Making digital healthcare a reality

James Petter, VP international, Pure Storage looks at recent promises to truly digitise the healthcare system, and what needs to be done to make this a reality.

Whether it’s budget constraints, policy evolution or staff shortages – the challenges facing healthcare institutions have been well documented and reported. While these issues are of course important, the amount of attention given to the solutions to these challenges is disproportionate.

It was therefore positive to see the tide start to change with the NHS’ 10-year plan at the start of the year. It includes a roadmap for digital healthcare, making the claim that at the end of the next decade, there will be “an NHS where digital access to services is widespread”. Some examples include updating legacy systems, updating digital patient records, making it easier to book NHS services online, and using genomic and clinical data to identify those at risk from serious conditions.

Underpinning all of these promises is a move to better harness the use of technology – namely data and artificial intelligence (AI). We’ve already seen evidence of these technologies starting to aid the development of personalised medicines, help cut down waiting times, and reduce clinical outcomes. These pockets of innovation are a case in point that AI can be a force for good in healthcare, despite the occasional scepticism.

The plan is an ambitious but worthy one. In order to make this vision a reality, not just in the NHS but for all healthcare organisations, there are a few considerations to take into account.

Education is the key

As this technology becomes increasingly important, it will be vital that data analysis and management skills will become commonplace in all aspects of medical training. As the NHS becomes increasingly data driven, it is vital that all staff – whether they are doctors or administrators, are equipped to deal with relevant AI technologies. This not only goes for those entering these professions, but those already employed by the NHS – education, support, and collaboration will be key to truly feel the benefits of this technology.

Data protection remains a top priority 

While the benefits of AI technologies and data driven insights speak for themselves, we live in a world where data privacy is a very sensitive issue. The majority of data dealt with on a day to day basis in healthcare is private and sensitive to the patient, and will need to be treated as such. If the public feel their data is being used without their knowledge for purposes that they did not consent to then any attempts to modernise healthcare practices will face a massive hurdle.

The solution to this issue is two-fold. Firstly, communication is key. The public must be made aware of what precisely their data will be used for, and more importantly the benefits of doing such. Secondly, healthcare organisations must have the infrastructure in place to allow the quick, agile sharing of such data while remaining secure and in line with compliance guidelines.

Data-centric thinking

Huge amounts of data needs to be processed and analysed at speed, in order to make the split-second decisions that technology is capable of. As a result, these projects need a very solid infrastructure and significant compute power to work effectively.

Traditional data centres for healthcare organisations have done reasonably well in terms of enabling healthcare practitioners to deliver patient care. But they were never built with the intention of running the demanding data applications now being used – not least for the projects that lie ahead. The future with these applications, AI and machine learning, requires a different approach to data centre infrastructure. An approach with a particular focus on storage, designed to deliver massively-parallel access to data at a very high bandwidth.

Making the Vision a Reality

To realise the benefits of technology, a robust and data-centric infrastructure must be in place. The NHS is going to need the systems, services and support in place to use AI correctly, processing data efficiently and responsibly.

As one of Britain’s great institutions, the NHS has survived many trials and tribulations over its 70year history. The challenges of funding and staffing show no signs of abating, but the use of AI will help the NHS evolve and remain resilient, all the while continuing to improve patient outcomes. It will be interesting to see just how the NHS, and indeed other healthcare organisations adapt to the growing use of technology.


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