Simon Wilson, CTO, UK&I at HPE Aruba explains the opportunities and challenges associated with a rise in digital health services that will drive the hospital of 2030.
Today, healthcare institutions are under relentless pressure to deliver more services while maintaining a balance between safety, performance and financial control. With ageing populations, increased costs and higher demand for care, something must change in order to drive greater performance.
While this is a daunting prospect, many developments are already underway to kick-start steps towards making digital health a reality. Take Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust for example, where ‘Wi-Fi is like electricity’ and the hospital’s wireless network is facilitating a whole range of devices – from infection control laptops and staff PCs, through to radio tags that track patient trolleys in the emergency department. The network being used here is a platform for innovation. Applications like electronic patient case files, wireless temperature monitoring tags for blood fridges and a virtual desktop service are already improving operations.
Future gazing, from now to 2030
Yet, there’s much more change afoot. In fact, within 10 years your medical check-up could involve more interaction with sensors, cameras and robotic scanning devices, to help scale to meet increasing demand in the wake of staff shortages and stretched healthcare trust budgets. Especially as healthcare organisations re-build services around the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI.
We can expect to see a shift in the role of the automated hospital as a result. Far from the institution we know today, the future will present a place where check-ins feature imaging technology that can assess your heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate from the moment you walk in. Where sensors perform a blood pressure and electrocardiogram (ECG) test within 10 seconds, and automatic triage or even diagnosis, can be done there and then. With this quicker diagnosis, there will be no waiting around for results, or a follow-up appointment to share them with your doctor.
What’s more, the people working in and visiting the hospital, will be much more empowered. Caregivers will have more time to focus on patients rather than admin, they’ll have better digital data repositories and therefore much richer information for decision making. Better still, they’ll be able to access all of the digital patient records on their mobile devices. Patients themselves won’t even need to enter the hospital for diagnosis. With app-based and wearable tools we’ll be able to monitor health and even carry out our own scans. In turn, it’s likely that we’ll become much more open to AI playing a role in diagnosis and treatment. Provided that services are designed and implemented around patients, and permission is sought, of course.
Balancing risk with experience
All of this change sounds great on the surface, but with technological developments already underway and much more to come, how will hospitals strike the right balance between risk and experience?
Aruba’s own research finds that nearly two thirds (64%) of healthcare organisations have begun to connect patient monitors to their network, and 41% are connecting imaging or x-ray devices. Such measures are the building blocks for an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy, with potentially millions of interconnected medical, wearable and mobile devices sharing up-to-date information. However, the explosion and sharing of patient data can also pose a significant risk if mismanaged. For example, 89% of healthcare organisations that have adopted an IoT strategy, have experienced an IoT-related data breach.
And with the influx of devices appearing over the next decade, it will be critical for organisations to maintain visibility of devices connecting to the network and sharing medical data, so that strict security rules can be applied. Currently, most companies have built their network using a series of technology solutions from multiple vendors, but they often a lack of cohesion between these disparate solutions. This approach lacks visibility, creates spiralling costs and inefficient process. Not to mention potential gaps for security breach and compromised user data.
To provide a single view of the network, organisations must re-think and prioritise an open standards architecture. That way they can achieve a holistic view of multi-vendor environments and ensure that data is effectively contextualised, made secure, and analysed. We expect that the change driven by technology developments will encourage healthcare companies to partner with providers who can help them negotiate this challenge and overlay new technology to enhance the equipment that’s already there. Doing so, they can better protect the data within it without having to rip and replace, and utilise it better to provide more memorable experiences to the user.
If the question facing the world’s healthcare providers is unambiguous — how the necessary services can be delivered more efficiently, less expensively and more effectively — it is equally clear that many of the answers lie in the adoption of technology that can make a difference on security, experiences and outcomes alike.