The global healthcare industry is going through a transformation. There is a growing emphasis on improving the quality of care being delivered. Among other key developments, “data analytics” and “digital health” are arguably the most significant.

Wearables, sensors, artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotics, internet of medical things (IoMT), digital and virtual reality are just some of the technologies disrupting health care around the world. These technologies are helping diagnose and treat diseases, making massive improvements in the speed, quality, and accuracy of diagnosis, treatment and a better experience for patients.

All this is enabling more connected, remote and personalised services that are empowering citizens, reducing hospital admissions and deliver better health outcomes at a lower cost. The conversation is shifting increasingly towards how outcomes of healthcare can be measured. Everyone looks at access to healthcare services that isn’t just easy and simple but accessible. It has become increasingly necessary for healthcare data to be digitized, since it facilitates ease in searching, accessing and retrieving crucial medical information and more.

Big Data brings Innovation and Intelligence

The healthcare industry is under more pressure than ever before. Better outcomes from healthcare and cutting costs are crucial for reasons that benefit the industry and patients differently. Fortunately, big data is helping healthcare providers meet these goals in unprecedented ways. Today, the amount of medical data in the world is massive and quickly growing. This is the result of and incredibly convergence of evolutionary changes in multiple technologies over the past decades.

Projects in data-driven knowledge, decision-making, and uses of big data are ongoing in every area of medicine. For big data projects to succeed, the expertise and participation of doctors and physicians is needed at every step. It goes beyond hospital records, clinical trial data, and even claims to include data from wearable devices, social media listening, personalized genome services, and medical imaging. Big data can play a big role in improving personalized and precision medicine, comparing drug effectiveness data and better treatment decisions while also potentially impacting the way clinical trials are conducted in remarkable ways.

The future of medicine will offer patients individualized care tailored to their needs, integrated care, intelligent decision-making support for physicians, a greater emphasis on prevention, and a systems-oriented rather than reductionist approach to our understanding of disease and illness. All of these goals are enabled by big data.

Big data in healthcare is being used to predict epidemics, cure disease, improve quality of life and avoid preventable deaths. With the world’s population increasing and everyone living longer, models of treatment delivery are rapidly changing, and many of the decisions behind those changes are being driven by data. Today, driving the industry is a need to understand as much about a patient as possible, as early in their life as possible. Comprehensive medical histories can help identify warning signs of serious illnesses early enough that treatments are far simpler (and less expensive) than if it had been spotted at later stages.

The recent improvements in technology and better interconnectivity has led to a tremendous increase in the amount of healthcare data now available. With stakeholders in healthcare – governments, hospitals, research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, payers, social organizations and patients – ever-expanding, we need to not just collect data from all these sources, but consolidate and analyse it for important insights. These insights unlock better treatment outcomes, lower costs, reduce insurance premiums and reduce the time taken for innovative drugs and diagnostics to reach the market.

The importance of healthcare analytics for hospitals

Analytics is an “enabler.” Hospitals and medical centers can use healthcare analytics to match the patient to the most appropriate doctors, provide personalized and timely treatment, improve patient care and outcomes, reduce cost, ensure better patient safety and reduce human error. The implementation of good analytics rests on some important pillars like data access, tools to measure and evaluate the information, skilled resources, good governance and collaboration.

Data must be collected in a format that makes it accessible and easy to share. In the dynamic world of analytics, it is easy to see how important the capturing of data is. For hospitals and healthcare providers, a key component of data capture is the widespread adaptation of electronic health records (EHR). As Indians, we still rely heavily on pen, paper and memory, when it comes to maintaining patient records. This, however, creates hurdles in accessing and sharing data across the health sector and geographical boundaries, which is often the situation in our country.

While a number of hospitals do have their own system of recording and storing data electronically, given the absence of suitable standardized protocols or algorithms to capture the data, it is difficult to transfer this data to other hospitals. As a result, there are silos of information. This affects the continuum of care for a patient and poses challenges for surveillance of disease and developing policy.

Adoption of EHR has helped a number of countries improve their overall patient care. In Denmark, doctors can now see 10 percent more patients a day, because a patient’s clinical history is available in a nationwide health portal. The US is to increase its EHR adoption from 12 percent in 2009 to 90 percent this year.

National eHealth Authority (NeHA) of India

India’s health ministry is looking to set up a National eHealth Authority (NeHA) that will be “responsible for development of an Integrated Health Information System (including Telemedicine and mHealth) in India, while collaborating with all the stakeholders, viz., healthcare providers, consumers, healthcare technology industries, and policymakers”.

NeHA aims to facilitate the storage and exchange of health and governance data in a cost-effective manner, integrate different health information technology solutions and oversee the implementation of EHR while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of patients.

The ethical considerations

Whenever we talk of patient data or patient material, the ethical considerations involved cannot be ignored or brushed aside as trivial. The ongoing story of Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells is proof of that. A clear regulatory framework would have to be defined, by all the concerned stakeholders, to ensure that patient privacy is protected and the appropriate consent is in place prior to use.

A technology-enabled system of care is seen by most as the way forward for India’s healthcare industry. However, the wide-scale adoption of technology within India is fraught with challenges, such as:

  • the initial need for high investments of capital
  • lack of standardisation amongst various healthcare management system
  • concerns around confidentiality, privacy, ownership and cybersecurity of patient’s personal medical records
  • healthcare providers struggling with a lack of in-house IT-expertise and support from IT vendors

Despite these challenges, technological innovations have made huge progress in the last few years, largely thanks to India’s start-up culture focused on providing cost-effective services to those residing in remote areas. Progress has been aided by recent increases in government finance, infrastructure investment and administrative support.

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