How technology is changing the face of healthcare

Joe Svetlik

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Technological advancements mean big benefits not only for patients, but also for doctors, carers and other healthcare professionals.

Technology has caused huge changes in many aspects of our daily lives, including how we shop, exercise, commute, play games, work and date. And now it’s also infiltrating our healthcare, making it easier, more affordable and quicker to get the attention we need.

As in these other fields, healthcare is seeing exponential advances in digital technology, alongside plummeting costs. At the same time, ageing populations mean there’s more demand for healthcare than ever before.

The rise of technology-enabled care

According to a Deloitte report into ‘connected health’, the mHealth market – that’s mobile health, the practice of medicine supported by mobile devices – will grow to $21.5 billion (€19.5 billion) by 2018. That’s a 54.9 per cent growth every year. Europe will overtake America to become the largest mHealth market, worth $7.1 billion (€6.4 billion), with the highest predicted growth of 61.6 per cent per year.

So it’s happening right here, right now.

But mHealth is just one part of it. Technology-enabled care (TEC) is an umbrella term that encompasses all kinds of technology-centric approaches to healthcare, including telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, mHealth, digital health and eHealth services. But what does it mean for the average patient?

The benefit for patients and healthcare professionals

Just as technology has increased the proliferation of information, it will give patients better access to their own health data. Not only can patients self-monitor, using a combination of apps and wearable devices, they can also be reminded to adhere to their treatment or therapy through notifications on their smartphones. If healthcare apps follow the lead of general fitness apps and let the users gamify the experience by competing with others on a range of metrics (who has the highest step count this week, say), it gives users an extra incentive to stay healthy, and helps them feel more engaged in their own healthcare.

This is already happening in Europe. Patients Know Best is a patient-owned healthcare system in which patients monitor their own vital signs using the PKB app or website and a wearable device. If something is abnormal, both the clinician and patient are alerted.

More traditional doctors’ surgeries are also getting on board. The Hurley Group has 17 GP practices across London with 100,000 registered patients. It runs virtual surgeries that conduct online consultations with patients, while its website also offers symptom checkers, self-help content and links to alternate resources. In a survey, 83 per cent of patients said they would recommend the service to others, while 95 per cent of interactions were rated as very good or excellent. Typically, a third of its patients go on to self-manage their condition.

These technologies help doctors, nurses and carers as much as they do patients. In the case of the Hurley Group, the practices reported savings and a more efficient service. One care home in Sussex gave patients Android tablets loaded with an app that lets staff ask how they’ve felt. This early warning system cost just 90p a day per patient and led to a 75 per cent drop in hospital admissions, easing the burden on hospital staff.

The business benefit

Businesses in this space can reap huge rewards by updating their hardware. Caris Life Sciences, a leading biosciences company that helps doctors treat cancer patients, needed more data storage, along with a scalable, massively parallel computing environment. With IBM business partner Re-Store, it developed a scalable, data-aware, secure infrastructure necessary for molecular analysis and data storage. It was installed less than two months after the first meeting. For Caris, this meant faster insight, helping it fight cancer more effectively.

For B. Braun, a pioneering provider of pharmaceutical and medical products, the scale of operations posed a problem. It employs over 39,000 people in over 50 countries. It needed a partner who could provide high-performance PC hardware to its employees, while being flexible enough to comply with industry requirements and regional and government regulations. It didn’t always have an onsite IT team either, so its partner had to offer service and support on a local level. It chose Lenovo because of its customisable PC portfolio, global partner network, and its reputation for making durable and reliable PCs. With up to 85 per cent of its global network using ThinkPad laptops and mobile workstations, B. Braun has had decreased PC downtime, seamless operations and simplified industry compliance.

Similarly, Merck, the world’s premier pharmaceutical company, chose the ThinkPad Helix for its workforce of about 800, that is constantly on the road. The device had to be reliable – doing the job of a laptop, phone and tablet, while still providing the security features a big company demands. Sales representatives have worked more efficiently and productively since the Helix was introduced, which has had a positive impact on sales.

Upgrading your hardware could be a real shot in the arm, not just for your business, but for your patients too.

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