Published 15. Jan. 2020

Sebastian Rethage: Tracking The Digital Transformation of Modern Healthcare and Beyond

Digitalization is affecting the performance of the healthcare industry and Sebastian Rethage of Zebra Technologies shares his opinion on the effect of digital transformation, along with the challenges and opportunities that it brings.
Digital Transformation

For over 50 years, Zebra Technologies has been empowering businesses and organizations in frontline industries such as retail, healthcare, and more, through their products and services.

In this article, Sebastian Rathage (Senior Sales Development/Healthcare/DACH) of Zebra Technologies offers his insights on digitalization, emerging technologies and its challenges, and how Zebra is adapting with the digital transformation to further help its clients to achieve superior business results.

How has digitalization changed your business and services?

Zebra’s Intelligent Enterprise Index 2019, a global survey analyses the extent to which companies connect the physical and digital worlds to drive innovation through real-time guidance, data-powered environments, and collaborative mobile workflows. Their “Intelligent Enterprise” Index scores are calculated using 11 criteria that include Internet of Things (IoT) vision, adoption, data management, intelligent analysis and more. Based on these criteria and driven by an overwhelming pressure to improve the customer experience, retail organizations have gained the most momentum in the last 12 months, graduating from the bottom of the 2018 vertical Index rankings to nearly the top of the 2019 list, second only to Healthcare.

The Intelligent Index 2019 revealed strong momentum and continued growth of Internet of Things investments and deployment and showed that the digital transformation continues to drive change across all vertical sectors including healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, creating efficiencies and adjusting to economic conditions are key for healthcare providers to maintain their performance edge and stay competitive. Consequently, this means they will require access to real-time data and clear communications to ensure the right patient receives the right care at the right time.

We offer a full suite of purpose-built healthcare solutions leveraging wristband and label printers, barcode scanners, mobile computers, software, and real-time location systems (RTLS) to facilitate better care collaboration, improved communications and optimized workflow efficiencies throughout the care environment. Its mobile technology enables care collaboration, increases clinical integration and optimizes workstreams. Zebra real-time intelligence solutions capture critical patient, staff and asset data across healthcare environments resulting in better insights and contextual awareness for more confident decision making.


How has it changed your customers?

Zebra healthcare solutions empower our customers with a performance edge by connecting the right patient to the right care providers, essential medical information, and caregivers to colleagues, ultimately helping reduce medical errors, improve patient outcomes and provide a higher level of patient care. This has helped ensure safety at each step of the patient journey by properly identifying patients, medications, specimens and hospital assets.

Zebra’s recent customer examples include the Hexagone Neuilly Clinic Group, the East of England Ambulance Service Trust and Seoul National University Bundang Hospital.

In France, the Hexagone Neuilly Group uses Zebra TC51-HC touch computers for automated medical device tracking in its hospital operating theatres to increase productivity. Located at Neuilly-sur-Seine outside of Paris, the Hexagone Neuilly Group includes the Ambroise Paré, Pierre Cherest and Hartmann clinics which annually process nearly 50,000 overnight patient stays as well as outpatient services. The Zebra® TC51-HC touch computer and Ehtrace healthcare solution enable clinicians to automate medical device tracking by capturing real-time tracking data to boost productivity and focus on patient care. Also, this solution is compliant with new French traceability regulations for operating theatre medical devices. With more comprehensive and accurate medical tracking data, this digitalization has benefitted the group with detailed operative cost analysis, financial traceability as well as time savings.

In the UK, the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) used Android™-based Zebra® TC57 and TC77 touch computers to help ensure patient safety during their relocation between two sites of the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. Zebra® TC57 and TC77 touch computers were chosen for their ease of use and support of real-time locationing applications which allowed staff to make real-time commands and decision-making. This deployment delivered accurate, real-time workflow event tracking that enabled a safe relocation of all patients between two hospital sites, in one day. It also reduced Papworth Hospital’s clinical risk as patient care resourcing was contained on a single site.

