What are the 5 key challenges of digital care pathways?

Published on 23 February 2024 Read 25 min

The term “patient pathway”, also called “care pathway” or “clinical pathway”, encompasses the entirety of the stages a patient goes through during the course of managing their illness, spanning from the period before diagnosis to the provision of palliative care. The healthcare system (private and public healthcare providers) has been undergoing a digital transformation in recent years, with the goal of improving patient care and outcomes. Patient pathways are increasingly digitalized, but this digitalization comes with its own set of challenges. By understanding the challenges, healthcare providers can better navigate the digital landscape and deliver high-quality care to their patients. In this article, Alcimed has identified five critical challenges that healthcare providers must consider when digitalizing the patient pathway.

Challenge n°1: embracing organizational change to successfully implement digital care pathways

Change in workflows and processes

Digitalizing the patient pathway requires a fundamental change in how healthcare providers approach patient care. This means that workflows and processes will need to be redesigned to accommodate the new technology and ensure a seamless patient experience. For example, the European Union has funded a project called CONNECARE to explore digital tools for supporting adaptive case management of chronic patients, which can be installed on patients’ smart devices, monitor various patient parameters and enable patients to communicate with clinicians for feedback. One of its two major components aims to work out adaptive planning of clinical processes tailored to each patient and provide decision support to clinicians in each step of the process.

Change in culture and mindset

Digitalization also requires a shift in culture and mindset across the entire organization. This includes a willingness to embrace new technologies, a commitment to ongoing training and development, and a focus on collaboration and teamwork. Dr. Isselbacher, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the director of its Healthcare Transformation Lab expressed that for some people communicating with patients in digital ways “may be too big of a transition, it’s too late in their careers and it is not realistic to expect all physicians to embrace patient engagement tools.”1

Challenge n°2: engaging patients with digital tools for better health outcomes

Patient adoption

Patients may be hesitant to adopt digital tools due to a variety of reasons. For instance, according to a study on patients’ perspectives on digital health tools, digital literacy, health literacy and privacy concerns were designated as their main barriers to embracing a digital health tool. Without patient adoption, the benefits of digitalizing the patient pathway cannot be fully realized.

Effective patient engagement

Simply providing digital tools is not enough to engage patients effectively. Healthcare providers must consider factors such as designing user-friendly interfaces, providing relevant and personalized health information and offering support for patients who need help using digital tools. Effective patient engagement can lead to improved patient outcomes, such as increased adherence to treatment plans, better medication management, and more efficient communication with healthcare providers.

Challenge n°3: enhancing patient care through interoperability

Standardized IT systems

The healthcare system lacks standardization in its electronic systems, making it difficult to share information seamlessly and negatively impacting the patient pathway. Specific issues may include incompatible software systems, non-standardized data formats and varying levels of data security. Nurses in the United States spend one third of their day transcribing or imputing data collected from patients in the HER.[ii].

Compatible systems between stakeholders

The healthcare ecosystem is complex, and there are many different stakeholders involved in the patient pathway, including healthcare facilities (hospitals, clinics, laboratories, pharmacies, etc.). healthcare professionals (primary care physicians, specialist physicians, private practitioner, etc.), insurance providers healthcare policy-makers etc. Each stakeholder may use different software systems and may have different data standards, making interoperability a challenge. Analysis by the West Health Institute estimates that there was 36 billion dollars in addressable waste within the US healthcare system and 97% percent of that waste was attributed to the lack of interoperability.2

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Challenge n°4: ensuring data privacy and security

Protected patient data

Digitalizing the patient pathway brings new challenges for data privacy and security that healthcare providers must address. For example, the increased risk of data breaches. As patient data is stored and transmitted electronically, it becomes more vulnerable to unauthorized access, theft, or manipulation. Hackers and cybercriminals are constantly developing new tactics to breach security systems and gain access to sensitive information. According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, there were 713 known breaches affecting approximately 45.7 million individuals in 2021, an increase from 329 breaches affecting 16.7 million individuals in 2016.3

Legal compliance

Besides, healthcare providers must comply with strict regulations related to patient data privacy and security, such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. Compliance requires providers’ implementation of policies and procedures for data access, use, and disclosure, as well as safeguards for protecting data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Challenge n°5: addressing limited funding for digital care pathways

Investment in technological infrastructure

Budget constraints limit investment in digital infrastructure. Digitalizing the patient pathway requires significant investment in new technologies, infrastructure, and training. However, healthcare systems often have limited budgets for such investments due to various factors such as government regulations and funding mechanisms, competition, and economic downturns.

Cost-effective strategies

Given the limited funding, healthcare organizations need to develop a cost-effective strategy for digitalizing the patient pathway. This may involve identifying and prioritizing critical areas for digitalization, collaborating with other healthcare providers and stakeholders, and exploring alternative financing models such as public-private partnerships. Prioritizing critical areas for improvement is imperative, all the while maintaining a balance between costs and benefits.

In conclusion, digitalizing the patient pathway presents several challenges for healthcare providers. Organizational change, patient engagement, interoperability, data privacy and security as well as funding are all important considerations. However, these challenges can be overcome with the right strategies and tools in place. Alcimed Healthcare Team can support in better understanding the complexities of digitalizing the patient pathway and in establishing a patient-centric approach by collaborating with stakeholders. Do not hesitate to contact our team!

About the author, 

Chaoyue, Senior Consultant in Alcimed’s Life Sciences team in France

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