Making data matter: How increased connectivity will transform healthcare

It is well-known that the global healthcare system is facing serious challenges with the rising cost of care and an ageing population putting an increasing strain on resources. However, on top of this, patients are no longer passive listeners and are more demanding than they were 20 years ago, having been empowered by the Internet. Yet there is also a huge opportunity for the healthcare market with the potential to make better use of the enormous amount of patient data collected across health institutions.

Businesses can bring real benefits to society by deploying innovative technology to tackle these challenges. The future of healthcare depends on connected health and how these new technologies can be used to modernise an outdated healthcare system and transform our ability to deliver care. This will enable the collation of data and integration of patient records, which in turn could save lives by allowing earlier detection of diseases and prevent further illnesses by determining patterns and trends, as well as reducing costs.

Rise of the power patient

Big data and smart technologies have facilitated the rise of the ‘power patient’. Access to digital resources has made patients more informed and empowered to manage their own health more proactively. A patient’s first point of call may now be Google rather than their doctor and new technologies can now help patients make better and more informed decisions with relation to their health.

We see this with smart phone apps such as Microsoft HealthVault, which has the ability to monitor various statistics about a patient’s health and enables them to act on the results. Connected health solutions can therefore encourage early prevention of diseases as patients take a more dedicated approach towards lifestyle choices which could affect their health. This can ultimately reduce the burden on healthcare providers and will significantly drive down the costs of the healthcare system.

Care from afar

Smart solutions such as mobile health apps and wearable technologies are set to revolutionise remote care. Remote monitoring reduces the need for unnecessary face-to-face interaction, improving hospital efficiency and reducing cost. This will be especially significant for the health and wellbeing of the elderly. With research finding the number of people aged 65 or over is projected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2050 , technologies aiding the care of the elderly will become increasingly vital.

Conditions like Alzheimer’s require a great deal of monitoring, meaning that patients have to move out of the comfort of their own home. However, monitoring via sensors, wearable technology and smart phone apps gives Alzheimer’s patients more independence. Caregivers are able to remotely monitor their condition and are immediately alerted if necessary, delaying or even avoiding the move into specialist care.

Big data, big impact

The NHS budget includes £1 billion for connected health and integrating patient’s records across health and social care by 2020. This demonstrates that healthcare providers are increasingly aware of the importance of connected health. Hitachi and NHS Greater Manchester are working together using big data to prevent diabetes in the form of a lifestyle prevention programme. Through the programme, data analysis provides critical visibility on the health ecosystem in the region and highlights key demographic trends related to diabetes, such as obesity.

Care providers will be able to use valuable insights provided by the data to better inform the lifestyle programmes and determine which demographic trends are most closely linked to diabetes. The City of Copenhagen is also building an innovative Big Data platform to help it improve quality of life for its citizens and using data to improve hospital services is just one example. These collaborations are examples of how technology can make a real difference, not only in providing healthcare but also to lifestyle choices.

If patient data from all over the country can be shared between healthcare institutions, the data becomes much more valuable as it will be easier to determine patterns and trends in patient health. Analysis of genetic information from larger data sets could be used to discover mutations, providing valuable insight for drug development. Technology enabled connected health will therefore enable healthcare providers to use big data to prevent, diagnose and cure illnesses.

The use of smart technology is set to revolutionise how we deliver care to patients and how patients take care of themselves. It will lower the cost of care whilst enhancing the quality and maximising the potential of our healthcare resources. Those businesses which make the most of this opportunity, investing and innovating in smart technology and connected health, will be able to make a real impact on the healthcare system and society as a whole.

Hans Lindeman, EMEA Head of Social Innovation, Hitachi Ltd.