In what has been described as the “fourth industrial revolution”, digitalized healthcare has seen increased investment over the last few years, particularly across the Asia-Pacific and it is reshaping the healthcare industry of the future. With the current trend in connected healthcare, widespread use of technology-enabled healthcare will make this idea of a “Smart Hospital” a reality by 2020.
This phenomenal digital transformation several hospitals and, indeed, countries are undergoing is largely attributable to the explosion of the Internet of Things, an ICT system of interconnected data-assessing devices.
This system is employing artificial-intelligence (AI)-enabled solutions and the vast amounts of data to recreate healthcare and at the forefront of this revolution are Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North America.
Asia Pacific is developing a robust digitalized market with the aim of modernizing and integrating healthcare delivery, and this step will no doubt revolutionize the industry. As Frost & Sullivan notes, healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific, driven by technological advancement and innovative healthcare solutions, will be one of the fastest growing in the world with a predicted growth rate of 11.1% in 2018 in comparison to the average of 4.8% globally.
In addition, the International Data Corporation (IDC) has noted that the IoT scene in Asia-Pacific will expand dramatically over a period of five years, with an increase in the number of connected devices from 3.1 billion in 2014 to 8.6 billion by 2020.
At the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) AsiaPac17 conference held in Singapore last year, so many healthcare tech initiatives were displayed to show how technology is sweeping through healthcare delivery in the region.
Singapore’s Hospital to Home is one of such initiatives. This digital platform offers patients, who have been discharged from inpatient care, access to a range of healthcare providers. This is aimed at cutting cost and time spent by patients on commuting to the hospital for follow-up visits.
Challenges in healthcare, including affordability and access to health records and quality health services, have led to the remarkable development in innovative solutions and “smart” healthcare systems to ease the business of healthcare.
Drivers of the Digital Revolution
Connected healthcare brings numerous benefits to patient care and the healthcare industry as a whole as it simplifies healthcare delivery, makes internal patient data easier and faster, saves insurers huge amounts in health cost, as well as creating new streams of revenue for stakeholders.
In 2017, national health expenditures in the United States cost $3.5 trillion, increasing by 4.5% from the figure in 2016. It is, however, predicted that with the imminent digital revolution, over $300 billion in healthcare expenses will be saved, especially in costs of chronic disease management.
Many private health insurance companies are also testing their feet with digital platforms, including wearable devices and sensors for wellness plans and chronic disease management, which offer incentives and rewards for patients who engage in healthy behaviors and habits. This will ultimately cut down cost of funding healthcare services for employers and health insurers.
This digital healthcare revolution is also going to set a new pace for health tourism, with more digital initiatives such as telemedicine for pre and post-treatment follow up, digitalized record handling and transfer, as well as technological advances in healthcare including precision medicine, minimally invasive surgery and digitalized laboratory investigations, countries with huge investment in the IoT scene will take center stage in the medical tourism market in coming years.
Furthermore, healthcare data record is being directly advanced by digital transformation. Healthcare Information Systems are steadily moving from paper-based to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and this is a key benefit and driver of the digital revolution.
This makes up the seven-stage process recommended by the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) for hospitals to earn the right to be called “paperless hospital”.
The Major Digital Disruptions in Healthcare
New frontiers in technology are being leveraged by healthcare innovators to make healthcare affordable, accessible, and health records readily available and secure. The following digital initiatives have reshaped healthcare and will redefine it in the future.
Telemedicine has been regarded by many healthcare professionals as a better way of managing chronic diseases than the conventional office visit. Telemedicine offers patients accessibility and freedom, making healthcare services unrestricted by geographical location. On this backdrop, patients living in remote areas can access the best quality of care from their smartphone.
In addition, telemedicine saves time and money. It provides patients with instant connection to healthcare providers without having to spend so much time commuting to hospitals for follow up or routine care. This is more beneficial to patients requiring mental health services, as tele-consulting bypasses barriers related to stigma, unavailability of trained specialists, and cost.
Wearables, Digital Sensors, and Biotelemetry
Digitalized healthcare is bringing diagnostic procedures to the smartphone. ECGs, Blood glucose levels, blood pressure monitoring, pulse, and blood oxygen saturation levels can be readily assessed with wearable devices and sensors, thus keeping patients regularly updated on their progress and providing proactive measures for better health control.
The most popular type of wearable technology are the fitness-tracking bands and smart watches such as Apple Watch. The fitness-tracking wearable device by Fitbit, for instance, tracks exercise levels by measuring how many steps the user took, how many flights of stairs climbed, and how many calories burned as a result of the activities. In addition, the tracker measures a user’s sleep quantity and provide these data on a smartphone synced with it.
Bio-telemetry collects useful data through digital sensors to monitor vital signs such as heart rate variability through a certain period, usually a day. These data offer individuals insight into their health status, helping them to take proactive steps to improving their health.
These data also form a pool of the big data which can be accessed by healthcare providers to evaluate patient’s response to treatment. In addition the data may be accessed by some researchers and scientists for research analyses and studies to predict health trends for a particular group of people.
In 2016, the National University of Singapore launched an IoT-based rehabilitation program for patients who suffer from stroke. The program involved the use of wearable sensors which monitored patient’s activity and records range-of-motion while therapists guided them in real time via a smartphone or tablet.
The program helped to ensure regular therapy for the patients to provide them with maximum benefits from rehabilitation. Saving them the cost and time of travelling long distances over a period of time to a tertiary healthcare center. This also reduces the cost to the hospital of sending these therapists on house calls.
Intelligent fabric technology reshapes workplace design using AI and Virtual Reality. Installations are made easier with intelligent fabric which facilitates self-attaching servers and self-configuration of virtual framework. This gives IT personnel a much less workload as design of tech facilities becomes automated by AI.
Digitalized healthcare holds great promise for all involved – better health control and access to better healthcare for patients and more efficient ways of providing care for healthcare providers. This synergy between human and artificial intelligence will simplify treatment services, help recreate disease preventive and management strategies and, inevitably, redefine healthcare as we know it.