A Blog Series: The Digital Transformation of Food Safety

Part Four: Learning from Other Industries – Healthcare

Hello and welcome back to our series where we have been focusing on how “Digital Transformation” is changing food safety operations and its impact on food suppliers in general. In Part 1 of this series, we explored the definition of the term “Digital Transformation” and how it can be understood in relation to the advances being made within the food safety profession and food supplier operations.  In Parts 2 and 3, we explored the Newspaper Publishing and Banking industries’ massive digital transformation and the lessons we can take away regarding how to think about a digital transformation’s impact on how food safety information, processes and operations.

In this 4th installment, we will take a brief look at the healthcare industry – and what is likely the most far-reaching and recent digital transformations we have experienced, and in many ways this transformation is still happening today.

During the past 10 years, we have all seen the digital transformation of our healthcare system occur; Within our own lives and personal experiences as well as an overall shift that has occurred on a national level. This has all been a fairly recent transformation, but as we covered in our first installment of this series, one that has caused dramatic organizational changes within healthcare and the ways that we interact with our healthcare system.

I think we can all remember walking into our healthcare providers’ offices and seeing that ubiquitous wall of color-coded folders. Those were us… each patient had a folder. While practitioners’ offices had shelves of folders, insurance companies kept warehouses of this type of information. This was the way that healthcare providers were maintaining records about their patients. As we have covered in past installments of this blog series, there is a “techie” name for the type of information contained in these folders: “data silo”. A Data Silo is simply a collection of data that is disconnected from a system. Data that exists in a data silo cannot be correlated easily with other data or shared easily with people who need access to it. Can you think of any food safety data that sits in folders, or data silos, at your organization? (More on this in a moment… read on.)

Of course, today the data siloes are now mostly gone from the healthcare world. There may still be some vestiges out there, but for the most part we have just lived through one of the largest digital transformations ever – the “electronic health (or medical) record (EHR/EMR). So how did this happen? Well, it wasn’t quick, but the impacts are huge!

The table below is not exhaustive by any means, but illustrative of the transformation that occurred from the data silo world – or analog approach of one patient per folder, to the new digitized world.

Figure 1: The Analog (Before) to Digital (After) Transformation of Healthcare

Analog

  • MRs in folder, updated by hand – error prone!
  • Limited cross-functional communication (silos!)
  • Limited correlation and insights
  • Employe access – all or none
  • Employee skill development – low requirement

Digital

  • Records stored digitally, updated digitally
  • easy access from any browser / connected PC
  • Automatic alerts sent when/where/who needed
  • Access controls based on security protocols
  • CHANGE employee training on new system

The important take-away here is the CHANGE that was required to make it happen. While there were obvious benefits to making the transformation happen, there were now a new set of skills that needed to be mastered. Nursing managers, doctors and clinicians, lab technicians, and many other people in administrative roles needed to learn how to retrieve and use information in whole new ways.

As we think about the definitions of Digital Transformation that we covered in the first series installment, it is important to ask ourselves: “was this a ‘necessary disruption’”? I think the benefits tell the story best… below is a table showing just a few of the concepts we now take for granted.

Figure 2: How have we benefited from Healthcare’s digital transformation?

Before

  • One action to one patient ratio
  • Inconsistent records
  • Human error = adverse outcomes

After

  • Correlation of many actions to mamy patients
  • Auto-form guides = consistent / complete records
  • Reduced risk vis automation and alert triggers

I think the answer is an obvious “yes! While this is not even close to exhaustive – just a few of the benefits we are all receiving now – the bulleted list above yields some important lessons as we think about the parallels to food safety:

  • Before the transformation, each patient action was recorded, filed and stored… a 1:1 ratio of action-to-result. Now, with digital records and the ability to de-identify the data, many patient interactions can be easily analyzed at once, and that in turn informs future interactions with individuals or groups… a many-to-many ratio.
    • Within your own food safety program… are there records that languish in their respective three-ring binders? Spreadsheet files? File cabinet drawers? Are you able to cross-reference and correlate the findings from your product testing results with the accompanying environmental testing and sanitation program conformance records? Where are you in relation to the digital transformation of EHR/EMR in healthcare? Do you have a concept for an electronic Food Safety Record (EFSR?)
  • The integrity of the records themselves has improved. Digital information can easily be scanned and assessed for accuracy. The mere input of data can be guided. Human error is drastically reduced – resulting in better medical outcomes.
    • How many times has your lab called and asked you if a hand-written label contained a “7” or a “2”, or some other easily misconstrued item? Maybe a scarier question is: How many times did they NOT call asking that question…. When they should have done so! A digital transformation is not always just about the data analytics or reporting that becomes possible. ?It is also about the accuracy of information and the workflows that produce and collect this information. Digitizing a process can drastically reduce human error that crops up when information is handled manually. Are there still hand-written or hand-altered information collection processes within your food safety program? How would digitizing these workflows help in similar ways described above?

Again… thanks very much for continuing on this journey with me. I will post one last time in the coming days, and I’ll attempt to bring together all of the ideas, lessons and learnings from other industries’ digital transformations. A surrogate Guide to Food Safety Digital Transformation” will be the intended result.

I also look forward to your feedback. The comment feature here is a good way to do that, or you can reach out to me through a couple of other channels:

About David Hatch (me):

I’ve been involved in some form of a digital transformation for a very long time. I was fortunate to start my career right around the same time that the Internet was emerging from the world of the government and military to commercial use. My first project was transforming the Boston Red Sox baseball and Bruins hockey video content from an analog to a digital medium… meaning that for the first time, the owner of the content could digitally access, search, and find the exact video they needed to fulfill certain new business opportunities. That experience, which resulted in building a video content licensing business, led me to various experiences across a multitude of industries, including banking, publishing, healthcare and food & beverage. I’ve spent my entire career working on one challenge: How can a business use technology and their digital assets, data and analytics to make better, more informed decisions that improve the business, meet customer needs and achieve desired outcomes and objectives.

About Corvium (my company):

Corvium is driving the digital transformation of food safety programs by automating and delivering a unified data platform for environmental monitoring, product testing, sanitation workflows, as well as tracking and alerting for conformance and compliance. We’re addressing the challenges that food suppliers are facing when it comes to making that leap from paper or manual spreadsheet processes to a fully digitized data-driven function.

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