What would the world of data-driven healthcare be like?

Picture the hospital of the future replete with a NASA-like command center featuring scores of information screens and a radiology department that leverages AI technology to help improve diagnostic accuracy and deep-learning technology to ensure that radiology images are clear.

This is the world of data-driven healthcare. And we’re seeing it not through a crystal ball, but in the real world.

The reality is that hospitals and healthcare systems are inundated with a continual flow of raw data that can potentially improve patient outcomes and drive more efficient, cost-effective care.

However, many radiology departments and practices are still hindered by fragmented and disparate data from unintegrated sources and vendors, leading to wasted time and resources spent sifting through often unreliable and inaccurate data. 

Such data, if properly aggregated and analyzed, could identify opportunities for addressing operational inefficiencies, enhancing patient care, and promoting growth.

DigiconAsia discussed the realities and possibilities with Eric Dulaurans, Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Asia Pacific, GE Healthcare.

Eric Dulaurans, Chief Digital Officer (CDO), Asia Pacific, GE Healthcare

What are some key digital trends impacting the healthcare industry today?

Dulaurans: The pandemic has proven to be a powerful catalyst in bringing forward the industry’s digitalization. It has led to visions of a new, more resilient healthcare ecosystem – one that is intelligently efficient, leverages technology to reduce burnout, expands access with virtual care, and improves data management to strengthen clinical decision making.

Three trends that will permanently drive and shape the way healthcare is delivered and received include:

  1. Rise of telemedicine as an equalizer
    In a time of social isolation, healthcare providers urgently needed a way to provide access and communicate with patient communities in need of care. Digital health tools are helping fill a critical gap in care delivery, enabling hospitals and health systems to prioritize better as well as treat patients remotely.

    The positive reception is here to stay. Research from L.E.K Consulting and GRG Health revealed that 60% of hospitals in Southeast Asia, India and Australia expect to continue using digital health technology post COVID-19. Singapore, for example, aims to license digital health and telemedicine services by this year as part of its upcoming Healthcare Services Act, while the Australian government has set aside A$106 million (US$76 million) over four years to support what it calls “permanent” telehealth, which will ensure flexibility in healthcare delivery and continuous health consultations via phone or online.

    Telemedicine has the potential to be a great equalizer, too. Regions like Southeast Asia especially grapple with having fewer doctors than their populations require. Innovations such as GE Healthcare’s Virtual ICU help create access to critical specialists across the country, which brings much-needed relief and support to clinicians on the ground and allows patients in rural communities to receive the care they need closer to home.
  2. Artificial intelligence for better precision
    Properly managed AI will be a boon to healthcare by helping automate the most mundane and repetitive tasks, enabling providers to focus more time on patient care.

    Take radiology for example. While automating the interpretation of images has captured the imagination, more humble applications around workflow optimization, tele-radiology, staffing fulfillment, provisioning, and asset management, are where AI is beginning to take hold and deliver transformational results in radiology today.

    The COVID-19 pandemic also created an added challenge of infection control, requiring minimal physical contact to keep patients and clinicians safe from the virus. AI-enabled CT machines, as recently introduced in Thailand and Vietnam by GE Healthcare, help eliminate these manual variations. Achieving a better-quality scan now no longer requires more time in the scanner.
  3. Big data in lowering cost of care
    Healthcare systems have never been more accessible, intelligent, or dynamic. However, there has never been more pressure to keep costs low as healthcare demand continues to rise.

    According to an analysis done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), out of every 10 patients hospitalized, one would suffer an “adverse event” that would add 13 to 17% to the cost of care. Up to 70% of these events can be avoided. In some places, administrative expenditure is more than six times higher than in others, with “no obvious correlation with performance”.

    In keeping costs low, an area that is often overlooked is data – and the amount of data the healthcare industry collects is truly mind-boggling. The volume of data has been growing exponentially in the past decade as health care providers turned to electronic health records (EHRs), digitized laboratory slides, and high-resolution radiology images and videos.