In South Korea, the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital’s (SNUBH) seamless integrated Zebra’s pocket-sized TC51-HC touch computer with its in-house Closed Loop Medication Administration (CLMA) system. The solution enables its clinical staff to access patient data securely and efficiently when administering care for its patients. With 11 specialized centers, 33 medical departments and 1,352 hospital beds, SNUBH cares for an average of 7,000 inpatients daily. SNUBH is a paperless, all-digital hospital with a state-of-the-art smart environment aimed at providing its patients with safety and convenience. To further improve the quality of care for its patient, safety and medical service quality, SNUBH established the CLMA system in 2007.

What are the greatest opportunities/threats you see?

Zebra is a leader in data capture solutions (Barcode and RFID) and we see that the barcode is enhancing processes in hospitals and the pharmaceutical sector. Even today, many healthcare systems still rely on handwritten documents which can lead to mistakes stemming from illegible handwriting and fading ink. This is where the barcode brings multiple benefits. Instead of using paper and pen to manually document treatment, barcodes and scanners can be implemented along with a patient identity management solution to accurately and quickly match patients to their records, medication, and treatments. This ensures mistakes are kept to a minimum, while patients receive the right care.

Such benefits can also be seen across an entire healthcare facility. To ensure healthcare teams can communicate and work together to assist multiple patients, institutions are adopting healthcare mobility solutions. These solutions enable hospital staff to reliably communicate with each other quickly and securely provide critical medical information. Patient data can also be collected and shared in real-time, providing access to patient vitals, diagnoses, imaging and much, much more. This all equates to workflow efficiency improvements and a reduction in false alarms, notifications, and most importantly, fatalities. The barcode is being used to monitor the health of the institution itself. From physical assets like an MRI machine to the staff, it can help enhance real-time data sharing and analytics, making the facility even more efficient and effective.

According to the World Health Organization, about 700,000 deaths worldwide every year are caused by the sale of counterfeit medicines. No country is immune from this scourge, with traffickers primarily targeting anti-cancer drugs which can carry an annual treatment cost of more than $50,000. Thanks to a unique identification code, specific to each unit being sold, the origin and composition of a product could easily be ascertained. Using a basic 2D barcode flash, distributors would be able to follow their listed products in real-time anywhere in the world. In the example of bacterial contamination, distributors could react quickly to prevent it from reaching consumers.

In the healthcare sector, more than 400,000 pharmacies in Europe are impacted by the new European Directive entitled the Falsified Medicines Directive to outlaw fake and illegal medication floating through the supply chain. It is estimated that one percent of medicines sold to the EU public through the legal supply chain is fake. Under the Directive, safety features need to be placed on individual packs so that they can be identified and to guarantee authenticity. These will also allow pharmacists to check if the outer packaging has been tampered with.

The measure intends to prevent the introduction of illegal medicine into the legal supply chain. This means pharmaceutical industry players must consolidate their medicine traceability practices to fight against the rise of counterfeiting. Thanks to a unique identification code that’s specific to each unit, the origin and composition of a product can easily be ascertained. Using a basic 2D barcode flash, distributors can follow their listed products in real-time anywhere in the world.

As for the future, the barcode is here to stay. Its journey is not even a decade old and we have seen such innovative and life-saving developments that its value will only increase, being critical to the success of global industries and re-writing the future in lines, small squares, radio frequencies, and much more.

Which technology-related trends do you expect to be the biggest game-changer and why? What does it mean to your business?

For Zebra, the next top tech trends that will drive Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and technology managers’ decisions for 2020 are blockchains, intelligent automation, and advanced tracking technologies. These technologies bring new possibilities to healthcare providers and organizations, helping them to gain a performance edge by empowering their front-line workers.

Despite being at a nascent stage in the enterprise space, we will no doubt see the growth of blockchain use across various industries for enhanced traceability in areas such as anti-counterfeiting, supply chain operations, and patient data. It has become mission-critical for organizations to master their data ownership on usage rights, data privacy and security as best-in-class customer experience becomes increasingly data-driven.

Supply chain players that can realize immediate benefits from blockchain include pharmaceutical, food and goods manufacturers, transportation and logistics providers, healthcare institutions, and even retailers of high-end goods. Blockchain will be used wherever immutable and event-driven “trust” needs to be established or where there is a need to share specific data in a secure, democratized way.

