Without investing in the social aspect especially trust, benefits of IT in healthcare cannot be fully reaped, say two IBM healthcare executives.
Dr Martin Sepulveda, vice president of health industries research at IBM, noted that the two types of information people were least comfortable with others knowing were financial data and medical data. He cited results from an IBM-commissioned study published last year.
So, whether healthcare IT adoption increases ultimately "goes back to the trust issue", he said in an interview Thursday with ZDNet Asia. Dr Sepulveda was in Singapore to speak at The Economist Healthcare in Asia 2012 conference.
Invest in people, processes and technology
Hence, he emphasized that besides technology, there needs to be effort made in investing in "people and process".
"Anytime you talk about transformation, you must address all three things for transformation to be successful", Dr Sepulveda said, likening it to a pyramid--where at the top section is people, followed by both process and technology at the second level, and underneath that, culture.
Culture is "really important" in healthcare IT because culture is the foundation upon which beliefs, perceptions and behavior are built, which influence how people react to--or reject--the shifts created by healthcare IT, he noted.
For instance, with a national health record system, some people may have privacy concerns over their medical records being possibly accessed by doctors other than their own, so the healthcare community and the government need to educate the public on the benefits of a national database and that one's data will be protected, said Farhana Nakhooda, solutions executive for healthcare and life sciences, growth markets unit at IBM, at the same interview.
Solutions Executive, Healthcare & Life Sciences, Growth Markets Unit, IBM
Healthcare IT is "not a technology issue at all [but] a people issue", she said, highlighting the importance of trust.
"[Building customer trust] has been done in banking forever, and financial data is just as precious to people as their medical data," she said. "So it's more an awareness and the confidence of the public that [their medical] data is as secure as it would be in a bank."
The healthcare industry has generally been a "laggard in IT adoption" as compared to others such as banking and finance, precisely because it is about the "delivery of care and the human touch", Nakhooda said, which is why social aspects have to be accounted for before healthcare IT can go one step further.
Neglecting the social element can hinder adoption of healthcare IT, she added.
"That's a typical issue with IT, generally. If you think IT alone will fix the problem and ignore the people and the way people think and work, you will always struggle and you're never going to get results. You could build the most amazing healthcare IT system in the world but no one uses it."
Asia primed for healthcare IT advancements
According to Dr Sepulveda, the healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific has witnessed "quantum changes" brought about by technology within the last decade. With that, the region's healthcare industry is able to "leapfrog lots of evolutionary phases" that those in Western countries had to go through, such as legacy systems which are "enormous drags on everything".
"Asia has the ability to use wireless and mobile technology, and it's in a better position to use cloud technology than in other parts of the world," he said.
At the same time, the spread of the Internet through digital devices, particularly mobile phones, in the region has also expanded availability and access to Web-based medical information, Dr Sepulveda pointed out.
Considering that mobile phone penetration was high in both the developing and developed economies in Asia, the benefits of mobile healthcare were not exclusive to either market, he added. Citing "Text 4 Baby", a mobile messaging information service in the U.S. designed to help expectant women among low-income demographics, he said the model of providing usable and practical health information via phone messages is one that can be replicated in Asia.
Finally, Dr Sepulveda observed that there was much more openness and willingness in Asia to use new technologies to provide and access healthcare. "[This is] great, because new technologies have advantages over old technologies, and if you don't use them, then you don't get the benefits."