Jens Koegler, Healthcare Industry Director EMEA, VMware
We are entering an era of transformational change in healthcare. Propelled forward by an aging population, shifting power dynamics within the value chain, increased demand for services and changing consumer expectations, a new health ecosystem is emerging.
At the centre of which is connected care – something we’re covered extensively in our latest report, ‘Accelerate Real-Time Connected Care for Improved Patient Outcomes’. Connected care systems can collect and transmit the most up-to-date patient information – consider it the nerve network of the sector. Care teams can then immediately access accurate patient information to quickly make informed decisions with the overall objective to improve patient outcomes.
Heroes in the making
While this evolution in healthcare has been rumbling on for some time, it has been skewed considerably over the last 18 months. COVID managed to simultaneously put a total but temporary halt to the advancement in connected care yet, at the same time, accelerate advancements in technology to such an extent that we may emerge from the pandemic in a better position than we might otherwise have done. It should come as no surprise that, according to ResearchandMarkets.com, amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for connected health devices estimated at US$16.3 billion in the year 2020, is now projected to reach a revised size of US$52.1 billion by 2027.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has forever altered the healthcare industry. Never have more providers, care teams, and staff relied on digital technologies to communicate, diagnose, treat, and stand-up new services at a moment’s notice. Yet COVID-19 challenged traditional assumptions and barriers to healthcare digitisation. Digital initiatives that once took hospitals and healthcare systems years of planning and implementation suddenly took weeks, or even days, to execute. With a focus on agility and care continuity, healthcare organisations adapted swiftly to a global crisis and became heroes in the making.
Despite the huge strides forward made in connected care pre and during the pandemic, there is so much more to come if we are to realise the vision of ‘building back better’.
The foundation of new models
In order for connected care to realise the vision of its undoubted potential, it must be architected correctly and with the right cloud, compute, storage, network and security strategies in place – not least because healthcare is predicated on delivering increasingly higher levels of care for increasingly lower cost. But this is precisely why healthcare organisations are looking to connected care to be the foundation of new models.
Examples include areas like telehealth and virtual appointments – a clear benefit forced by the pandemic – to become closer to patients, particularly those in remote locations or that have difficulty accessing a caregiver location. The benefit being reduced time to serve and broader reach for the healthcare organisation and more personalised and tailored care for the patient. It’s a win-win that plays right into the heart of the better service/lower cost dichotomy.
The beauty of the connected care model is that it’s not just for today’s patients. By building operations in this way healthcare organisations have much greater agility and flexibility to scale and start-up new services in almost any environment. This is because delivering connected care almost certainly means modernising infrastructure and applications. By proxy this also means embracing high-performing technologies and tools that can be accessed from any device or location and driving activity to the cloud as a result. This creates a modular and flexible IT environment that is future-proofed for both patient and caregiver.
Patients and care teams
This is fundamental because, away from the technological excitement that is seeping into healthcare, it is the people – both patient and caregiver at the center of it all that are the objective. The benefits need to be felt by both parties, or they won’t be realised by anyone. For the patients this means being totally connected to clinicians and caregivers irrespective of illness, demographics, device or geography. The boom in wearables has begun to unlock the vast potential here but it’s something we’ve only just scratched the surface of. Today it is common to see wristbands monitoring blood pressure, diabetic chest straps that automatically adjust insulin levels and contact lenses that monitor glucose levels. And these are just a few examples that demonstrate the possibilities at our fingertips, or wrist, or chest.
Healthcare teams too also feel major benefits. Aside from being much closer to the patient in terms of knowledge and understanding, they are able to make better diagnoses, tailor care and medicine, and improve flexibility and response times. The latter of these is key considering the huge backlog in global healthcare created by the pandemic. That said, it must also be acknowledged that despite the growing reliance on technology, caregivers are not machines and they too need looking after. Burnout in the healthcare industry is a major issue and we’re already seeing it – nearly half (42%) of physicians reported feeling burned out last year, according to Medscape’s 2021 Physician Burnout Report. And in our new report, authorded by WPI, Building a Resilient Future: technology and the COVID-19 economic recovery’, we reveal the connection between digital infrastructure, remote working and improved health and wellbeing. Connected care may mean a better world for patients, but it cannot be at a cost of those tasked with delivering that care.
Root of trust
Of course, we won’t see connected care take off to anything like its potential unless it is built with a root of trust. Even as healthcare leaders advance care and service offerings, many still operate vulnerable legacy systems that bad actors seek to exploit. As the number of devices and endpoints connecting to the network multiply and cyberattacks become more sophisticated and disruptive, healthcare organisations must pivot cybersecurity strategies to ensure the right security controls are in place as threats evolve.
This means security must be intrinsic and built-in from the get-go. Things like an integrated software firewall that defends data centers and workloads against lateral threats is critical, especially given the rise in remote working in healthcare. As a result, security policies must be consistent across virtual, containerised, and physical workloads while ensuring security, IT, and DevOps teams have shared, real-time visibility and control.
Future-proofed and fit for purpose
With a commitment to building an interoperable digital infrastructure, a steadfast focus on the patient and provider experience, and a comprehensive, Zero-Trust security model that scales across any device or environment, healthcare providers are closer than ever to achieving real-time connected care that is future-proofed and fit for purpose.
To find out how VMware can help on your connected care journey or to download any of the reports in our healthcare series, please our new healthcare site here.