Health technology

How new technologies, sensors & analytics are improving healthcare

By: Trish Birch, Global Healthcare Consulting Practice Leader at Cognizant
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 12:18 GMT Jump to Comments

The NHS is currently embarking on a major digital transformation, designed to improve the overall quality of care by allowing patients to participate in their own healthcare management.

In fact, healthcare globally is moving towards connectivity centred around the patient, aiming to enhance the overall patient experience.

Although new technology has created an array of opportunities to connect hospitals, doctors, nurses and patients, there are a number of challenges that must be addressed before a truly connected healthcare system can be implemented. The first is optimising the existing IT infrastructure.

The foundation for successful digital transformation often lies in optimising the overall IT system. This means simplifying the underlying IT infrastructure and integrating analytics solutions to pool information from disconnected systems. Overhauling these existing systems allows for greatly improved communications between patients and medical staff.

For example, it would lead to better patient queue systems and inter-hospital patient filing, which are both important components in improving the quality of care. But the benefits of connected technology go far beyond this – it has the ability to totally transform the way hospitals operate.

Benefits of connecting patients and medical staff through Patient Halos

Patients generate vast volumes of data with their mobile devices, smartphones, apps and web searches. When combined, these tell a crucial story of patients’ lifestyle, health habits and medication consumption, what we at Cognizant call “Patient Halos.”

Although this data is not always readily accessible - and it is also tightly regulated - healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies can harness Patient Halos to power healthcare interactions while staying within regulatory limits.

Already, analytic monitoring sensors are able to trigger necessary alerts to warn hospital staff of a patient’s ailing health or provide personalised, data-driven health advice based on the patient's unique profile.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using social platforms, virtual communications, and collaboration tools to build new types of innovation ecosystems, designed for programme management, knowledge sharing and global research collaboration.

The purpose is not only to promote awareness of health issues and engage with patients but also to track the results of clinical trials. Although this is a way to collect data on patients’ self-reported health status, pharmaceutical companies need to bear in mind that social media engagements vary depending on type, stage and severity of their respective illness.

Breast cancer patients, for example, are 12 times more engaged than diabetes patients. These social media platforms give members of global research teams the ability to work much more closely together in real-time. Secure platforms also make it easier for doctors to contribute to global clinical research projects or access updated medical research.

Connected hospitals and patients

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created new platforms on which healthcare devices and sensors are able to communicate with each other and with other machines, objects, environments and infrastructures.

Sensors placed on patients coupled with solutions connecting life-support systems allow healthcare staff to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs and be alerted continuously of any early-warning signs of worsening conditions.

Through digital connectivity, patients can also be empowered to participate in their own healthcare management and decisions. By monitoring their own vital signs, for example, they become more involved with their treatment plans. Patients who are more engaged will ultimately help decrease healthcare costs by avoiding hospital readmissions and reducing incidents of medication not being taken.

In order to evaluate a patient’s health progress and spot irregularities, hospitals can now use blood pressure or glucose monitoring devices, wearables and mobile devices to collect vital health-related information.

If patients make their health data voluntarily accessible to healthcare staff, the rich amounts of data in those profiles could serve as a basis for more informed diagnoses, better communication between medical staff and patients, higher likelihood of treatment compliance and overall improved health and fitness coaching.

Importance of preventative care

A key part of this effective preventative care is educating patients to make healthier choices and seek appropriate support. Technology such as wearables, coupled with game-like features (also known as gamification) that aim to increase motivation, can help patients initiate and sustain positive behavioural changes from treatment to rehabilitation and beyond.

By collecting vital health indicators - like diet and fitness management and treatment programme adherence - in an app such as Fitbit, patients will have a tool that facilitates positive behavioural change and motivates them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

We cannot deny the momentous opportunity that new technologies such as social, mobile, analytics, cloud (SMAC) and sensors bring to the improvement of patient care. However, to create a truly connected healthcare system, providers must first of all make sure the right infrastructure is in place to support analytics solutions and patient-centric technology – all with the support of and consent from the patient.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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