As discussed in my previous blog, digital transformation is taking place in the healthcare sector. Health Tech, also known as digital healthcare, is proliferating and is also most certainly the future in terms of empowering the development and innovation of health services.
Today’s smart healthcare industry is made up of several different stakeholders – governments, payers (often insurers), providers, suppliers (e.g., pharmaceutical, medical technology, and digital health companies) and consumers. These stakeholders all share a common dilemma, and that is how to improve the quality and access to healthcare while reducing costs.
Digital technologies will form the cornerstone of answering this question, but in order to succeed they will need to address issues such as updating legacy infrastructure, guaranteeing data security and improving the ROI on healthcare technology investments. As a result, the digital healthcare systems of the near future call for levels of decentralization, consumerization and personalization that can only be delivered by technology and interconnection.
Healthcare challenges in Asia-Pacific – a factual insight
An in-depth study of Frost & Sullivan commissioned by Equinix takes a look at some of the drivers of digital transformation in the region’s healthcare sector. Entitled “Asia-Pacific Digital Health Outlook”, the study looked at individual healthcare markets in Asia-Pacific, and revealed key points about the state of care in each location:
- Australia faces challenge from an overdependence on In-Patient Care, which contributes almost 50% of total industry spending. Alongside this, hospital re-admission rates in Australia increased at twice the rate of population growth from 2013-2014. With lots of time and energy lost exchanging paper and messages between departments, better resource utilization is required, particularly when nurses spend 30-45 minutes per shift just looking for medical devices and consumables.
- In Hong Kong, a disproportionate strain is placed on public hospitals. The average emergency room waiting time in public hospitals for non-urgent patients is 130 minutes; they serve 90% of in-patient volume, but employ only 40% of full-time employed doctors in the region, imposing constraints on the workforce as it tries to deal with the incoming volume. Public healthcare spending, however, will be allocated $71.1 billion in 2018-2019, an increase of 13.3% over the previous year. The government is committed to improving efficiency of the public sector by investing in infrastructure development and technology adoption, and increasing the tech-savvy medical workforce.
- Regulatory reform has significantly lagged behind technology development in Japan, creating a major adoption gap. While the government is pushing for regional health information exchanges and connected platforms to manage home care end-user knowledge, adoption remains slow. Japan’s healthcare state is one that exhibits an extremely high dependence on in-patient care. Approximately 2.6 million patients, or 2% of the population, receive hospital care every day. The average length of a hospital stay in Japan is 16.5 days, compared to just 4 in the United States.
- Over-crowding is an issue that affects public hospitals in Singapore, which run at over 80% capacity. Patients face long waiting times in both in-patient and outpatient settings. Singapore also faces the dilemma facing many countries in the West, which is how to effectively manage increasing rates of chronic disease. Singapore is fighting chronic illnesses like cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and obesity, with diabetes alone set to cost the health system $2.5 billion by 2050.
Addressing healthcare challenges with digital transformation
Smart healthcare has the capacity to reduce the burden on in-patient care by emphasizing preventive, home-based and community care models. This requires IT infrastructure investment that allows data to be shared outside of hospitals. “Improving efficiency of the public sector by investing in infrastructure development and technology adoption” was a comment the study found applicable to several of the markets studied. This lends itself even more strongly to the belief that smart infrastructure – together with an increasingly tech-savvy medical workforce – can deliver better patient outcomes and greater accessibility to healthcare, whilst also lowering costs.
Digital platforms, especially cloud-based solutions, enable resource optimization, patient management, patient scheduling and healthcare enablement in home or community clinics. As highlighted by the report, these are key investment areas for governments in various countries; even with healthcare snapshots currently in disparate states and in differing stages of investment or internal development by country, this focused, affordable solution for delivering care is seen as potentially being highly effective.
Delivering on the Digital Health vision
Increased demand for advanced healthcare technologies has partly occurred due to the high expectations of patients, who are now accustomed to living in a world where services are app-based, always-on and immediate.
Requirements for real time, secure communications and data exchange with patients, partners, health ecosystems and network or cloud providers are forcing healthcare companies to invest in new interconnected digital value chains, R&D, diagnostics and care delivery models. Therefore, providers need access to interconnected systems that can deliver analytics, horizontally-integrated platforms and seamless data capture and exchange.
All of this must be reinforced with stringent data security, privacy and compliance. The way IT systems were traditionally designed does not allow for this type of agility and interconnectedness to cloud, healthtech and other technology-enabling platforms that support innovation and evolution towards new business models. And, unlike in other industries, the stakes are a lot higher when it comes to people’s health. With an Interconnection Oriented Architecture® (IOA®) approach, healthcare companies can more easily meet the requirements of today’s patients. In the meantime, with an ever-growing number of people continuing to use healthcare services across the region, those in the sector will be forced to evolve and invest in forward-looking IT strategies that can deliver a seamless end-user experience.
For further insight into smart healthcare and its interconnection-driven advances, please download the Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific Digital Health Outlook Report, and see the Equinix Smart Healthcare blog.