In the case of drug manufacturing, there will be an increase of legislation around drug safety compliance globally to secure supply chains and increase transparency and safety for the end-consumer. Blockchain will be a key pillar of the ecosystem that will help companies achieve these objectives, and they will require track-and-trace technologies such as temperature-sensitive labels, barcodes, and radio-frequency identification (RFID). It will enable users to get secure and verifiable records or data.

Enterprises are looking for technological solutions that can enable the automated smart tasking of their workers empowered with actionable data from advanced tracking technologies and prescriptive analytics. These intelligent automation technologies will include:

  • Computer vision-based artificial intelligence that is delivered through modalities such as scanners, vision-based sensors, and robots.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) technologies that direct workers to complete their tasks more effectively or guide new workers on the job – all from their wearable device or mobile computer.
  • Robots that will co-exist with human workers, to guide and assist them in the work, so that they are freed up from doing mundane work to focus on higher-value tasks. This will allow enterprises to reallocate precious human labor toward the greatest area of need with the highest impact. For example, in a hospital, medication or specimens can be tracked and transported by robots enabling healthcare providers to increase the level of bedside care.

Enterprises and healthcare organizations today need greater visibility of their inventory levels, work-in-progress status, and their staff’s location to gain a competitive edge. They are expecting more from data capture especially by using 2D barcodes, computer vision, and RFID. The 2D barcode is now ubiquitous on shipping labels, inpatient wristbands, and the adoption of this square barcode will undoubtedly continue to grow.

The adoption of RFID Electronic Product Code (EPC) continues to expand, with the market growing by more than 30 percent in 2019, double the growth in 2018. And with the real-time data that RFID and computer vision technologies can offer, enterprises need to implement complete solutions that can collect data, gather insights from that data and even offer prescriptive analytics that helps them make faster and more accurate business decisions.

These are just three of the key trends that we believe will help enterprises and healthcare organizations in their quest to become more intelligent in 2020 and beyond. At Zebra, we are excited about bringing these cutting-edge solutions to the market via our wide partner ecosystem – not tomorrow, but – today.

What is the role of digital capabilities in delivering a great customer experience?

The delivery of global healthcare today presents clinicians and other medical staff with a range of challenges that include securing patient data; dealing with an aging population; short staffing; meeting strict targets; and unfortunately, dealing with increasing litigation cases when things go wrong. Indeed, patient safety is a serious global public concern. Estimates show that in high-income countries, as many as one in 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care, with nearly 50% of accidents being preventable.1

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of technology. The right application of digital technology can enhance clinician communication, improve medication safety, reduce potential medical errors and boost the overall patient experience. At the heart of this medical revolution is the use of printing technology, scanning technology, and mobile computers to ensure smooth operations are achieved in hospitals. This form of technology can help reduce human errors, ensure data is used to its maximum benefit and, perhaps most importantly, drive cost savings.


One of the major errors still taking place in medical care today is clumsy information capture. It might come as a surprise to learn that even in 2019, most European hospitals still record essential patient data in hand-written form. To improve this situation, scanning and printing technologies must be used to collect and print patient information accurately and swiftly.

When a patient is first admitted into a hospital ward, details such as date of birth, case history and allergies must be captured accurately. If this information is not recorded correctly, it can have a negative result. Indeed, the immediate recall of patient information is vital, and any delay caused by lost documents, smudged lettering or misspelling could prove fatal. In the case of blood transfusions, using an auto ID system with barcode tracking from printers and mobile computers could reduce the error rate to less than 1%.

Naturally, there is a far greater risk of the wrong medication being administered if details are hand-written. This is especially true if blood samples are cryogenically frozen for many years, to be used in a later medical treatment or process. Furthermore, printing technology can improve the vital administration of patients giving and receiving blood. If patient information is accurately recorded by scanners, printers, and mobile computers, there is less chance of the wrong blood type being administered to the patient when it comes to the process of crossmatch labeling.

Fatigue is an extremely common reason for human error. After a long shift when a vital decision is due, technology could assist to eradicate the margin for error. For example, if mobile computing is used, information on a printed drug label can be linked back to a system that will check decisions against medical history at the touch of a button. In this case, technology will help enhance the safety of patients.

