Futurist healthcare: Ready in a flash

Healthcare as we know it is undergoing a technological revolution set to throw out the dusty old textbooks medical students have used for centuries, transform self-care and immerse outpatients in virtual and augmented realities.

From the provision of services to the collation of the data upon which medical research is founded, healthcare will be unrecognisable in the not too distant future. To truly embrace these technological advancements, health services must first ensure they have the infrastructure to cope with the deluge of data in its wake. The question is, are they ready?

In April this year, the world’s first virtual reality (VR) operation was live-streamed around the world from the operating theatre at the Royal London hospital. Cancer surgeon Dr Shafi Ahmed snipped and sliced his way around a tumour before the eyes of more than 54,500 medical students, trainee surgeons and curious members of the public, while the media hailed the dawn of fairer access to medical training – in a fully immersive environment.

Dr Ahmed recently told a conference, “Geography restricts many from studying, but if we incorporate VR we can encourage the best people from around the world to engage with medicine – freeing them from the constraints of location or income.” Making this a reality for all, Dr Ahmed’s  innovative group Medical Realities offers medical training products – specialising in VR, augmented reality (AR) and gamification – by using consumer-level devices to reduce the cost of training. Meanwhile the backbone of the medical profession is evolving. With global platforms available to collate, analyse and share medical research, inefficiencies that have previously skewed our learnings are being ironed out. 

One such example is opentrials.net, a collaboration between renowned science writer Dr Ben Goldacre and Open Knowledge, a non-profit network of people seeking transparency through tech. Providing an extensive and accessible crowd-sourced database on all clinical trials, the quality and consistency of medical data is set to improve – along with our medical understandings. On the ground, the general public are hungry for healthy lifestyles. By the end of the year, 1.7 million fitness trackers will be sold in the UK, giving health focused wearable technology the largest slice of the wearable market. This is significant as growing availability of data enables a general move away from reactive healthcare, towards proactive, predictive and preventative healthcare. Once wearables and apps collect enough actionable data, pre-emptive treatments can be prescribed.

Indeed, in the Futurist world, doctors will not be the only gatekeepers of our health. Apps will seek to seamlessly integrate healthcare with our daily lives. Next stop: artificial intelligence (AI). But before we get lost in a world where stroke patients recover through VR training and drones deliver our medication – these advancements all have one, unifying need. In order to sustain consistent, integrated and intelligent healthcare services through the plethora of technologies increasingly available to us, we must have the ability to store, access, and analyse data, in real-time and with scalability in order to respond effectively to the peaks and troughs of usage.

Already, we have seen that the seeds of technological progression have not only been sown in the realm of healthcare, but nurtured by a collective hunger. Healthcare is ready for progress. NetApp’s recent survey of over 1000 IT decision makers in the UK revealed that almost a quarter of healthcare IT departments already use high performance storage technologies such as Flash and more than a third are planning on adopting it. The impetus is there. Almost half of healthcare participants (47 per cent) say they need high speed storage across multiple devices and two fifths say they need high performance capabilities at work.

Understanding the infrastructural need is half the battle. Almost one in ten (8 per cent) participants say there are no factors that will stand in the way of Flash adoption. As technology promises to disrupt the healthcare sector, a small number of barriers remain. On the soft side, concerns of a human drain in a sector defined by ‘care’ are worrisome. On the contrary, with technological improvements, doctors can shake-off the timely, bureaucratic burden of increasing admin and replace it with actual ‘care’. Meanwhile, over a third (35 per cent) of IT healthcare professionals believe the cost of Flash and a lack of understanding on the part of the financial decision makers present a barrier to Flash adoption.

As the cost of Flash continues to plummet, while the power and integrity of the technology grows, the only thing left to do is to educate – and NetApp’s survey is the first step to this ongoing commitment. One thing is for sure – for smart technologies to function with seamless integration, intelligence and consistency, infrastructural support is essential. Outages during a VR operation are unthinkable – and equally detrimental for the quality of data generated by health apps.

Healthcare services are already embracing the technological revolution and once on board that Futurist train, there’s nowhere to go but ‘back-up’ – into the cloud and around the world’s secure data centres.

Grant Caley, UK&I Principal Technology Officer, NetApp

Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy