A glimpse into the future of healthcare doesn’t require looking into a crystal ball – current trends are already pointing to that future, according to a Harvard tech guru who spoke at the recent Wild Health Summit in Sydney.    
 
Harvard Medical School International Healthcare Innovation Professor Dr John Halamka said the increasing unsustainability of many healthcare systems in the coming decades meant the need to change was urgent.
 
“What we’re beginning to see is ageing societies globally. By 2020 to 2025, we’re going to have 25 per cent of the population over the age of 65. And we don’t have enough access to care, infrastructure, money, or a birth rate that’s going to pay into what is going to be the cost coverage for all these ageing societies,” he said.  
 
“If business happens as usual – healthcare still depends on the fax, etc. – we will find ourselves unable to deliver a healthcare system our society needs over the next couple of decades.” 
 
Looking at the next six quarters, Dr Halamka identified some technologies that will need to be deployed in healthcare:
 
  • AI/machine learning should be explored but shouldn't be replacing clinicians delivering empathetic and respectful care. Instead, it should augment their care as today, 50 per cent of clinicians’ time in the US is spent doing administrative work. 
     
  • Big data/interoperability needs to work hand in hand. The industry needs to figure out how to use data for interoperability, and be concerned about the processing and interpretation of data received. With the influx of data in healthcare expected to grow exponentially, Dr Halamka suggested using data sets and common APIs to get data in and out of electronic health records.  
     
  • Telemedicine/telecare will enable people living in rural parts of Australia to get immediate care. But the industry needs to ensure that the quality is consistent across all the sites of care.   
     
  • Mobile/IoT will allow people to, where appropriate, look into their lifestyles and ways of living instead of waiting for their next visit to the GP. According to Dr Halamka, it is now cheaper to have a IoT device at home to keep a person healthy than to treat them at the hospital. 
     
  • The introduction of blockchain to help guarantee that data is not altered over time by creating a public ledger of commutable audit tracks.
 
However, Dr Halamka said that getting the patient to the right setting, for the right care, at the right time and at the right cost can get challenging, unless the industry guides patients on the journey using the technologies above. 
 
“There’s no such thing as zero risk. Failure is often better than success sometimes because it teaches you something. Experiment boldly, fail fast and learn from it. These are the only ways that innovation can happen. You must have a sense of urgency. Technology for technology’s sake is not a solution,” he said. 
 
Equinix Managing Director Jeremy Deutsch said transformation of the future lies in the ability to identify that people are communicating digitally and it is now a requirement to have that common language in healthcare.
 
“Companies in primary healthcare areas, aged care, genomics, medical research and other clusters are all looking to solve different problems that involve connecting into other companies. And a lot of it is connecting these problems with machine learning,” he said. 
 
“As the levels of data has also increased, the industry should consider passing on that information to other providers to look at that information more intelligently.” 
 
 
Stand out features for a digital hospital 
 
The Victorian Heart Hospitals Technology Lead Rod Sprenger said with medical technology and medical treatment becoming highly complex, the industry is going to have to rely on other systems to help with decision making. 
 
“We know that electronic information is available all the time, anyplace and from anywhere. Patient centric mobile devices enable a huge amount of data to be collected, so now, not only do we have digital hospitals that are empowering clinicians, we are also beginning to have hospitals empowering patients,” he said.  
 
“By giving patients more information about their care, we’re empowering them to understand what’s going on with their care, helping them on their recovery process.”
 
According to Sprenger, in a future-driven digital hospital, seamless integration between information from any sort of medical devices and electronic health records is necessary. 
 
“Digital hospitals aren’t being designed for today, they’re being designed for the future. 
 
“When building digital hospitals, builders aren’t necessarily IT savvy. The healthcare industry needs to provide them with a guide on how to design the hospital of the future. Some of the things that we need to consider are space allocations for various devices, in addition to catering space for extra data, power and security,” he said.  
 
“The ICT support for those equipments have to be of a certain size to make sure that they provide the necessary support. All this needs to be part of our thinking when designing facilities. And future-proofing, allowing for expansion, also needs to be front of mind.” 
 

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