Guest Column | January 27, 2016

The Foundation For Healthcare Democratization

HITO Genius Wong, Tata Communicatios

Technology can accelerate the mass distribution of healthcare

By Genius Wong, President, Global Network Services, Cloud and Data Center Services, Tata Communications

The provision of healthcare is a basic human necessity, but access to healthcare is by no means universal. While the U.K.’s National Health Service, Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act in the U.S. and Singapore’s national health system have all succeeded at least in part in bringing affordable health services to more people, truly democratized healthcare is yet to materialize.

In the same way as the taxi industry has been transformed by the emergence of Uber and similar data-powered services which put the user in control, the healthcare industry is seeing a shift towards digitally-enabled self-care. Wearable technologies, mHealth applications, and more sophisticated drug delivery devices are empowering patients like never before, with intelligent technology infrastructure enabling the next level in healthcare.

As connectivity becomes more globally ubiquitous, the prospect of using technology to complement existing healthcare provision has exciting potential for saving lives and democratizing healthcare the world over.

Empowering Patients
Better access to healthcare is one of the foremost advantages of improving global connectivity. Virtual healthcare services such as Doctor on Demand facilitate video consultation with medical professionals via a mobile app. This is hugely advantageous to patients with disabilities that prevent or impede them from visiting their doctor regularly. Furthermore, in the developing world where there are fewer healthcare amenities and less advanced transport infrastructure, access to the Internet is an achievable long-term solution to giving people the means of regular medical consultation.

Wearable technology may still be in the early phases of adoption as a consumer trend, but it will undoubtedly play a significant part in the creation of a healthcare democracy. Wearables are making healthcare more personalized than ever, with consumers becoming proactive in monitoring their own wellbeing. Furthermore, advances in drug delivery and MedTech devices have increased the effectiveness with which patients can self-manage and administer their treatments. These technologies work particularly well together when it comes to conditions such as diabetes that require close monitoring and repetitive treatment.

Powering A Healthcare Revolution
Over 3.2 billion people were connected to the Internet in 2015, and this figure is set to almost double to over 6 billion users by 2025. As well as being a challenge for technology infrastructure providers, the increase in people using mobile connections to access healthcare services means the bodies that control healthcare provision, public and private, must invest in modern IT infrastructures that is fit for purpose.

One of the overwhelming difference makers that will help bring better healthcare to the masses is the production, collection and analysis of data. Rapid digitization across the healthcare ecosystem is occurring due to the growth of mHealth, as well as the introduction of more IoT devices through wearable technologies such as fitness trackers, heart monitors, sleep monitors, and smart watches. The data produced by all such devices has tremendous potential for the medical industry – whether that’s creating a bespoke profile for a single patient based on medical data collected in real-time or accurately tracking the performance of treatments for patients with ongoing conditions.

There are already examples of healthcare companies leveraging big data analytics to create better targeted therapies. For example, Pfizer, Boston Scientific, and Mayo Clinic have collaborated to form Optum Labs, linking 150m patients’ data with 30 million electronic health records, to develop targeted therapies. In addition, Novartis partnered with Amazon Web Services to conduct 39 years of computational chemistry in nine hours.

Technology That Can Change Healthcare
To improve and democratize healthcare with data analytics, there needs to be a focus on improving connectivity, scalability, mobility, data privacy and security in medical institutions as well as throughout the healthcare ecosystem. This includes the need for networking and connectivity solutions to ensure that high quality virtual healthcare services are consistently available.

Not only does a purpose built connectivity infrastructure enable data collected by mobile devices to be transmitted accurately, a cloud-based infrastructure can help institutions store, manage, secure and access the data at their disposal. However, the cloud-based services required to take on a challenge of laying the foundations of healthcare democratization need to be uniquely scalable – giving healthcare IT departments the ability to expand and adapt quickly to rapidly accelerating demand. A cloud-based platform that can harness the power of the public internet to provide true global reach, while providing highly reliable performance, will be an important cog in the engine room that powers the spread of better healthcare.

With global connectivity levels destined to rise dramatically in the coming years, investment in technology platforms will allow the healthcare industry to ride on the crest of this wave. Ultimately, the aim is to use technology to enable patients to take more responsibility for their own health, as well as equip healthcare to provide more ubiquitous healthcare as well as innovating better treatments and cures.

About The Author
Genius Wong is President, Global Network, Cloud and Data Center Services for Tata Communications. With nearly two decades of experience in the telecommunications industry, Genius heads up the Tata Communications’ Global Network, Cloud and Data Center Service business which includes all network connectivity solutions, as well as Enterprise Cloud, Hosting and Security services.  She is also responsible for the engineering and the global network partnership function for these business lines.