There is no denying technology has revolutionised healthcare and been a driving force behind innovation within the industry. Whether it’s improved access to medical information and data, electronic health records, telemedicine/telehealth or vaccine development, technology is now intertwined with everyday healthcare.
However, healthcare providers, including hospitals, have come under an immense amount of pressure to provide flawless experiences and the best possible care to their patients. Due to its critical function, it is now vital that this technology is working flawlessly in order to maintain trust and respect from the public and their patients. Life or death decisions can hinge on the performance and reliability of digital healthcare systems. Testing digital products are now critical to patient safety and must be implemented regularly to prevent any issues.
The rapid rise of tech in healthcare
Modern technology has been an integral part of the healthcare industry for decades. Healthcare professionals are now dependent on technology for medical devices, electronic health records, and medical research programs, to name a few. As we all know, technology has played a vital role in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. Developing a vaccine typically takes over ten years of dedicated research, however, the development of the Covid-19 vaccine was completed in a little under a year, largely thanks to vaccine technology developments. Vaccines made by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna use mRNA technology to encode a key protein of SARS-CoV-2. Once the mRNA gets inside our cells, our bodies can then produce this protein which then triggers an immune response.
Whilst this vaccine technology isn’t anything new, it has been made possible thanks to previous technological advancements in vaccine technology. This is now the first mRNA vaccine to complete all clinical trial stages and judged as safe to use by the public. This is an incredible breakthrough which is now expected to be applied to other diseases and illnesses. However, now the vaccine has been approved and rolled out worldwide, its complexity is fully realized as the vaccine’s journey from manufacturer to patient's arm is extensive. The UK government’s plans of vaccinating 15 million people by mid-February would be inconceivable were it not for Big Tech. IBM, to give one example, has made a blockchain-based open platform available to organizations working on delivering the Covid-19 vaccine.
However, it isn’t just the vaccine where we can appreciate technology’s role in bridging gaps created during the pandemic. To slow the spread of coronavirus, health professionals have tried to decrease hospital visits and restrict the movement of people to maintain social distancing. With these lockdown measures put in place, doctors needed to find alternatives to provide remote care for their patients and offer a personalized experience similar to one they would have provided under normal circumstances. As a result, telemedicine has now become the norm with patients now receiving the medical aid they need whilst remaining at home. Now in the UK, over half (56 percent) of GPs are using digital tools for patient consultations during Covid-19.
Despite the overall success of the shift to digital healthcare, it is important to acknowledge some of the challenges. Older patients or patients in care homes, for example, may have limited access to technology as well as struggle to use technology to get in contact with their GP. Ensuring these patients are accommodated for is essential for the effectiveness of this technology and the overall success of digital healthcare in the long run. However, what tech has done is allow younger patients to free up space and time for older patients, or those who are less tech savvy, to attend medical appointments in person, if needed.
As we look back on the past year and the success of technology in healthcare, we can now expect rapid innovation and new technology software to be introduced at a faster pace. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) which has been increasingly used within the industry, and is now expected to be applied more broadly to accelerate enhancements in diagnosis, treatments, vaccines, and health monitoring of patients. The NHS has invested significantly in AI through the The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Award, which will invest £140 million over the next three years to accelerate the testing and evaluation of the most promising AI technologies. One recipient of the award includes Ibex Medical Analytics who use AI to improve diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Testing for quality patient care
Consumers have little patience or tolerance for technical issues within any industry, however when it comes to healthcare, there is no room for it. Any glitches or downtime caused by faulty technology has the potential to cause devastating consequences. To provide the best care possible, healthcare providers need to be implementing a modern testing approach to regularly test their technology to address any issues quickly and efficiently. If they don't, public health can be compromised, alongside healthcare providers reputation.
In this industry, it is critical the right information is shared between the right systems, at the right times. Software testing ensures interoperability, privacy and efficiency as systems become more complex and integrated. When systems aren’t tested, the repercussions are clear. For example, in December 2020 it was reported that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout ran the risk of being delayed due to issues with the software being used to keep track of who has been given the jab. As a result, GPs had to record data by hand, causing significant delays in processing. Avoiding issues such as this are vital not only for the fight against Covid but for overall trust in healthcare from the public.
The healthcare industry isn’t a stranger to rigorous testing. Highly trained medical staff go through extensive training and testing to provide the best possible care to their patients. As technology is now becoming an integral part of this industry, the same mentality needs to be applied here; we need to test our systems just as, if not more, rigorously, as we do our doctors and nurses.
One area where this is critical is electronic health records. With highly sensitive patient data, healthcare organizations need to ensure their patient's information is protected. Earlier in 2020, Babylon Health admitted it’s GP app suffered a data breach when one of its users discovered he had been given access to dozens of video recordings of other patients' consultations. Regular software testing to find any glitches in software could have avoided this issue. As virtual appointments become a regular occurrence and with many patients' records being held on digital databases, ensuring that there aren't any issues with the software is vital for patient privacy.
Patients place great trust in healthcare providers and technological developments have allowed patient care to become safer and more reliable. Technology has facilitated the innovation of groundbreaking developments, such as the Covid-19 vaccine and has allowed workers to record important data and update medical history quickly and efficiently; whichever way you look at it, this has been an incredible achievement. The flipside of this, however, is that lax testing could result in significant risk to patients and end up being a real Achilles heel. If technology is to be successfully integrated into the healthcare industry, software testing must become the number one priority for healthcare providers.
John Bates, CEO, Eggplant Software part of Keysight Technologies