Healthcare has undergone a technological revolution in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. Integrated data analytics is a crucial component of this revolution, as it has the potential to improve patient outcomes and increase access to health data. In this article, we explore how integrated data analytics can drive Future Ready healthcare in a post-COVID world.
Matthew Salisbury, WSP’s Lead for Healthcare in Australia says, “The sector is ever-changing and with the many technical and operational considerations, it requires designers to continuously adapt and challenge themselves from the traditional responses.
“Healthcare delivery models are being disrupted in many ways – from technological advancement in treatment to tele-health (remote) consultation, physical constraints of existing assets, a desire for more adaptable and resilient buildings, infection control capabilities, through to responding to climate change. As such, it is imperative that we embrace technology to enable better healthcare.”
The truth is in the data — so how can integrated data analytics drive a Future Ready healthcare industry, and how do we harness it?
How COVID-19 underlined the importance of data
Statistical models built on data generally use the past to predict the future. However, COVID-19 was the healthcare crisis that no-one saw coming. Due to its unprecedented nature most models based on historical data ceased to function accurately. Economic, social, transport, and energy-use models were disrupted by governmental, community and individual responses. Healthcare was no exception with appointments delayed or cancelled and elective surgery repeatedly suspended for many.
Conversely, the pandemic also provided a glimpse into the enormous potential of data to help us. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is currently establishing a national linked data platform. This platform and the analysis of ever larger datasets will further strengthen our provision of evidence-based healthcare and define our responses to future crises. Information from platforms like this also allows current and future designers to stop and ask if what we are doing is the right solution when we align to the single unified outcome of ‘better outcomes for patients in the most efficient and integrated manner possible‘.
Healthcare’s information revolution
Few sectors stand to benefit more from the current rapid uptake of platforms and technology than healthcare. One of its fastest growing fields is health informatics – the clinical application of data and digital technology. John Wall, Principal Technical Advisor at Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Brisbane, describes informaticians as being ‘the bridge between IT and the clinicians – they know enough to talk to the IT people, and they understand how to collect, manage and validate research data, and how it can be applied to help make better decisions’.
Roneel Singh, WSP’s Director of Technology Systems, describes integrated data analytics as a combination of clinical data, user experience data, workflow data and facility data, essentially the entire patient journey with their environment considered as well as clinical data.
He says, “Digital health is usually thought of in the context of ‘smart’ hospitals. These buildings use data and technology to enhance the work that healthcare professionals, hospital and facilities management are already doing – to make things more effective, efficient and help solve patient care, workflow challenges and operational efficiencies.
“For example, our global digital experts worked with the Children's National Hospital in Washington DC to set up a new telehealth command centre – which pretty much amounts to an ‘air traffic control tower’ for cardiac intensive unit clinicians. It lets them remotely monitor children’s diagnostics in real-time – from one location.”
Knowledge is power
Technology can make the complex flows within healthcare more transparent. And a smart hospital is only smart if it addresses the needs of patients, clinicians, guests, facility managers, and administrators. That's why digital engineers work with a variety of stakeholders to understand their use-cases.
From doctors and nurses to orderlies and administrators, the first thing to think about is how data and technology can assist to define and help solve the problems they’re facing. And then, consider the building systems and sensors that need to be put into a healthcare facility to create a successful outcome.
It's important to ask early questions about how healthcare operates today, as well as when the ribbon finally gets cut on the building. Top of mind is what building systems will support current and future healthcare approaches? It’s also important to build flexibly, so program and technology needs can be accommodated over the full lifecycle of the asset.
Dunedin’s new hospital, set to fully open in 2028, is an example of where digital plays an important part of successful project outcomes. WSP’s local and global expert digital team is working closely with Te Whatu Ora to enable digital infrastructure and systems to futureproof the facility.
“When we talk about ideal patient, clinical or operational outcomes for a hospital, we translate those aspirations into what needs to be done differently in the building,” adds Roneel. “For example, what control systems might be needed, and what data within those systems is generated?
“Let’s assume a future state where a hospital has robotic delivery of drugs. But where do the robots go to get recharged? How do they navigate throughout the building? These (and other) questions need to be answered by the building design before a clinical solution of using robots to deliver pharmaceuticals can be applied.”
