Healthcare digitalisation: four technical headaches
Growing patient expectations and this global pandemic are placing higher demands on the healthcare sector than ever before. In responding to this challenge, most hospitals are already highly digitalised, with the instant availability of patient data and improving the quality of care being the most visible impacts of digitalisation. However, with digitalisation comes complexity and hospital IT departments need to ensure that technology issues do not get in the way of the medical staff delivering essential frontline care.
Digitalisation in the healthcare sector is not only about helping patients with their illnesses or doctors with their tasks. It also accelerates workflows, enhances security for medical staff and hospitals, and provides more transparency for patients.
1. Expectations increasing
Today, patients expect their scans and laboratory test results to be sent directly to monitors on the wall, or to the doctor’s tablet. In most cases, doctors and patients want amazingly fast access to patient data and their medical history, and the days of waiting for results are over.
Delays receiving X-ray, MRI, CT scan or ultrasound results — or downtime of a refrigerator or any vital medical equipment — can have a direct impact on patient care for one of New Zealand’s leading cancer treatment centres, Canopy Cancer Care. It was these risks that led the organisation to seek a proactive approach to managing its IT infrastructure.
Canopy operates four clinical treatment centres, dedicated to delivering world-class cancer care. For Canopy, there has always been a clear link between the role of data and IT in protecting and saving lives. By monitoring the uptime, quality, speed and reliability of their critical IT infrastructure they can be confident it will always run effectively both for the digital clinic and its daily operations.
Hospital IT infrastructure provides IT professionals with a unique challenge: they have the ‘traditional’ IT elements to take care of, as well as the specialised healthcare systems with their associated data formats and communication protocols, and also medical devices. All these elements and systems co-exist in the same infrastructure and this brings with it some degree of complexity.
A healthcare organisation’s IT data is typically transported via the hospital’s system infrastructure, which incorporates:
- HIS (Hospital Information System) — master data
- LIMS (Laboratory Information System) — laboratory data
- RIS (Radiology Information System) — radiology data
- PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) — images generated from devices like x-ray, MRT, ultrasound or video endoscopies.
With their siloed tech stacks, healthcare organisations are not running as efficiently as they should be. This not only affects the customer experience, but it also affects the insight and communication between internal departments. Classic IT systems and medical IT must work together seamlessly and need centralised monitoring to ensure they are operating well.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices in health care are one way to make hospitals more efficient, as they help to provide doctors with relevant patient data immediately, which helps to accelerate medical processes and improve medical diagnoses and recommended treatments for patients.
Small, mobile devices for measuring the patient’s medical data at the bedside or in the laboratory are now commonplace. And we are seeing a trend towards mHealth, where the patient is the manager of their own health and performs self-diagnosis, using wearables, fitness trackers and other health monitoring equipment at home.
Wearables can be used to monitor a patient’s pulse, heart rate or blood sugar. If there is a sudden drop in any of these indicators, an ambulance could automatically be called, the paramedics can find the patient via GPS signal and hopefully save their life.
What happens if the software crashes, the wearable gets disconnected, runs out of battery or is turned off? Healthcare services need to monitor these devices to be able to guarantee a constant flow of reliable body-monitoring data. For hospitals providing their patients with wearables, the integration into their IT environment is only a first step; they should also update their network monitoring strategy.
eHealth is driven by factors such as an increase in technological developments, innovations and the growing use of digital devices for addressing medical needs. eHealth is split into diagnostic services and remote patient monitoring. The EHR (electronic health record) or EMR (electronic medical record) is crucial to diagnosing patients and treating them.
The EHR is a digital format for recording patient information and includes patient demographics, medical history, medical data and laboratory test results. In Australia, the government has implemented My Health Record, which provides a patient’s medical history to them and their family while also being available to their medical providers.
My Health Record provides information such as the patient’s history, past treatments and vital signs — these need to be considered together when making decisions about treatment. To make sure that the EHR is always accessible and updated, it is important to monitor the network and hardware components involved with EHR processing.
The positive COVID effect
COVID-19 has driven significant changes in Australia’s healthcare system and with more interactions moving to virtual health care, like eHealth, how patient care is being delivered is being reimagined.
As this pandemic has shifted healthcare delivery to digital channels, it has become essential for any healthcare providers to remain on top of monitoring their complex IT infrastructures, ensuring they are operating at their optimal level. This smart approach allows the medical teams to focus on delivering the highest-quality frontline care with zero technical impediments.
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