Healthcare is a paradox.
At one level it’s intensely personal: think of a doctor or nurse giving good news – or bad – to a patient’s family.
But on another level it’s pure data: from the same patient’s vital signs, the research that underpins the development of new drugs, and the numbers of patients who need treating.
On that final metric, healthcare systems across the world are in trouble.
People are living longer, with more complex health conditions. Medicines, while more effective than ever, routinely cost tens of thousands of dollars a month or more. And some developed nations are carrying out 40% more surgical interventions today than they did a decade ago1 – with the rise in many developing nations estimated by the World Health Organization to be even faster.
Healthcare professionals seek new technologies that will allow them to manage this increase while also improving outcomes, reducing costs and, on top of all of that, satisfying the increasing desire of patients to have access to their own medical data in a usable format.
Meeting all of these priorities at once seems impossible.
But it isn’t.
Better connectivity would hugely increase efficiency, while also allowing clinicians to make greater use of AI and machine learning in spotting, treating and preventing medical conditions that can often be predicted in advance.
Some hospitals are beginning to put this connectivity in place. The benefits can include:
- Shorter network outages, down from minutes to a fraction of a second
- Maintenance and upgrade of networks with zero downtime for physicians and administrators
- Greatly enhanced data transfer speeds
- The capacity to bring a new assets online with nearly no interruption to connectivity, following expansions, mergers and acquisitions
But these are just the technical achievements. What has changed for patients and physicians?
Connectivity is already increasing the diffusion of telecare, so patients can remain in their own homes longer (this is particularly important given the aging population – falls, for example, cost Medicare $50 billion in 2015).
Some hospitals now offer “portal apps,” which display patients’ data and treatment plans securely on their phones.
Greater connectivity and data speeds have allowed some hospitals to roll out clinical-grade devices at home, including patient monitoring equipment and consoles that allow physicians to access electronic health records securely.
And more services are coming, as early-adopting hospitals transition from digital to intelligent services – employing data-driven analytics to improve patient care, staff workloads and operational decision making, all in real time.
The specific solutions vary. But in all cases, a key determinant of success is the network itself.
Networks must be of the highest possible standard, good enough for telecommunications firms and capable of handling everything from sensor data to 3D medical imaging files.
A comprehensive network architecture might include the following:
- Wired or wireless access to connect people, sensors, machines, video monitors and remote devices, all securely and reliably
- Cloud technology providing the ultralow latencies required for critical machine communications such as remote and robotic surgery
- Software that allocates capacity whenever and wherever it’s needed — whether to support data transfers of genome sequences, medical imaging files or analytics processing
- Data processing capabilities and analytics, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, capable of providing insights that enable better diagnoses, treatments and outcomes
Physicians at hospitals with these capabilities will deliver improved outcomes, at a lower cost, with a more flexible and convenient patient pathway. And with the wider adoption of telecare and patient apps, fewer people will get sick in the first place.
Of course, it’s not all down to those who run the hospitals.
Governments need to look at how they can provide strategic support for individual healthcare providers. The 21st Century Cures Act is a good example. And the more innovation-friendly the nation, the healthier the local technology ecosystem, which feeds into the tools and talent available for hospitals. So governments should also encourage innovation and R&D investment in general.
But progress need not wait. In fact, it cannot.
The tools exist today to connect healthcare and provide better outcomes at a lower cost – bringing together the data and the people, in the service of physicians and patients across America and beyond.