How Enterprise Architecture accelerates digital transformation in healthcare

Female nurse showing something to doctor on tablet at the hospital - High angle view
Image: © Hispanolistic | iStock

Enterprise Architecture could help provide a boost to the healthcare sector, enabling and accelerating tech transformation. But how do we implement it?

Although the first wave of industrialization in the 19th century had deleterious consequences for public health due to hazardous working environments, urban crowding, and unsanitary conditions, the period also brought positive changes, including new vaccine technologies, the use of anaesthetics (ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide), and improved sanitary practices.

Today, more than a decade since the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies, where do we stand? World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab has described 4IR as “blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.

Clearly, the impact on healthcare has been significant as new technologies revolutionize the way patients are examined, diagnosed, advised, and treated through advancements in drug discovery, gene editing, 3D printing, smart devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Indeed, according to Yang Yuanquing, CEO of Lenovo, the architecture of the “new IT architecture can create countless opportunities . . . to build the backbone for innovation, speed, and thriving humanity.” “New IT” is supported by five elements: smart devices, edge and cloud computing, 5G networks, and AI.

“New IT” is supported by five elements: smart devices, edge and cloud computing, 5G networks, and AI

Healthcare’s digital maturity problem

Despite vast stores of data in healthcare, the numerous advancements in 4IR technologies, and pressing human problems that require solutions in the healthcare sector, the industry as a whole suffers from a “maturity” problem. Surveys consistently rank the healthcare industry among the lowest of all industries in digital advancement. While the situation has improved in recent years, particularly with the forced pivot stimulated by the pandemic, the healthcare industry still has a long way to go regarding digital transformation.

The challenges facing the healthcare industry are widely recognized and often stem from cultural and social factors rather than technical ones. The industry has long struggled to effectively integrate and normalize the use of proven and less complex technologies that have been mature and stable for many years. This is especially evident in the notoriously poor interoperability between and even within systems that suffer from the lack of secure boundaryless information flow. This impairment is as common as it is intransigent and derives from organizational silos, data ownership restrictions, and regulatory barriers.

Healthcare companies’ organizational structure discourages the adoption of IT interoperability due to three key reasons: reluctance to share data between them, fearing a threat to revenue streams and loss of competitive advantage; the opposing administrative and clinical power structures hindering IT decision making; and the growing complexity of systems due to increased hospital merger and acquisition activity.
Another reason for disincentivizing IT adoption in healthcare companies is compliance. Strict regulations surrounding the protection and usage of patient data have created an abundance of caution, which may hinder the deployment of AI and machine learning-based tools.

Enterprise Architecture as an Accelerator in healthcare

Enterprise Architecture could help provide the boost the healthcare sector needs to catch up. In 2021, McKinsey, in collaboration with Henley Business School, released the results of extensive research into the use of Enterprise Architecture to advance efficient, effective, and productive responses to technological changes. They concluded that Enterprise Architecture “is a core element of the foundation that both enables and accelerates the tech transformation that companies need to compete in a digital-first world”. But how is Enterprise Architecture applied, specifically, to Healthcare?

Enterprise Architecture “is a core element of the foundation that both enables and accelerates the tech transformation that companies need in order to compete in a digital-first world”

The answer lies in the objective of Enterprise Architecture itself, which aims to position businesses for success by first identifying key strategies, then aligning goals and providing tools to tackle even the most complex technology challenges, ultimately paving the way for innovative solutions. By focusing on how an organization and its constituent parts are interrelated, Enterprise Architecture frameworks and tools help to expand the understanding of this structure throughout the organization, providing useful insights to stakeholders and setting the organization on a path to where it needs to be.

The need for Enterprise Architecture is perhaps most obvious in the hospital sector, which requires coordinated, multi-level teams to plan and execute operations daily and over the longer term. Enterprise Architecture is widely used in digitally mature industries and its ability to contribute to the betterment of healthcare across all of its sectors is clear. Its adoption and use in all healthcare sectors will help reveal the steps required to leverage opportunities presented by new 4IR technologies and digitally transform an industry historically resistant to systemic change.

This piece was written and provided by Dr Jason Lee, The Open Group Healthcare Forum Director.

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