By Jens Koegler, Heathcare Industry Director EMEA, VMware
It’s one of life’s great ironies that healthcare – a sector based on life preservation and improvement – can learn a lot from death. Certainly in the UK where historically, when loved ones were tasked with settling an estate of the deceased, they needed to dig out loads of forms and call around all the services and accounts used by the individual to inform them of the situation. It was an arduous and not particularly pleasant job that was replaced some years ago with a ‘tell us once’ service. An individual’s information is now uploaded into an online repository and distributed out accordingly in a rapid, seamless and simple manner.
Yet in healthcare, patients are still faced with numerous requests for the same information at every stage of interaction. Despite the major shift online on account of Covid-19, it’s a sector beset by paperwork and repetition. It’s clear modernisation is required and now, as the sector is challenged to build back better from the pandemic, is an ideal time to realise this change.
Advancing healthcare processes
Advances in technology mean the sector can now modernise traditional and dated elements, particularly around patient recording, tracking and monitoring. We’ve looked at this in detail in our latest report ‘Data in the patient journey’.
As an example, sharing information over a secure healthcare app, chatbot or a website means patients can register details or even symptoms before getting to the doctors. It’s something that has started to happen with questionnaires and self-assessment forms being filled out to prioritise patients or isolate those with highly infectious symptoms but we’ve only just scratched the surface. This process not only saves the time of clinician and patient in the healthcare environment (we’ve all sat in waiting rooms for some time) but helps provide a quicker diagnosis so doctors are able to see more patients in a day than previously able to. This will be critical in addressing the massive backlog national healthcare organisations currently face.
At some point, artificially intelligent technology may even support the doctor by helping to remove some of the more time-consuming data collection tasks, or highlight prior patient history that might be useful for the current diagnosis such as treatment history, any reactions to medication. A connected system would allow the doctor to make real time updates to the prescription which would be fed directly into the local pharmacy for dispensing. For the time being, much of the data within the patient journey is being driven by consumer technology
Healthcare from home
The app revolution has changed the game when it comes to staying informed or seeking self-diagnosis. In the past, if you Googled your symptoms, it was almost never good news but now, through platforms like Babylon Health or NetDoctor, you can be virtually face to face with a clinician in minutes and at a time and location of your choice. And there are thousands of consumer healthcare apps just like these designed to bring healthcare closer to the patient and help patients with chronic diseases document the course of their illness more quickly or easily.
Smartphones have emerged as the champions in this space, due to their ability to run medical apps, and use in-built biometric and location tracking systems to record and transmit data remotely and in real time, in a way which has been shown to be reliable and clinically meaningful. For example, GlaxoSmithKline developed an app to measure the severity and progression of arthritis. A simple test, which enables the tension and flexion in the wrist to be measured by holding the device, is allowing patients to provide data from home. While not everyone has a device built specifically to track movements, like a FitBit for example, nearly all of us have monitoring software built into our smartphones. In that sense, anybody who owns a smartphone is either knowingly or unknowingly tracking aspects of their health regime on an ongoing basis.
Advantageous benefits of wearables
Devices that initially just counted our steps can now track infinitely more – activities, heart rate, hours and quality sleep – all of which happen automatically and which can provide instantaneous data to consumers via their wrists or from their pockets. You can even be alerted when you haven’t fulfilled your suggested daily quota of movement or steps. Tracking your health data was less readily available a couple of years ago. Measuring your heart rate, for example, was only possible if you were willing to wear a chest strap. That’s not the case today. All these developments are not only enabling, but encouraging, consumers to take control of their own health. People are now able to proactively know their numbers and, while this doesn’t necessarily prompt positive change in itself, it does empower individuals to be more self-aware and take an increasingly active role in their daily health choices.
This is where wearable technology is delivering its most advantageous benefits. For patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, making the decision to invest in a wearable device is often the first step in playing an active role in their health, which has clear benefits and can have an immediate impact. Wearable technology has opened a new and convenient way for patients to stay connected with their physician while also providing physicians with easy and fast access to their patients, as well as their patients’ data, from remote locations. Doctor visits can now be done virtually, while the nurses who traditionally had to run routine checks on individual patients one by one can now oversee hundreds of people on a single dashboard.
More to store
The objective is to store all relevant health information, be it the doctor’s notes, the CT scan or the post-operation results, in an electronic health file. The data requirement is that this is designed in such a way that it can be processed across different healthcare systems and that the patient or a trustworthy partner, like a GP, life partner or a family member, has constant control over this data and can determine who has access to what.
This will undoubtedly mean that any data shared is done so through a multi-cloud world and intrinsic security must be built in from the start for complete protection of patient data. This must be securely stored in a hybrid cloud infrastructure that meets the requirements of the existing data protection regulations. Personal data such as sensitive medical records and diagnoses, addresses and contact details may need to be treated differently from anonymous data used for research.
You can read much more about this, and other elements of data in the patient journey here.