In another example, at the Sydney Adventist Hospital in New South Wales, passive RFID tags are affixed to patient IDs and medical devices. Staff can follow patients’ treatment journeys on a digital display and patient events are automatically added to their electronic medical record.
“It’s about efficiency, management visibility and staff empowerment,” says Barbara MacKenzie, who oversaw the project as IS operational and infrastructure manager for Adventist HealthCare.
“In emergency, they loved it because when someone asked where their mother was, they could glance at the board and say, ‘she’s in the lift’.”
Another Future Ready approach would be to build intelligence into the system. “When you know time and place for people and objects, you can infer a lot of information and start to build a tapestry about what’s occurring,” says Barbara.
“In the future, machine learning and artificial intelligence could support better decision-making in real time – for example, by matching patient requirements to staffing capacity.” says Roneel.
Roneel believes that the strongest resilience will come from combining data from clinical, administrative, and building systems into a ‘three-dimensional’ database.
“It’s that extension of the data that we need. Data resilience is about setting up a workflow that could help people who are already under an immense amount of pressure to make some of those clinical decisions.”
Resilient systems: the essential prerequisite
All of this will only be possible if the technology itself is resilient. The network needs to be a single, converged entity, with redundancy, high availability, security and no unmanaged devices or entry points. Older, legacy equipment makes this harder to achieve, but not insurmountable. Upgrades can be targeted at the weakest points, and older, dumber components moved to the edge of the network.
Healthcare networks cannot afford to have any weak spots and the biggest vulnerability is not new systems, but old ones that are obsolete or no longer fit for purpose. Aside from reputational damage and loss of personal data, a healthcare system outage can have tragic consequences in the real world – in 2020, a woman died after hackers caused the failure of IT systems at a hospital in Dusseldorf.
There can be no compromise on security or user experience. Access must be fast, easy and consistent across devices, and user interactions with new technologies must work smoothly from day one.
Although there are challenges in implementation, technology and the digitalisation of healthcare are revolutionising hospital design and planning to provide a wealth of short and long-term benefits that include improved workflow, more efficient use of resources and, ultimately, better patient outcomes and experiences. And that, after all, is the sign of a healthcare system working well.
Supporting robust digital infrastructure
Robust digital infrastructure lies at the heart of all smart hospital solutions. In physical terms, this means implementing a dense wireless network and sensors, which can collect data about the environment and track the location of electronic devices. This can be used for many things, from alerts for malfunctioning systems, to mapping people, equipment and supplies. It can also support resilience – the ability to operate safely and deliver care during a crisis. For example, reliable location data could help maintain two different streams for infected and non-infected patients, at the same time manage stretched resources more efficiently.
Mapping the user journey
Understanding the user experience is also a big part of designing smarter, more digitally enabled hospitals. From check-in, stay, check-out, and follow-ups, digital tech can help patients every step of the way – but only if it’s usable and has been well thought through. In creating a truly smart hospital, similar user journeys will be created for staff, clinicians, managers, etc.
In situations where care is being delivered more virtually or with less clinical staff, doctors may require specific telemedicine rooms, for example, or even dedicated lower-cost facilities. Nurses may benefit from natural language processing tech in lieu of handwritten patient notes.
Healthcare and technology are becoming inextricably linked; Microsoft’s acquisition of clinical AI firm Nuance, Oracle’s acquisition of health records firm Cerner, Amazon’s acquisition of telehealth firm One Medical…you get the idea.
So, the common thread here is data, which ultimately drives the entire health sector. By having a better understanding of data, medical professionals and administrators can identify areas of risk or improvement. Armed with that information, they can work to increase the quality of the patient experience.
There’s no hard and fast recipe for digital hospital success, but one thing’s for sure - healthcare is undergoing a digital transformation where data and the interoperability of tech systems are playing an increasingly important role in patient care and in the smooth, sustainable running of hospital buildings.
“Until the day that pandemics call ahead and warn us, there’s really no time for us to waste,” concludes Matthew. “We’re on a fast-paced journey to deliver a smart and future ready Healthcare.”
Read more about the sector in The Possible: The Future of Healthcare