The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on how technology could improve operations in the healthcare field. Those previously hesitant to move forward with cloud computing in healthcare may be more open to it now, as the pandemic emphasized the benefits and assuaged some fears about privacy, implementation, and adoption. The pandemic showed how technology has the ability to make healthcare more efficient and predictive, connecting people by allowing patients and clinicians flexibility over seeking and giving care from less traditional locations. This is important as the population changes and there may be fewer clinicians available to treat them.
Innovations in healthcare
Health systems able to harness their data and technology when COVID-19 hit were in the best shape to move to remote work and care, at least partially, and to continue offering patients the services they needed. The ability to work remotely and see many patients remotely is one of the silver linings of this health crisis. Those most prepared with technology could also use their systems to innovate during the pandemic for:
- Contact tracing and disease surveillance
- Using data to predict staffing and patient capacity needs
- Remote patient monitoring
- Scaling up the dynamic demand with pop-up hospitals using service desk technology
- Implementing or tweaking voice assistants or chatbots powered by artificial intelligence to help patients find the right doctors and needed information – for COVID-19 and for other healthcare issues
- Developing deep learning algorithms to rapidly assess raw medical images, to screen, predict or diagnose disease – COVID-19 and others. By identifying conditions at their earliest onset or prioritizing concerning radiologic findings, the technology can potentially save precious hours of specialists’ time, reducing costs, and enabling targeted investments.
These are examples of how cloud computing in healthcare can help health systems innovate, both in an emergent situation and over the long term. But for pandemic use, the proper infrastructure needs to be in place in order to pivot quickly. The beginning of a pandemic is no time to initiate a major and sophisticated technology overhaul and expect fast results. If the process is already in the works, however, it’s easier to make inroads and potentially accelerate outcomes.
Opportunities for greater technology use in healthcare
With a rising aging population, innovations like these play a key role in improving future healthcare. The global population is estimated to reach 8 billion people before 2025, and the number of people over age 80 is set to triple in the next 30 years. The U.S. alone is looking at a physician shortage, partly due to increased care needs in the aging population, and partly due to a physician cohort that is retiring faster than it is graduating. By 2033, the U.S. will have an anticipated physician shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Fewer doctors, greater healthcare needs, and the rising cost of healthcare are all problems that need to be addressed.
Many healthcare providers and administrators are now realizing the urgent need to prioritize changes in how healthcare is delivered, by adopting technology to improve care, management, and efficiency. Opportunities to improve healthcare expand on innovations already in the market.
Ensuring a patient-centric approach: Personalized medicine is a great example of the patient-centric approach. Researchers conducting clinical trials are trying to separate out which treatments work best for which subsets of patients. Data analysis and cloud computing in healthcare help parse and make sense of the vast amounts of data these trials generate. In oncology, clinical teams with various specialists work together to ensure a coordinated treatment plan. Again, they are consulting complicated treatment guidelines for a personalized approach, while running genetic tests to better pinpoint the most promising treatments for that individual. The patient is also part of the discussion, a shift in the “doctor knows best” approach of past generations.
Changing from treatment to prevention: For each $1 invested in improving health, there is an estimated economic return of $2 to $4, according to a recent McKinsey report. By focusing on and supporting wellness, and using data to predict and prevent illness, clinicians can proactively deliver connected, personalized or precision care. Research shows that more than 80% of health plans are incorporating social determinants of health into their member programs, and that’s because it pays off in lower healthcare utilization. Clinicians and payers focusing exclusively on medical care, and not the greater factors contributing to a person’s health, are missing the prevention opportunity and will always be in a position of trying to catch up. Putting financial and technology efforts into this up-front prevention tactic can pay dividends on the back end.
Monitoring patient data remotely: Chronic and mental health diseases accounts for 90% the $3.5 trillion in U.S. healthcare costs annually. Technology, however, can assist clinicians in these efforts, by tracking patient data on a real-time, or nearly real-time basis. This allows physicians to be alerted more quickly to troubling data, whether that’s a pulse oximeter reading for a COVID-19 patient recovering at home or a problematic heart rhythm. Technology can enable physicians to advise patients remotely, and provide automated health recommendations based on biometric data from wearable devices.
Physicians can work more effectively and efficiently providing specialized care to patients who may not otherwise have access. NYU Langone showed this in action, outfitting an underserved population with Fitbits, to help diagnose sleep apnea, a condition that may lead to heart disease and hypertension. Using healthcare data properly can help medical staff continuously reprioritize cases, optimizing the timing of patient visits, to help treat problems earlier, and potentially save more lives.
Challenges in incorporating technology
Moving to a more technology-enabled treatment model comes with challenges. One of the biggest can be an aging technology platform, due to a lack of investment over the years. Sometimes the staff does not have the necessary skills or insights to plan and implement a technology overhaul, or the healthcare organization cannot devote the needed resources.
Those who successfully keeping up with the technological changes will say that having the data and ability to analyze it is key to addressing the opportunities presented. Having the right data platforms, the ability to integrate data, the skill to build data pipelines, and running the right algorithms will enable a healthcare organization to succeed in its mission. Properly integrated technology in healthcare enables clinicians to quickly and clearly make decisions fundamental to their success in treating patients and internal operations.
What’s needed? A platform capable of scaling, such as a cloud computing solution. Data security is imperative. The process should be agile, in order to adjust to current needs and get a system up and running without it taking years. When it comes to cloud computing in healthcare, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is a leader in the field. It allows for greater storage capabilities and processing power for data analytics, and eliminates the need for on-premise storage. GCP integrates network, security, billing, monitoring, and alerts, together with identity and access management. It’s set up securely, ensuring the protection of the all-important patient data for cloud computing in healthcare.
Moving into the future
The future is bright for using cloud computing in healthcare. Legacy systems need modernization initiatives to begin scaling, if the organizations want to transform their care and efficiency. This transformation is achieved by accelerating the shift in workloads from the data centers to the cloud.
Cloud usage allows clinicians to establish best-in-class patient journeys supported by tech-enabled care delivery areas such as telehealth and remote monitoring. “We are seeing the establishment of intelligent and secure data platforms, empowering smart, connected hospitals,” said Adam Lewis, Global CTO for Healthcare & Life Sciences at Atos. The pervasive use of internet of things (IoT), connected and cognitive devices, and wearables driving data, also allow for intelligent insights for clinicians and patients. Data is essential to understanding patient wellness, prescribing preventative measures, and identifying medicine or treatments.
Looking into the future, healthcare organizations should focus on the technologies and solutions that enable the highest quality of care to be attained, said Lewis. “The wealth of data unearthed is now available to drive insights, encourage wellness, and proactively assist in managing the resources you have which are available.” Organizations should also look beyond traditional care settings. Lastly, they should understand the value that technologies such as high performance compute, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, can bring. This can make the choice in computing platforms more clear.
To watch the full Google Cloud interview with Adam Lewis, Global CTO for Healthcare & Life Sciences at Atos, check out the video below.
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