Zebra’s Healthcare Vision study 2022 has revealed rapid growth in the adoption of clinical mobility – the use of mobile devices such as handheld mobile computers, tablets, and mobile printers – in hospitals across the world. By 2022, the vast majority of those surveyed predicted that mobile devices would be in near-universal use throughout hospital professions, from nurses and doctors to other care teams including pharmacists, lab technicians, and radiologists. This trend is being fueled by the significant benefits being realized today in hospitals across the world. The most significant benefits of clinical mobility are in improving patient care, giving clinicians actionable intelligence at patient bedside, facilitating better communications between staff and reducing the overall error rate.

What does it take from a leader to lead the change during the digital transformation? (What are the most important issues to concentrate on?)

Having a vision, executing against a plan and demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) are key elements to lead this digital transformation change. According to Zebra’s Intelligent Enterprise Index, Intelligence-driven solution deployments have broadened quite significantly. With an increase of over 9 points since 2018 alone, EMEA had the greatest increase in “intelligence” across the regions this year. 57% of EMEA respondents declare they have an IoT vision and are executing what they’ve planned versus 46% in 2018. This is an 11-percentage point gain, year-over-year. 81% of EMEA respondents anticipate completing their IoT implementation plan within the next 2 years. Demonstrating ROI of IoT vision continues to be core to planning, with 71% of respondents having a method to measure and monitor ROI.

The human element must be at the center of a digital transformation and Zebra has noticed that for EMEA IoT implementations, this has increasingly become the case. 71% of EMEA respondents now say they address both cultural and process changes when integrating and utilizing IoT solutions – an increase of 12 points from 2018. This is perhaps fueled by the majority of organizations expecting or experiencing some level of resistance to their IoT solution adoption, with just under 2 in 5 (37%) saying they don’t expect or haven’t experienced any resistance – 4 percentage points less than in 2018.

How has digitalization changed talent/competency needs?

Today, enterprises are shifting to a single partner “intelligent” solution ecosystem. Nearly half (49%) of respondents indicate they now rely on a single strategic partner to manage their entire “intelligence” solution, including components and services provided by third parties. 43% of EMEA respondents indicated they rely on one strategic partner to manage their IoT solutions which is a 10-percentage point gain year-over-year. To achieve digitalization success, enterprises should view these technology solutions in an integrated way with the mindset and vision of a complete solution that fully supports all healthcare requirements, as opposed to just one specific aspect of it.

What are the biggest issues hindering companies from fully digitizing themselves / fully exploiting digital opportunities? What do you think should be done?

According to Zebra’s Intelligence Enterprise Index survey, security has become a top priority as more enterprises start to scale IoT solutions company-wide and are committing more resources towards continuous data system monitoring. 62% percent of enterprises are now constantly monitoring their IoT security to ensure system integrity and data privacy. This is a percentage point gain year-over-year and a 13 percentage point increase from 2017. At that time, only 49% had constant security monitoring protocol with 47% periodically monitoring their systems. 62% percent of EMEA enterprises constantly monitor their IoT security to ensure system integrity and data privacy, compared to 48% in 2018. That is 14 percentage point gain year-over-year.

With the pace of IoT adoption picking up, this has, in turn, led to increasingly greater intelligence levels required by enterprises across their entire organizations. Intelligence-driven solution deployments have broadened quite significantly. 45% percent of EMEA survey respondents are currently implementing their IoT solutions on a company-wide level. This represents a 6-percentage point to gain year-over-year.

There is more urgency to improve operational visibility and facilitate the delivery of actionable intelligence to the edge of the enterprise. Consequently, enterprises now have to demonstrate greater commitment to executing their IoT plans. This has resulted in enterprises moving to a single partner “intelligent” solution ecosystem. The key here is identifying the relevant partner that understands the enterprise’s overall needs.

For enterprises to be successful in optimizing a full digital transformation, they need to adopt a holistic approach, have a clear plan that includes a pilot, to then roll-out across the wider organization. As this is a major technology investment, there should also be strategic milestones along the way to measure ROI.

1Statistics shared by the World Health Organization

Zebra Technologies will be attending the IndustryForum Healthcare event in Germany, Berlin on the 8th and 9th of December, 2020. Interested in joining our events? Check out all the upcoming industry and function events here!