How technology can accelerate the mass distribution of healthcare, by Genius Wong
By Genius Wong, president of global network services for cloud and data centre services at Tata Communications
The provision of healthcare is a basic human necessity, but access by no means universal.
While the UK’s National Health Service, Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act in the US, and Singapore’s national health system, have all succeeded, at least in part, in bringing affordable health services to more people, truly-democratised healthcare is yet to materialise.
Wearable technology may still be in the early phases of adoption as a consumer trend, but it will undoubtedly play a significant part in the creation of a healthcare democracy
This is where technology can revolutionise the healthcare industry. In the same way as the taxi industry has been transformed by the emergence of Uber and similar data-powered services which put the user in control; the healthcare industry is seeing a shift towards digitally-enabled ‘self-care’.
Wearable technologies, m-Health applications, and more-sophisticated drug delivery devices are empowering patients like never before, with intelligent technology infrastructure enabling the next level in healthcare. As connectivity becomes more globally ubiquitous, the prospect of using technology to complement existing healthcare provision has exciting potential for saving lives and democratising healthcare the world over.
Better access to healthcare is one of the foremost advantages of improving global connectivity. Virtual healthcare services such as Doctor on Demand facilitate video consultation with medical professionals via a mobile app. This is hugely advantageous to patients with disabilities that prevent or impede them from visiting their doctor regularly. Furthermore, in the developing world where there are fewer healthcare amenities and less advanced transport infrastructure, access to the Internet is an achievable long-term solution to giving people the means of regular medical consultation.
Wearables are making healthcare more personalised than ever, with consumers becoming pro-active in monitoring their own wellbeing
The democratisation of healthcare through self care is not a pipe dream, but a reality already. Consumers are increasingly adopting mobile platforms to interact with healthcare providers, facilitating growth of m-Health and telemedicine services. Consequently, the global telehealth market is expected to grow rapidly, reaching $4.5billion by 2018. Examples of major hospitals providing online consultation services using telehealth include UnitedHealth in the US, Apollo Hospitals in India, and Albert Einstein Israelita Hospital in Brazil.
Wearable technology may still be in the early phases of adoption as a consumer trend, but it will undoubtedly play a significant part in the creation of a healthcare democracy. Wearables are making healthcare more personalised than ever, with consumers becoming pro-active in monitoring their own wellbeing. Furthermore, advances in drug delivery and med tech devices have increased the effectiveness with which patients can self-manage and administer their treatments. These technologies work particularly well together when it comes to conditions such as diabetes that require close monitoring and repetitive treatment. Developments in these areas enable people to take greater responsibility for their own health and wellness – the first stage of truly-democratised healthcare.
Over 3.2 billion people were connected to the Internet in 2015, and this figure is set to almost double to over 6 billion users by 2025. As well as being a challenge for technology infrastructure providers, the increase in people using mobile connections to access healthcare services means the bodies that control healthcare provision, public and private, must invest in modern IT infrastructures that is fit for purpose.
One of the overwhelming difference makers that will help bring better healthcare to the masses is the production, collection and analysis of data. Rapid digitisation across the healthcare ecosystem is occurring due to the growth of m-Health, as well as the introduction of more IoT devices through wearable technologies such as fitness trackers, heart monitors, sleep monitors, and smart watches. The data produced by all such devices has tremendous potential for the medical industry – whether that’s creating a bespoke profile for a single patient based on medical data collected in real-time, or accurately tracking the performance of treatments for patients with ongoing conditions. For those with diabetes, for example, blood-glucose monitors enable the effective management of blood glucose levels in such a way that the patients know when they need to reduce or increase sugar intake or treat themselves. This can help reduce the number of hypo and hyper attacks diabetes sufferers have.
A cloud-based platform that can harness the power of the public internet to provide true global reach, while providing highly-reliable performance, will be an important cog in the engine room that powers the spread of better healthcare
Looking at the bigger picture, integrating R&D with patient data collected from multiple sources also has the potential to greatly improve medical research into new treatments and cures for chronic diseases. There are already examples of healthcare companies leveraging big data analytics to create better targeted therapies. For example, Pfizer, Boston Scientific, and Mayo Clinic have collaborated to form Optum Labs, linking date from 150 million patients with 30 million electronic health records to develop targeted therapies. In addition, Novartis partnered with Amazon Web Services to conduct 39 years of computational chemistry in nine hours.
To improve and democratise healthcare with data analytics, there needs to be a focus on improving connectivity, scalability, mobility, data privacy and security in medical institutions as well as throughout the healthcare ecosystem. This includes the need for networking and connectivity solutions to ensure that high-quality virtual healthcare services are consistently available.
The most-pressing issue when it comes to the technology behind this democratisation of healthcare is in managing the huge amounts of data that are necessary for individuals to take more responsibility of their own wellness through self care, as well as allow institutions to provide better treatment and care to more people.
Not only does a purpose-built connectivity infrastructure enable data collected by mobile devices to be transmitted accurately, a cloud-based infrastructure can help institutions store, manage, secure and access the data at their disposal. However, the cloud-based services required to take on a challenge of laying the foundations of healthcare democratisation need to be uniquely scalable – giving healthcare IT departments the ability to expand and adapt quickly to rapidly-accelerating demand. A cloud-based platform that can harness the power of the public internet to provide true global reach, while providing highly-reliable performance, will be an important cog in the engine room that powers the spread of better healthcare.
Integrating R&D with patient data collected from multiple sources also has the potential to greatly improve medical research into new treatments and cures for chronic diseases
In summary, to make the world a healthier and better place, healthcare decision makers should be looking at ways that technology can empower both patients and medical professionals.
With global connectivity levels destined to rise dramatically in the coming years, investment in technology platforms will allow the healthcare industry to ride on the crest of this wave. Ultimately, the aim is to use technology to enable patients to take more responsibility for their own health, as well as equip healthcare to provide more ubiquitous healthcare as well as innovating better treatments and cures.