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Running out of helping hands – The social and healthcare sector needs technology platforms to survive

The social and healthcare sector needs new ways to manage services – old solutions simply will not cut it anymore. We will have to answer rising expectations from customers and patients by providing better services – with fewer resources. More routine processes need to be automated, or we will run out of helping hands and need to compromise on service quality and availability. Sofigate’s Mirva Sainiemi writes about the opportunities world-class service platforms open for the future of the health and social services sector.

What is a technology platform? The term refers to IT systems where various actors – customers, service providers, subcontractors, and other stakeholders across organisational boundaries – carry out value-adding activities, which in the health and social services sector means patient care or care for the elderly, for example. So far, these platforms have been severely underutilised in the social and healthcare sector.

It is a shame since platforms could make the hard work much easier by way of automation, for example. Technologies could also be used to achieve cost savings measured in millions. Deploying these platforms is easier now than ever. Solutions tailored to the health and social services sector are available, as Salesforce and ServiceNow have developed their offerings for the field.

Platform technology mends fragmented processes and information

Not only do platforms generate savings, they also significantly simplify the work of healthcare professionals, help improve patient and customer experience, service levels, preserve resources and make sure they are used in the most efficient way possible.

In Finnish health care units, up to 15 different information systems may be in use simultaneously. Often, these systems are not integrated with one another. On top of this, there is often a whole range of separate software applications in use, from physiotherapists’ training programs to doctors’ video reception applications. When systems do not talk fluently with each other, extra work or even errors are common: important information may not find its way from your doctor to your physiotherapist, for example.

If even some of the systems in use were connected to a platform, information about services or the customer’s care path could be centralised. This way, the information could be used more efficiently when providing them with care. If all points of the customer’s care journey, such as visits at the doctor’s office, were visible on the same platform, the workflow behind would be more transparent. The healthcare professional could focus on the customer, which would improve both employee and customer experience.

Connected platforms would make it possible to use the shared information to develop and manage social and healthcare operations better, too. The platforms make it easier to monitor the quality of care and other social and healthcare services and see their effect on the customer’s wellbeing. Thanks to the platform, it is possible to look at care quality in different units, find the best performers and share their learnings with the rest of the care facility or organisation.

New tools for managing the social and healthcare service ecosystem

Dozens of different service providers are responsible for providing the health and social services we need, and they are often coordinated by a single subscriber organisation. Platforms can be used to facilitate this work.

If different service providers are integrated into the same platform, the entire service ecosystem can be managed through a single system. In this case, each participant in the ecosystem will have access to up-to-date information and shared guidelines. For example, the latest coronavirus protection measures can be communicated centrally with a single bulletin to hundreds of subcontractors instantly.

Platform technology also provides tools for ensuring the right amount of caregivers and nurses is always at hand. Our tool was originally developed to answer the Finnish law about nurse quota in elderly care facilities. With it, it is possible to make statutory calculation and reporting required by the law much easier. Thanks to the tool based on platform technology, information on different service providers, permanent and deputy personnel and, pharmaceutical licenses are readily available and always up to date, for example. In addition to this, technology can also increasingly help social and healthcare institutions anticipate the future: see trends, compare different time periods, and prevent under-staffing by effectively predicting workload based on the data.

New technology alone is not enough, but it will help bring about change

To bring the desired change to the health and social services sector, work and management methods must also be renewed. The key is to build a pro-development culture in which top management fosters a positive attitude towards development and sharing tried and tested ways of working throughout the organisation.

For example, systematic measurement of quality only brings benefits when high-quality operating models are noted, learned from, and shared. In addition, it is important to listen to people who work in health and social services and to enable them to participate in the development of working methods, services, and quality.

Feedback and development ideas should be collected from the entire organisation, including subcontractors and customers. It is advisable to make information as visible as possible within the limits of the law because open information helps prevent quality deviations. The possibility to influence and develop one’s own work is a good way of building commitment with employees, in addition to compensation-related decisions.

Resources are running out, but there is still time to change course

The social and healthcare sector faces enormous challenges all around the world. The economy is tightening in many countries, the amount of aging population is increasing, changes in legislation put pressure on quality control, and differences in the quality of social and healthcare services are threatening to widen between regions and population groups. At the same time, purchasing services is becoming increasingly important, and decentralised ecosystems are making service chain management even more demanding.

The fact is that the current systems do not have the tools or the money to answer these challenges as is. Managing services in the way we have been used to will not be enough in the future. Everything that can be automated, and at the same it is necessary to make use of the possibilities of self-service – otherwise we will run out of helping hands.

World-class service platforms already offer tools to respond to these challenges in the near future in the social and health care sector. Are we, as societies, prepared to take up the challenge? We at Sofigate are!