Closing the digital skills gap in health care

InterSystems Corporation (Australia)

By Saurav Gupta*
Thursday, 20 May, 2021

Closing the digital skills gap in health care

The healthtech sector is one of the rising stars of the tech industry and in recent years we have seen the healthtech start-up scene move to the forefront of new developments and innovations. Start-up companies have played a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, helping to provide new digital tools to connect patients with clinical staff.

As the health technology ecosystem matures, established technology firms and start-ups face different challenges. Many healthtech companies face a growing skills gap as developers are drawn away to the excitement and pace of working with innovative start-ups.

Start-ups, on the other hand, have the energy and vision to attract young professionals but not the same experience in healthcare culture, data and standards. If they are to succeed in helping healthcare organisations adopt the digital strategies they need, both established healthtech enterprises and start-ups need to learn from one another.

Digital transformation reliant on healthtech firms

Health care has lagged behind other sectors in adopting digital strategies. With software, data and interoperability all driving innovation, health care needs more digital skills.

Providers are going through a massive digital transformation from a health-system-centred model to a patient-centric one. They are relying on healthtech companies to provide innovative new solutions to improve patient outcomes and clinicians’ workflows while containing costs.

To make it easy for healthcare providers to adopt these new solutions, developers need an intimate understanding of healthcare systems, interoperability and regulatory compliance. Interoperability — or exchanging information between different healthcare systems in a meaningful way — is important across the healthcare continuum, especially when it comes to caring for patients and analysing the evidence for new medical treatments.

Knowledge of interoperability and data standards

For a healthtech company to successfully bring new solutions to market, it needs to build interoperability capabilities and work with a range of data standards. This includes older or ‘legacy’ interoperability standards like HL7 (Health Level Seven) and modern ones like FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources), a concept first put forward and led in Australia by Graham Grieve.

While established organisations tend to understand legacy standards, they may be unfamiliar with FHIR and the RESTful Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) it uses, an approach which is more like popular internet commerce and social media applications.

In contrast, healthtech start-ups often underestimate the importance of being able to work with legacy standards, incorrectly viewing them as outdated and unnecessary. All healthtech companies would benefit from stepping out of their comfort zones and ensuring they familiarise themselves with the full spectrum of interoperability standards.

Overcoming the skills gap on both sides

For established healthtech companies, it’s important to find ways to entice more young people to join them and to retain existing employees by embracing those elements of start-ups that young professionals find so appealing. Creating a culture of transparency and building human connection is key to this.

The attraction to healthtech start-ups often lies in their creative, agile environments. This allows developers to test a concept, put it into practice and, if it doesn’t work, ‘fail fast’ and try something else with no hard feelings. Established healthtech companies need to promote this culture of encouraging innovation to ensure their staff don’t feel constrained by preconceived ideas of what success looks like.

Healthtech start-ups can also learn from the established players. For example, start-ups often don’t possess a rich knowledge of data governance. Larger organisations will usually have dedicated people or even teams responsible for ensuring information governance and compliance with privacy regulations and healthcare ethics.

Robust governance framework for data

To succeed, healthtech start-ups need to establish a robust governance framework around access to data. Poor data governance could be their downfall further down the line, particularly since trust in data and ethics are growing in importance. Not considering interoperability and data compliance requirements at an early stage could also see healthtech start-ups left out in the cold when trying to convince organisations like hospitals and health departments to adopt new solutions.

Ultimately, established healthtech companies should take inspiration from their start-up counterparts when it comes to nurturing a culture of innovation. For healthtech start-ups, the challenge is in investing in not only the right technical skills but also interoperability, data governance and regulatory compliance capabilities.

Healthtech companies of all sizes should aspire to achieve the best of both worlds: an innovative working environment in which people can make a real difference, but in a way that is ethical, secure and scalable for future success.

*Saurav Gupta is a Healthcare Solutions Engineer for InterSystems, a leading provider of data technology for extremely critical data in the healthcare, finance and logistics sectors. Saurav has more than 18 years of experience across solutions architecture, enterprise application integration, analytics and software development.

Image credit: ©

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