    McKinsey and Company predicted in 2013 that using big data to drive value-based care could reduce healthcare spending – the US alone could see savings of $300 to $450 billion a year, 12% to 17% of the $2.9 trillion spent that year. An efficient management, analysis, and interpretation of big data can change the game by driving a productivity transformation to increase profitability.

Inundated with voluminous raw data, healthcare organizations in Asia Pacific would do much better if they can integrate and manage data more effectively. What does it take for a healthcare organization to digitally transform into a data-driven organization?

Dulaurans: The healthcare industry is a universe unto itself. Few other industries are as complex, expensive, and comprehensive as medicine. Yet it has been slow to embrace the potential of digital technology and recognize the power of data to improve outcomes.

It is estimated that the entire body of medical knowledge will double every 73 days. That is unbelievable. On the other hand, 95% of healthcare data is never used.

The good news is that a powerful catalyst for change in the healthcare system, “digital health” is happening now. Today, the technology exists – and is in use – to analyze the quadrillions of bits of data previously siloed and ignored.

Today, “digital health” means advanced analytics based on multi-modal data; the “Healthcare Internet of Things,” which uses sensors, apps, and remote monitoring to provide continuous clinical information; and data in the cloud that enables clinicians to access the information they need to care for patients in their home, their office, or 300 miles away, and to collaborate with specialists in another country.

It means embracing the machine as an integral part of the healthcare team; automating routine procedures and processes so clinicians can focus on the most complex and critically ill patients; and using deep learning platforms to provide actionable tools at the point of care so clinicians can more efficiently and effectively diagnose and treat patients. It means automating billing, documentation, and regulatory processes so that the clinicians can focus on meeting every patient’s needs.

All of this will require better collaboration between departments in a hospital and cooperation from everybody, including the patient.

What are the considerations and priorities healthcare C-suites in Asia Pacific should pay most attention to in their efforts to transform digitally?

Dulaurans: The Triple Aim – improved patient experience, improved health of populations, and reduced costs – is the Holy Grail of healthcare today. Success requires a previously unheard-of reliance on data and the ability to deliver healthcare anywhere, at any time, in the most efficient manner possible. It requires a digital backbone.

But for all its promise, the world of digital healthcare faces numerous hurdles which C-suites in Asia-Pacific should pay most attention to:

  1. Skeptical providers: The promise of digital health has been oversold in the health care space for so many years that many stakeholders are, understandably, skeptical about its potential. Barriers include a lack of rigorous study around the outcomes of touted technologies; technology development by engineers who did not understand the unique challenges of healthcare; and fears among providers that an app, machine, or algorithm may one day replace them.
  2. Security: Healthcare data has replaced financial data as the most valuable information to steal and sell on the black market. While healthcare executives are increasingly aware of the threat of a cyberattack, their systems remain poorly protected against the ever more sophisticated cybercriminal attacks occurring today.
  3. Data sharing: Advanced analytics requires access to varied data from numerous sources, both within and among organizations, commercial entities, municipalities, and countries. Given the technical, regulatory, legal, privacy, and cultural complexities, convincing traditionally siloed systems to share data presents a significant hurdle.

Please share some digital transformation best practices from progressive healthcare organizations you’ve encountered, especially in the areas of data management, privacy and protection.

Dulaurans: An executive champion is key to digital transformation success. A Deloitte survey has revealed that leadership (80%) and management of implementation (68%) are considered to be the key accelerators of digital transformation. Organizational leadership is a crucial factor for the success of any organization’s digital transformation efforts, and GE Healthcare created this Chief Digital Officer (CDO) position for this exact reason.

Another important point is to start small and scale fast. Most of the large technology projects over many years have disappeared. Digital best practices have moved towards small and constant iterations while focusing on the companies scaling capabilities to increase the adoption curve within a larger ecosystem.

The final key element to remember is probably the most difficult one and the most crucial of all. Successful digital companies create a feedback loop mechanism. Digital is a very fluid practice because of the nature itself of the business, with many competitive solution providers, many divergent stakeholders, and many internal and external disruptions. Aligning everyone and everything is a complex task that necessitates a daily focus, and sometimes, pivot. Incorporating feedback that provides early signals help organizations finetune their digital strategies accordingly before it is too late.