Driving improvements through data-based healthcare

Posted on 01/04/2021 by vmwareemeasmt

Jens Koegler, Healthcare Industry Director EMEA

There is no doubt that the world is becoming smaller and more intimate. From online adverts to reward vouchers, businesses around the world are ditching the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model in favour of personalisation. Nowhere is this trend more acute than in healthcare. In an increasingly connected, digital world, we’re seeing healthcare professionals, technology companies and data scientists work together to deliver a personalised data-based service to patients. Patients that now take full ownership of their own health data and are fully empowered to choose the manner of care best suited to them.

Modernisation of healthcare

Everywhere you look, the healthcare industry is ditching old practices and embracing change. Today, by sharing patient data over a secure healthcare app, a chatbot or a website, patients can register their symptoms before even getting to the doctors. And this is just one example. There are many more. Data and analytics are transforming how doctors practice medicine and we’ve seen massive advances in telemedicine, remote care, and wearable and connected devices – especially since the outbreak of COVID-19 as more extreme caution has been taken to avoid cross contamination.

Data-driven initiatives are also helping healthcare systems and hospitals become more efficient as they navigate value-based reimbursement. A notable recent example being NHSx, designed to “drive forward the use of AI and machine learning across the NHS” and ensure the health service has an “open door for all those who want to use its capabilities in order to save lives and improve treatment.

Protection of patient data is paramount

But this is a long overdue and much needed move. Healthcare globally is faced with major challenges that it simply cannot address without the support of technology. On a macro level, studies have highlighted that medical professionals around the world are facing a mental health crisis because of unprecedented pressure from increasingly complex clinical work alongside chronic understaffing and rising bureaucracy. Elsewhere there are challenges to managing an aging population and the treatment of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

This is coupled with the exponential rise in consumer expectations. After being exposed to the possibilities in retail, CPG, and travel industries, consumers now demand hyper-personalised and omnichannel experiences in healthcare. But unlike other consumer facing industries, the sanctity of healthcare is held to a higher standard on account of the fact that, in some cases, it really is a matter of life or death. It means integrating new tools, technology and process is not always seamless. One of the biggest challenges in the industry is the absence of consistency. The lack of data standards means that data cannot be easily transferred from one system to the other. Typically, connecting interfaces are missing, and data protection and country-specific regulations can make electronic transmission even more complex. In many cases, the software is so outdated that they cannot cope with modern cloud-based services.

In short, it requires a modern infrastructure that provides a reliable platform for legacy systems but can also integrate new and next gen apps and services securely and easily. But there are concerns over patients’ willingness to store information in the cloud. What we know with certainty is that this data will end up on a variety of different systems and must be protected against unauthorised access under all circumstances and yet be accessible at all times by the patient or a treating physician. Patient data must be securely stored in a hybrid cloud infrastructure that meets the requirements of the existing data protection regulations.  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.

Powered by personalisation

The game changer is in wearables and remote monitoring. With an estimated 1.1 billion connected wearable devices by 2022, the ability for these devices to record health-related data will result in an exponential growth of available patient data, and thus personalised care. For example, a diabetic’s blood glucose level can be conveniently logged using a smartphone and, unlike a paper list, the app can automatically generate trend curves or mark critical threshold values.

In fact, a study by VMware has found that 47% of patients would be comfortable with a doctor having access to accurate data about our daily lives (drinking habits, rate of exercise, nutrition and diet) so that they can provide better advice on improving our health. In the future, wearable devices will not simply track your movement and heart rate. When patient data deviates from the norm or key thresholds, a nearby family member or a healthcare organisation could be informed automatically and suggest the patient be checked, or an ambulance dispatched to see if there is an issue. But the possibilities do not end here. Smart implants are already being used and there is even the possibility of having RFID chips inserted under the skin, which can measure blood sugar levels, for example.  In this context, we will probably be discussing ethical questions and limits rather than technological feasibility in the future.

The advent of electronic health records in more and more countries (Denmark or Austria, for example, have a system for medical records for years) is pushing the boundaries even further. The aim is to store all relevant health information, be it the doctor’s notes, the CT scan or the postoperative 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 has constant control over this data and can determine who has access to what.

Caring for data

Despite all the advancements made in healthcare, there is still some way to go. Greater investment into health IoT devices, data storage and healthcare analytics capabilities are required to realise the massively positive impact of technology in the healthcare sector.

And this is critical because today’s healthcare challenges compel us to do more. To truly enhance care and achieve our mission of alleviating pain, restoring health, and extending life for people around the world, we must use our technology to develop value-based healthcare. That means the data should be cared for, managed and treated as importantly as the patients themselves.

To download a copy of our latest report, ‘The Role of Technology in Healthcare’ or for more information on how VMware can support your data journey, please contact us here.

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