The healthcare sector has faced its fair share of turmoil over the last few decades, as ageing populations and a scarcity of funding stretch resources and put workers under unreasonable pressure. Within this equation, digital innovation has played an increasingly important role in ensuring the continued wellbeing of patients around the world.
The digitisation of healthcare has accelerated in recent years, as innovations like the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), telehealth and AI-driven diagnostic tools have come to the fore. Yet there is growing concern about the quality of fundamental IT infrastructure supporting these innovations. In many cases, it simply isn’t up to the task.
I recently read an article on Australian Financial Review, where Bendigo Health CEO Peter Faulkner said, “Health services are very good at investing in clinical technology, but they’re not so committed to investment in information technology. “It does give rise to what I call a digital inequity and, in some instances, digital poverty within health systems, health services and certainly across communities.”[i]
So, why do healthcare institutions often have a startling level of apathy towards investment in basic digital infrastructure? It largely comes down to budget restraints and the misguided perception that IT infrastructure doesn’t impact patient care. This has seen healthcare institutions become very slow adopters of digital innovation, with budget pressures pushing these projects to the back of the line.
The pressure on underlying IT infrastructure has only increased during the past year as hospitals and other medical institutions turned to telehealth services, remote care solutions, patient management platforms and self-service portals in response to the COVID-19 crisis. But not enough thought is being put into the core elements that support digital services, with many heading closer to Faulkner’s “digital poverty”.
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Equinix customer Harrison.ai – which provides industry leading AI-enabled tools for IVF treatments, radiological imaging and more – says these IT infrastructure concerns could be addressed with a few key investments:
While it might sound basic, many hospitals and healthcare institutions lack the network connectivity necessary to drive technological clinical innovation. Lack of sufficient network coverage is the single most prevalent roadblock to the deployment of interconnected medical devices and other smarts. Without a reliable network, they just won’t work.
Poor network infrastructure can also drive up operational costs, as technology partners implement greater security controls to compensate for less robust networking. Purely adding more network bandwidth to compensate for performance issues won’t do the trick either, as this is a band-aid solution that will only drive up long-term costs, without solving fundamental issues.
Hybrid and multicloud approaches are becoming increasingly popular as healthcare institutions look to keep some workloads out of the public domain. This is often due to data privacy and security concerns over patient health information, allowing providers to find the right balance between innovation, performance requirements and privacy.
Having the flexibility to deploy workloads on public or private cloud infrastructure caters for the data diversity present within the healthcare system while being agile and innovative to respond to the changing customer demands and macro forces.
“Without (this) virtualised infrastructure, the total cost of deploying AI solutions will be increased significantly,” says David Huang, Chief Technology Officer at Harrison.ai. “The maintenance and support cost are also going up due to the complexity of physical compute and network infrastructures. As each infrastructure setup is different, we need to customise AI solutions even further and deal with technological divergence long term.”
In order to underpin the delivery of AI/deep learning solutions, there needs to be an adequate supply of underlying compute resources for the training of these complicated algorithms. While public cloud solutions offer training platforms for deep learning solutions, healthcare institutions can also employ their own deep learning training rigs, driving long-term cost benefits.
Due to the sheer size of training data as well as the nature of the deep learning models, a powerful deep learning training rig can drive down the total cost of AI product ownership, delivering faster, more accurate results for practitioners, and ultimately improving patient outcomes.
Developing an effective approach to health innovation
A more robust approach to underlying IT infrastructure and greater digitisation of fundamental healthcare processes improves hospital efficiency and patient outcomes. Yet many institutions still use paper-based processes in the delivery of core services, wasting time and money on unnecessary administration.
It’s often the case that nurses spend 30 – 45 minutes per shift just looking for devices and consumables due to paper-based work.ii These inefficiencies reduce the number of patients seen in a day and the amount of time spent with each one, increasing the likelihood that something is missed.
Traditional infrastructure was not designed to meet the demands of digital business. The ability to provide innovative services and better patient outcomes is underpinned by a strong foundation – the digital infrastructure.
With a complex and fragmented global infrastructure spanning across private and public environments, ecosystem of partners and distributed services, Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOA) can accelerate digital transformation efforts.
Organisations need to utilise a platform that brings a range of foundational elements together, allowing them to build digital infrastructure that enables them to:
- Deploy at the right places – Deploying infrastructure adjacent to all public clouds and networks will create best-of-breed hybrid/multi-cloud architectures. It’s important to deploy in proximity to customers and locations relevant to the needs of the business, to achieve low-latency performance.
- Engage with the right partners – Access to ecosystem of technology partners, best-of-breed providers, regional specialists or innovative new entrants—that can help determine the best path forward for specific digital priorities.
- Embrace new possibilities – Connect in real time, directly and privately, to thousands of partners for increased performance, security and scale. This will facilitate faster delivery and consumption of digital services to provide differentiated experiences.
Digital healthcare innovation has accelerated rapidly since the outbreak of COVID-19, although investment in the underlying supporting infrastructure has continued to stagnate. Institutions need to change their ethos and develop a more complete approach to digital transformation if they wish to take full advantage of advanced medical technology, or they risk losing out on its benefits.
[ii] Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific Digital Health Outlook Report – Drivers and Needs for Digital Transformation of Healthcare in APAC