities to streamline healthcare operations using technology are immense. In 2015-16 there were 10.6 million hospitalisations with an average stay of just over five days[4].

Firstline health workers surveyed overwhelmingly agreed (79 per cent) that technology played a key role in gaining efficiencies across the sector. A further 69 per cent believe that technology reform is required to find ways of creating a culture of innovation and creativity.

But there appears to be something of a mismatch in expectations between firstline workers and executives as 88 per cent of health sector managers said one of the challenges of digital transformation was getting departments to overcome the fear of massive change.

The survey did note that 69 per cent of firstline health workers feared that automation leads to job losses, in spite of the other benefits that they readily acknowledge. This could be due to a lack of effective communication about automation's ability to take on rote tasks, freeing up firstline workers for more valuable tasks.

Health workers are also gloomier than their peers in other industries about digital transformation progress in their sector to date.

The online survey of 1390 working adults was commissioned by Microsoft and completed by analyst firm YouGov in September 2017. It focussed on four vertical sectors – health, retail, financial services and manufacturing.

Only 2 per cent of health care workers believed their enterprise had achieved truly "pioneering" digital transformation progress – a much lower percentage than in other sectors.

The largest cohort of health workers, 33 per cent, described their organisational process as "developing". While the basic foundations were in place, they said there was a significant transformation journey ahead.

Communications chasm

There are also signs of an information gap between firstline workers and management. While 75 per cent of health sector managers said that they knew what the organisation was doing with respect to digital technologies, this plunged to 41 per cent among firstline workers.

"As rote work is increasingly performed by machines, human interaction and knowledge-based expertise will become more important to firstline workers,” Ian Heard, General Manager, Digital Workplace & Collaboration, Microsoft Australia, said. “They’ll use technology to collaborate, to exercise greater creative and strategic freedom, and to bring real value to the work they perform."

Microsoft’s vision for empowering Firstline Workers hinges around Microsoft 365 F1, a new offering that brings together Office 365 F1, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security to deliver a complete, intelligent solution to empower all workers.

The breadth and integration across solutions including Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Microsoft IoT, Microsoft AI, and mixed reality with HoloLens is also primed for enterprises seeking to transform the firstline experience. 

Certainly firstline health workers recognise the benefits of technology in terms of improving work-life balance, providing a platform for collaboration and freeing them up to spend more time with patients.

Across all sectors surveyed, more than four out of five (81 per cent) respondents feel that strong leadership is key to a successful digital transformation program. But 36 per cent of firstline workers say their organisation is not effective in communicating such initiatives.

This is clearly a missed opportunity. The lack of communication between firstline workers and managers might also explain why managers feel there is departmental resistance to change.

While both firstline workers and managers appreciate the potential of technology to transform operations, as well as employee and customer experiences, firstline workers still feel excluded from digital transformation initiatives. Almost two thirds (61 per cent) say they don’t have an active and participatory role in how technology is deployed.

Health benefits

Enterprise knowledge workers were among the first to be impacted by digital transformation programs. They’re already benefitting from cloud computing, mobile productivity platforms and other digital technologies that increase workplace flexibility, deliver more opportunity for collaboration and provide deeper data insights that fuel further innovation.

The survey reveals that the benefits of these digital technologies are well understood and appreciated by firstline workers but, in many cases, they have yet to percolate through and empower them.

Clearly there’s room for improvement in all sectors and all scales of business. By engaging firstline workers from the get-go, enterprises will be better positioned for success.

Microsoft’s Ian Heard said that organisations that engaged firstline workers in their digital transformation initiatives - ensuring they were inclusive, simple and effective, supporting firstline creativity and teamwork while preserving enterprise and employee security – would find themselves better placed to succeed with strategic priorities.

"Digital transformation is powerful but everyone needs access. Firstline workers are the key to the next wave of successful digital transformation and sustained competitiveness."

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