New research released by Siemens Financial Services (SFS) highlights the priority investment areas for digital transformation in healthcare, the size of the investment challenge, and how to manage that challenge.

Specialist management consultants, academic commentators, national health departments, medical associations and acute care organisations/groups were interviewed to identify the areas in which they see the greatest and quickest value will come from digitalisation in healthcare.

Based on their answers, Smart, Digitalised Hospitals is one of the top three enabling technology investment areas which respondents judged to hold the highest potential for rapid positive impact on pressurised healthcare infrastructures and operations. The other two key areas of digital transformation are remote access and communications platforms (telemedicine) and new generation (digitalised and/or mobile) diagnostics.

In addition, around the world, many countries are facing a shortage of healthcare professionals and the mounting burden typically impacts hospitals the most.

Digital transformation is helping to ease this pressure by creating ‘smart’ hospitals that themselves link into ‘smart’ healthcare systems. There are a wide range of smart hospital applications delivering measurable benefits and enabling more efficient administration and management of hospital resources. For example, across a hospital, digitalised asset tracking makes sure the right equipment and technology is in the right place at the right time. Similarly, predictive maintenance uses digital data from physical equipment to spot warning signs of problems before they occur, helping healthcare facilities keep precious technology and facilities available when they are needed. On a larger scale, buildings intelligence uses digital sensors to improve a hospital’s security, safety and energy efficiency – the latter often delivering savings which help subsidise the cost of the smart hospital conversion.

Other smart hospital applications include artificial intelligence to shorten exam times and improve radiographer productivity; computer-aided surgery to lengthen the effective time that the beneficial effects of surgery will last for the patient; and digital pharmacy automation to avoid medication errors or duplicate prescriptions. This standardisation of care has considerably improved clinical outcomes, with smart hospitals experiencing lower readmission rates for patients.

SFS’ research conservatively estimates the ‘investment challenge’ in the UK for the top investment areas to be significant, with smart, digitalised hospitals alone requiring a $1.7 billion (£1.3 billion) investment in the UK across the five-year period 2019-2023.

Most respondents to this study remarked on the importance of being able to acquire state-of-the-art technology without the need to devote scarce capital. Most healthcare institutions, therefore, are increasing their deployment of ‘pay for usage’ arrangements – usually based on some form of leasing structure. Such finance arrangements tend to be offered by specialist finance providers that have a deep understanding of how the digitalised technology and the healthcare sector works.