Health and Healthcare

How to ensure digital transformation in healthcare reaches its potential

Digital and AI in healthcare has the potential to improve patient outcomes.

Digital and AI solutions in healthcare have the potential to improve patient outcomes. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

Jennifer Clawson
Partner and Director, Boston Consulting Group
Max Kottorp
Project Fellow, Digital Healthcare Transformation, World Economic Forum and Project Leader, Boston Consulting Group
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Chronic diseases are threatening the world's population – over half of which still lack access to essential healthcare services.
  • Digital technology, AI, and data-driven approaches hold the potential to revolutionize health but key barriers are delaying true transformation.
  • The World Economic Forum, together with Boston Consulting Group and other Forum partners, are launching a Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative, designed to responsibly accelerate progress via public-private collaboration.

While almost every part of healthcare has been touched by AI and innovative technologies, digital health has yet to deliver on its promise. Since 2010, digital health companies have received more than $100 billion in venture capital funding in the US alone and efforts in low- and middle-income countries have been backed by billions of additional funding, yet healthcare systems remain extraordinarily complex and fragmented. This is owing in part to the fact the systems have primarily been implementing point solutions, which address just a small portion of overall patient journeys, when we desperately need integrated, end-to-end digital health transformation to improve outcomes faster and more efficiently.

Around the world, perennial challenges in healthcare systems persist. Healthcare systems face record-high healthcare costs and severe workforce shortages. Globally, the WHO estimates a projected shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030. This comes at the very moment when demand for care is growing and inequities persist. Chronic diseases are becoming more prevalent, yet over half of the world’s population, 4.5 billion people, still lack access to essential healthcare services.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

Digital, data, and AI solutions are powerful tools to address these persistent and growing healthcare system challenges. But we must leverage these tools in the right ways; as Bill Gates famously said, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

For digital solutions to integrate into healthcare systems and have transformative impact, public and private stakeholders must actively collaborate on the world’s most pressing healthcare problems and put the right enablers in place. No single group has the tools or capabilities to singlehandedly unlock digital transformation.

Strategic Framework for Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative: 5 enablers to achieve better outcomes and efficiency.
Strategic Framework for Digital Healthcare Transformation Initiative: 5 enablers to achieve better outcomes and efficiency. Image: World Economic Forum.

What is needed to fully unlock the potential of digital, data, and AI in healthcare?

Based on interactions conducted by the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group with more than 80 multi-sectoral leaders in healthcare and technology highlighted in our new Insight Report Transforming Healthcare: Navigating Digital Health with a Value-Driven Approach, and the Forum’s longstanding experience in value-driven systems transformation, we have outlined five key enablers that must be in place:

  • Unlock value from data: Harness fully standardized, interoperable data that can be shared across the care continuum while offering the highest levels of data security.
  • Integrate tech and analytics: Create a unique patient ID tied to high-quality clinical, operational, and patient outcome data, ensure easy integration with technology infrastructure and build platforms that support AI analytics.
  • Ensure funding and align incentives: Invest in infrastructure and solutions in a sustained way while delivering value-based incentives to enable digital adoption and collaboration.
  • Create fit-for-purpose regulations and policies: Develop digital regulations and policies that support the ethical use of data and keep pace with evolving technologies (especially AI and generative AI).
  • Deliver hybrid healthcare: Hire digital talent, upskill the workforce, establish implementation capabilities, and develop user-centric solutions to deliver better patient outcomes both in-person and virtually.

Digital and AI have the potential to deliver unparalleled improvements in patient outcomes, efficiency, personalization, and accessibility, but we must roll up our sleeves. We can envision a healthcare system where advanced digital tools and AI-driven analytics enable early detection and intervention. Efficiency becomes the cornerstone of healthcare delivery, reducing wait times and administrative burdens, and allowing healthcare professionals to focus less on administrative tasks and more on patient care. Remote monitoring and telehealth services break down geographical and socioeconomic barriers, providing quality healthcare to previously underserved populations.

We are already seeing some very promising digital health initiatives that are scaling up quickly. Below are just a few examples, of many:

  • WHO Global Initiative on Digital Health (GIDH): Launched in 2023 via the G20 process, GIDH is aiming to help countries advance their national digital health transformation by strengthening collaboration and amplifying current efforts. It strategically focuses on identifying country-specific digital health needs, promoting effective tools for digital transformation, and enhancing global collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • CoWIN Platform: During the pandemic, the Indian government launched CoWIN, a state-of-the-art platform that enables registration, appointment scheduling, identity verification, vaccination, and certification of each vaccinated person. The platform scaled quickly into the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination programme, facilitating the administration of 1.6 billion doses.
  • Mayo Clinic Platform: This global initiative aims to leverage AI to create a healthier world where personalized, predictive, and innovative care is accessible to all. One key aspect is its “Connect” cross-border health data-sharing network harnessing AI to offer advanced clinical decision support and predictive analytics, serving healthcare providers worldwide.
  • Health Outcomes Observatory (H2O): This collaborative project driven by the EU Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), Takeda, and other stakeholders pioneers patient-centric healthcare by leveraging real-world data, including patient-reported outcomes, to inform treatment decisions. It has significantly enhanced personalized treatment, amplified the patient voice, and improved healthcare outcomes. H20’s standardized and structured data can also be used to enhance health research projects.
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Accelerating the digital revolution in healthcare

While these efforts are beginning to achieve digital health at scale, we still have a great deal of work to do. To support this movement, the Forum, together with Boston Consulting Group, is launching a new flagship initiative on value-driven Digital Healthcare Transformation. The Forum will leverage its unique position to convene private industry with public stakeholders to build powerful and sustainable ecosystems that can accelerate the digital revolution in healthcare.

The human stakes couldn't be any higher. To achieve our vision, public and private stakeholders must collaborate and focus on catalysing change over the long term and at the system-wide level. It is time to build a healthcare system that is truly affordable, equitable, and consistently capable of delivering the highest quality of care.

Additional contributions by: Yasmin Dias-Guichot, Lead, Health Systems Transformation, World Economic Forum and Antonio Spina, Lead, Digital and AI Health, World Economic Forum.

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