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It feels like we have reached a turning point in the journey towards improving quality of life – a topic we covered at length in our recent ‘Future of Healthcare Report’. Technology has become the cornerstone that connects patient, doctor and community. But while it augments our understanding of what care can deliver, budget constraints and strict regulation often prevent healthcare organisations from investing in new technologies, and thus thwart innovation. But there is an innovative and interesting future that exists in healthcare delivery: the future is bright.
Doing it with data
But it’s hardly surprising there are dilemmas. There are so many questions to answer. What areas should senior management look to invest in? Which future technologies are the closest to maturity? How do patients feel about being the end-users of these technologies? How do you push innovation while maintaining trust? Do we have the skills to make this a success? The list is endless.
We’ve already seen the great strides that healthcare has taken in terms of keeping data relating to a patient’s well-being easily accessible and secure, a topic we covered in a previous blog. This is particularly prevalent given the boom in wearables and the amount of health-related data from these devices is only going one way – up. The value of healthcare data that will be created, collated and manipulated as a result of this growth will be approx. £2.5 trillion.
To reap the benefits of this expanding data pool, key technological barriers must be overcome: access and analysis.
The right diagnosis, needs the right data
A crucial aspect of any technology is its ability to communicate with other systems and fit into established networks. After all, patient data is only valuable when it is accessible to the healthcare providers diagnosing and treating the patient. Take, for example, how smart watches that can record a wealth of data could aid the diagnosis of heart conditions, such as average resting BPM, the variability of cardiac rhythm, as well as the heart’s electrical activity. This data is only valuable when viewed in the context of a wider patient record making interoperability a fundamental concern.
At the same time, the sharing of data relating to an individual’s health must undergo the appropriate safeguards in order to conform to data privacy regulations. This imperative to make patient data available, but only at the right place at the right time, means that healthcare providers need to invest in highly-secure platform-based solutions that run on open APIs in order to allow the interoperability of patient-owned insights with hospital-owned infrastructure.
… and the right analysis
In terms of analysis, huge leaps forward have been made in applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)-enabled systems to derive actionable insights from huge swathes of data. In late 2018, a medical study provided a proof-of-concept for an AI-based system of diagnosing Parkinson’s disease by feeding a neural network with thousands of normal and abnormal tomography scans and teaching it the difference between “normal” and “abnormal” images. This study is the first step toward rapidly reducing the time needed for diagnosis, helping patients to be treated more quickly and freeing up time for healthcare workers to treat patients.
Many modern medical institutions are already using tools to automate certain processes and systems, such as paperless patient administration and app-based patient-doctor interaction. Further ahead, developments in AI, IoT and robotics will enable a greater number of core medical practices to be automated at a lower cost, freeing up more facetime between staff and patients. However, far too often we see proprietary systems and data formats that cannot be easily integrated or evaluated into other systems. As long as hospitals and application manufacturers do not interconnect the systems and applications in hospitals that have been in use for years in such a way that a digital process can be implemented, the full integration of AI and ML is still a long way off.
More, more and more technologies
The examples we’ve just cited are the tip of the iceberg. According to a report by the Economist 61% of business leaders see robotics and 76% see portable medical devices for professionals as a reality in the next five years. 59% believe manufactured organs will be a reality in the next 25 years. While the idea of these technologies becoming staple tools in surgeries, hospitals and medical laboratories may be exciting for those in the healthcare industry, it is also important to understand the appetite for new technologies amongst their ultimate end-users: patients.
Last year, VMware polled more than 5,100 consumers across the UK, Germany and France on attitudes and approaches towards the growing presence of technology in daily life. While 69% said they would be happy for healthcare professionals to have access to data related to their health whilst in hospital, only 47% said they would be comfortable with the same for healthcare professionals to access accurate data about their daily lives, such as drinking habits, level of exercise, nutrition and diet.
With wearable tech making the above easier to imagine, the appetite for the increasing use of technology in healthcare seemed to drop with the more forward-looking technology in question. However, this is because a large number of patients only see one end of technology – the wearable. The industry needs more visibility on how data is being used to change lives, extend and save lives for patients to overcome their fears and lack of knowledge in this space.
Less than a third (30%) of respondents believed that AI-based healthcare, treatments and support would help expand their lifespan, while less than a quarter (23%) would rather have invasive surgery carried out by a robot than a human, even if it meant recovery time was quicker. Yet, the same population is happy to sit in a driverless car where AI and Robotics are replacing the human. Our context of what is safe, and what isn’t is sometimes based on our emotions and not always fact and evidence and the lack of knowledge on how to integrate and consume these technologies, alongside the perceived cost of change that is the biggest barrier from preventing these technologies becoming mainstream
Investing today in the technology of tomorrow
Whether investments are focused on delivering new applications that allow better diagnosis and care for patients or help the staff to deliver a better patient experience – it starts with a secure and easy to manage foundation that is flexible and scalable to meet new requirements. At VMware, we see it as our task to create this foundation for smarter healthcare and to allow hospitals to use digital structures in the way that maximally benefits them.
It is through one, ubiquitous platform that healthcare organisations can deliver effective services today, securely and cost-effectively, while helping unlocking the value from new technologies such as AI, IoT and ML – and indeed technologies as yet unknown. And it is this software-defined platform that creates the digital foundation to deliver and manage traditional applications, new applications anywhere, on any device and across any cloud – to deliver the information and services required to deliver effective patient care today, and into the future.
Identifying the right tools to invest in is crucial for any organisation looking to digitally transform. In the healthcare industry, this means not only finding the tools which will secure buy-in from the executive level (ROI, administrative efficiencies, patient turnaround, etc.) but those which patients will not find strange and unfamiliar. As a result, the implementation of emergent tech such as AI and robotics in the healthcare sector will likely align with its implementation in everyday life.
We hear a lot from hospitals looking to identify ways to become faster, better and more cost effective at the same time through technology. This can happen with mini-pilots, cooperation or support of start-ups and the willingness to try things out and introduce real innovations. Several examples show that hospitals that invest in a Digital Transformations Officer or Clinical Innovation Officer achieve greater success, are better positioned and more successful than those that just want to cut costs.
The healthcare industry has to factor on innovation for its patient and healthcare delivery today, but importantly to support the progress just around the corner.
To learn more about how VMware is approaching the healthcare sector of today and tomorrow, please download The Future of Healthcare report here.