The future of elderly patient care begins with architecting digital ecosystems

Robust digital infrastructure provides the foundation for better patient experiences and healthy aging

Rajaneesh Kurup
The future of elderly patient care begins with architecting digital ecosystems

The aging population has increasingly become a global issue with significant implications on healthcare, especially with a decreasing ratio of healthcare workers to patients as well as the growing number of elderlies living alone. With one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world, it is projected that 25% of Singapore’s population will be aged 65 years and older by 2030, up from 14.4% in 2019.

I recently spoke with Soh Keng Taan, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) Singapore about the current and future technology enablers for digital transformation in the intermediate and long-term care (ILTC) ecosystem. Playing a key role in patient-centric and integrated care, AIC is continuously looking for modern solutions to promote healthy aging.

Digital adoption in the ILTC sector: Challenges and opportunities

“Like all other industries, Singapore’s health-tech sector is seeing significant digital transformation,” said Keng Taan. “This incudes areas such as data management and analytics, which are forecast to grow by 36% through 2025, as well as Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), which is expected to be worth $158.1 billion in 2022. Healthcare providers are looking at how partners can help fill some of the technology gaps in the sector.”

Digital infrastructure: the key to success in modern healthcare delivery – Frost & Sullivan

The healthcare industry is undergoing a transformative shift as systems around the world continue to struggle with rising costs, aging populations, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and shortages of skilled professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the need for transformation from a clinical and operational standpoint. Digital health solutions and enhanced digital infrastructure will enable new care delivery models, expand access, and improve patient outcomes and clinician efficiency.

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The ILTC sector is extending healthcare beyond the four walls of nursing homes to community-based care services, which consist of home care and center-based care. While most of the ILTC providers currently leverage private cloud, we’re also seeing  increased interest in exploring the benefits of public cloud, particularly in the integration of related technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the like, in current and emerging patient-centric solutions for elderly care. A Singapore Smart Nation initiative called the Elderly Monitoring System is one example. This application integrates automation, AI, and motion sensors to alarm healthcare workers of any abnormal patterns, such as when a patient falls or when there’s an absence of movement, so they can be attended to.

This is only possible with a fast, reliable, and secure hybrid infrastructure for public and private cloud, which interconnect various players within the healthcare and aged care ecosystems.

In a recent Talking HealthTech podcast, I discussed with Charles Greatex, founder of CollabCare, about leveraging technology to transform aged care. CollabCare uses Equinix’s platform to deploy and scale their digital infrastructure and connect to a global ecosystem of healthcare partners to accelerate innovation, expand into new markets and provide differentiated services to improve aged care.

Such examples of service delivery in the ILTC sector underscores the importance of collaboration among healthcare and aged care providers, partners, polyclinics, and community-based services,  enabling them to share electronic medical records (EMRs) to provide accurate diagnoses or prognoses crucial to delivering better health and aged care outcomes. For a successful digital transformation, the ILTC community needs to eliminate barriers to information sharing while ensuring data privacy and security challenge.

When implementing digital solutions, the ILTC sector is often hindered by its very operational model, which is heavily reliant on partners and the government for financial support. While digital transformation is widespread in Singapore’s healthcare industry, Keng Taan highlighted that it is not so in the ILTC sector where the majority of health and aged care providers do not have the financial or technical in-house capabilities to implement and manage a core infrastructure foundation.

Transforming health and aged care in the ILTC sector – The way forward 

As health and aged care providers confront costs, shortage of staff and resources, and a surge in demand for their services, there is a need to bring together decentralized and secure systems, digital solutions, and industry stakeholders across the value chain. Having access to healthcare data from multiple sources within the ecosystem helps improve clinical and financial outcomes, enabling healthcare providers and partners to achieve a shared goal of improving patients and elderly healthcare experiences while improving operational efficiencies.

According to the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Vol. 5, an annual market study published by Equinix, the healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific is expected to increase interconnection bandwidth with a 46% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2020 to 2025. The exponential growth of data and innovation highlights opportunities for healthcare providers to rearchitect their digital infrastructure and transform their business models to deliver better results. This also applies to the ILTC sector, given their need for more collaboration and information sharing to improve their services and provide better care for elderly patients.

With connectivity and collaboration driving digital innovation in health and aged care, a digital-first strategy is the way forward. ILTC and the broader healthcare sector need to prioritize three digital deployment initiatives to gain strategic advantage.

  • Digital Core. Singapore’s ILTC providers are increasingly looking to extend beyond nursing homes to community-based care services like home care and center-based care. It is thus imperative to move away from operating in silos on legacy systems as that would limit their ability to roll out more efficient services that today’s patients expect. End-to-end interconnected systems allow for effective sharing of relevant information and best practices that enable providers to deliver the best possible level of care and good patient experiences to the elderlies. This can only be done with an accelerated digital transformation within the ILTC community.
  • Digital Ecosystem. A closer collaboration within the ILTC ecosystem accelerates the pace of innovation. Digital ecosystems allow organizations to collaborate and exchange digital services, enabling them to participate in the digital economy. A global ecosystem of health-tech providers offer a multitude of the latest health equipment, gadgets, software solutions and applications that the ILTC sector could use to enhance their capabilities and services.
  • Digital Edge. To provide a patient centric care for the elderly, the ILTC sector should continue to deploy and implement digitally-connected devices. This way, both patients and care givers can leverage technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and more – either directly or remotely.

The ILTC sector can take inspiration from the digital transformation of Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health – a progressive healthcare provider in the U.S., with 12 hospitals and 300 care centers – where Equinix helped modernize their infrastructure by breaking down silos in its legacy infrastructure during the pandemic.

Digital opportunities are aplenty in the ILTC sector. As shared in a Frost & Sullivan study, Sentara has hugely benefited from modernizing its digital infrastructure. By taking the digital first strategy, Sentara lowered the overall infrastructure cost by up to 60% and improved the overall application performance while maintaining the ability to scale infrastructure and network to meet the sudden growth in demand during COVID. Sentara has seen up to 60,000 visitors per day on its patient portal and 500% more demand from home interconnectivity over its network to the portal .

To alleviate the challenges associated with rapidly aging population in Singapore and globally, it is crucial for health and aged care providers to take advantage of the benefits of a robust digital infrastructure to increase productivity and efficiency, deliver better patient experiences and promote healthy ageing for the broader population – an important component of a truly digital economy and a smart nation. Equinix is a proven partner and enabler providing the right foundation to build the digital infrastructure of the future.

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Rajaneesh Kurup Director, Equinix Research Group, APAC
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