Nicole Hill, global director, healthcare sector, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise looks at the changing demands in digital healthcare and the impact on healthcare facilities.

Where there was once investment in concrete and steel to meet the increasing demands on healthcare facilities, there is now more investment in digital and data.

Healthcare has undergone accelerated change, as all stakeholders acknowledge the promise of digital transformation in healthcare and as a consequence of the pandemic, which increased digital adoption. To continue delivering the care required, there has been more of a reliance on digitalisation and connectivity. Proven solutions are at the core of connecting people, processes and objects. Breaking down silos and connecting vital points from practitioners to patients, equipment, and data create optimised care pathways, a healthier population, and sustainable healthcare systems.

Adoption of digital

Healthcare facilities continue to face resource challenges. To reduce pressure on an overwhelmed system, and burned-out clinical staff, first access points could soon become virtual. Although telemedicine and connected healthcare facilities peaked during the health crisis, it has since declined. Digital is not a given. The adoption of digital tools to support healthcare delivery must be endorsed by all stakeholders, from clinical staff and patients to beyond the hospital walls.

To reap the benefits of the changes brought by the ‘new normal’ there must be continued co-development that is adopted by all stakeholders and industries whilst aligned to public health needs within their territories. However, as we see more investment in healthcare digitalisation and connectivity, the way to engage with stakeholders and patients is to be more consultatory. This is especially key when it comes to new usages and cybersecurity, or data regulation concerns that carry high stakes in the healthcare sector.

Governed circulation of data

Digital technologies enable development of data capture, access, treatment and valorization: at the level of people, practice communities, including patients (local value) and at global level (Big Data, AI). Circulation and data exchanges must foster new knowledge, better prevention, and personalised therapies. This calls for an adaptative regulatory framework, protecting everyone’s interest, and serving healthcare, research and the economy: the “structuring sap” of the healthcare ecosystem.

With this increased demand for data comes the subsequent need for more vigorous cybersecurity. For patients and caregivers, connected health has become a part of normality and ensuring secure delivery of these services is imperative in the healthcare sector. The increased use of cloud, mobile and connected objects within care facilities and the delivery of primary care to patients’ homes is creating privacy challenges. And the potential disclosure of patient data is a huge concern requiring adequate cybersecurity measures to reduce risk.

Once these issues are overcome and we have interoperability and trust between parties, the potential for health data to accelerate innovations and improve treatment options and economic sustainability can grow. It comes back to connectivity, security, and allowing systems to connect, share and collect data securely for a future of improved patient care. Data quality, well-managed data circulation and usage value are crucial so that the data can be used to add value to the connected healthcare offering.

Adoption of development

Despite technological advancements, in some instances, hospitals are still lagging to embark on their digital transformation journey.

If successful, the future is a hospital setting in which digital and physical healthcare delivery is blended. Rather than a disparate ecosystem, digital and physical care can be provided as complementary services. For example, seeing your doctor in person once a month and checking in virtually fortnightly.

The purpose is to leverage digital engagement for patients before, during and after their hospital stay. Patients can benefit from a healing experience via integrated solutions, from a welcome when they call a ward, location-based services, on ward Wi-Fi access, efficient patient services systems and out of hospital ambulatory care.

The other key opportunity is to leverage digital to simplify staff’s work life; starting by understanding their pain points and providing open solutions from mobility, notification, collaboration, secured and unified access to patient data, and optimised asset tracking.

Also, new medical technologies drive the need to upgrade the network for higher performance, better security, and flexible device management.

Another example can be seen in the use of blockchain as a ledger to record processes during surgery. The blockchain recordings can be used to learn from, support legal claims and ultimately work alongside the human surgeon performing the operations.

As the health crisis eases, there are lessons to be learned that will impact the way healthcare facilities function from now on.

Solving the data challenge unlocks the future of healthcare, releasing it from within restricted facilities and into people’s homes. Using technology to empower humans in their delivery of accessible healthcare will move us towards a future of improved population health.