A Q&A session with James Norman, Healthcare Chief Information Officer, EMEA at Dell Technologies on the current state of healthcare and its organisations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
What are the commonalities across healthcare organisations within EMEA?
Although subject to different regulations and priorities, it’s striking how similar healthcare organisations are across the globe. Health systems from other geographical locations assume healthcare provision in EMEA is working towards the same standards and pathways of care. The aging population due to improvements in lifestyles and treatment for previously terminal diseases has led western countries to face new challenges in the provision of care. We’ve seen an increase in the cost to provide care, along with a move to push care out of the secondary sector into the primary sector to prepare for this rise. While care pathways are being redesigned to provide more care closer to home, the number of people entering emergency departments continues to add to the pressure already within the system.
What is being done locally to address these pressures?
There are efforts in motion to stem the increase in demand and provide better care for those already in the system. Yet, there is not just one magic bullet that will resolve the problems. There are many different streams in play and the timing of each will align at different points before the full benefits are to be realised. There is a growing change in the culture of the healthcare providers across all countries that recognises the importance of technology in delivering better quality care to higher numbers of patients within a much shorter timescale. In parallel, there are also initiatives to work across other areas of national, local governments and social care to address poverty, unemployment, poor education, smoking, alcoholism, drugs, obesity – some of the biggest causes of poor health across the world.
What are the trends we are seeing in healthcare technology?
There are several technologies that have the potential to really change the way healthcare is delivered and to improve the outcomes to patients including digital pathology, augmented reality and virtual reality, artificial Intelligence, and robotics.
When looking at digital pathology, it’s surprising it has taken so long to gain traction, especially with the potential benefits so great. The tipping point for adoption has been the combination of AI algorithms into the software, to support faster identification of potential areas of concern on the slides as well as the ability to enhance diagnosis through recognition of similar patterns and the associated reports from other patients slides. By using AI to categorise and index slides, it’s possible to search through millions of patient records and slides to identify patients whose pathology slide is similar in nature to the one being viewed by the clinician. This ability to support diagnosis rather than attempting to replace the clinician by carrying out the diagnosis has helped to break down the barrier to the use of AI in the treatment of patients.
Of course, the reduction in the cost of storage and the increased power of compute have also had a big impact, albeit from a cost and usability side rather than adoption by clinicians. That said, without these improvements in performance and reduction in costs, it would be much harder to embed the technology in mainstream patient care.
Dell Technologies is providing the technology infrastructure to support a digital imaging for pathology service which will aim to improve health outcomes for up to 3.2 million patients across the North East and North Cumbria (NENC). Working with seven NHS Foundation Trusts across the region, as part of their ambitious integrated care system (ICS), the service will be hosted on behalf of NENC and Teeside-based North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. The organisation was awarded a contract funded by the Northern Cancer Alliance in a bid to improve health care through the Digital Care Programme.
Graham Evans, Chief Digital Officer who leads on digital strategy for the what has become the largest ICS in the country comments: “How we optimise health services and specifically improve diagnostic services for the benefit of the population we serve is a key priority. Our region has become renowned for advances we make within digital technologies and this move will further herald our commitment to the populations of the North East and North Cumbria.”
The same can be said for virtual and augmented reality. Until recently, these technologies have been primarily used in the labs to create a vision as to what healthcare in the future might look like. Now that the computing power to drive the software can be delivered in a standard laptop or tower PC, we are starting to see greater investment in the technology and more use cases being developed as to how it can improve patient care, improve research, improve treatment outcomes and support patients to understand the impact that any treatment might have on them in the longer term.
Companies are now working on the next generation of self-guided robots that no longer need supervision to carry out minor surgical procedures. This technology will be able to deliver lifesaving care in the most impoverished and remote regions across the globe, where access to a clinician is difficult or nearly impossible.
Other technologies such as 5G and IoT will revolutionise the provision of care out in the patient’s home and other non-clinical settings. The Internet of Things is a maturing technology that is widely used in healthcare and improvements in digital outputs from monitors and reduction in the size of patient monitoring devices have really helped to accelerate adoption. Once 5G becomes a common standard across the globe, we will see a rise in the use of remote monitoring and mobile sensors as the ability to capture more data about the patient in a secure manner becomes possible.
What is needed to support adoption of these technologies amongst healthcare providers?
Having a plan, a strategy, commitment and budget is only the start of the transformation journey. Innovation throughout will be needed to meet growing challenges. To implement the solutions that can be delivered by these new technologies, healthcare providers need to focus in the first instance on modernising their core IT capabilities. The saying goes that ‘you can’t build a house on quicksand’. Well the same goes for a digital healthcare solution. Before any digital transformation can begin, it is important to look at the basics. If moving to a cloud operating model, you will need a balance of private cloud, hybrid cloud, and public cloud options mapped to a specific clinical or business workload. Some applications will need to stay on premise and that means maintaining some level on in house infrastructure.
Our automated, integrated approach to infrastructure inclusive of storage, backup, recovery, data protection, and archiving capabilities means that you can secure data, on-premise or in the cloud and better meet regulatory requirements while enabling data to be translated into meaningful insights faster to improve patient outcomes, further innovation, and position your organisation for what’s to come.
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