A look at the advancements being made in health care management as a result of improved IT capabilities.
In recent years, patient care, hospital administration and data management have benefitted from a technology-driven revolution in Irish health care.
The advances, which are mainly related to the areas of imaging technology, admin, multichannel medical services and patient hospitality, all rely on consistent data solutions that can be tailored specifically for the public sector and private sector alike.
Although medical facilities and their staff may appear to be the main purchasers and trendsetters of the exciting new technology-driven services in the health care sector, they are not the exclusive benefactors.
Providers (medical staff /institutions), consumers (patients), payers (insurance companies) and quality monitors (regulators, interest bodies) all benefit from the implementation of new and improved technology in the health care sector. In the same way, each party is affected by any failure or slowdown in the infrastructure.
After examining some of the most fascinating advancements in medical technology and improved information communication technology (ICT), it’s clear to see that each group of stakeholders have reaped both shared and unique rewards from recent trends.
There are countless examples of advanced technology that hospitals implement and staff utilise, but one of the most important worth mentioning, is imaging services. Imaging services are used by almost every department in a hospital and can be expensive to operate. As a result of this, it has become a competitive space for MedTech businesses and an area that the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) wants to see value for money.
In 2015, it was revealed that MedTech company McKesson had been chosen to implement advanced imaging technology in 35 hospitals in Ireland. The systems being put into place are the picture archiving communications system (PACS) and the radiology imaging system (RIS) as part of HSE’s National Integrated Medical Imaging System (NIMIS) initiative.
For hospitals and other medical facilities in Ireland this means that a single solution is being deployed across the country to link all public hospitals and standardise care through a central database that will serve as a national image archive.
According to a release from McKesson, this means, “when patients are examined at any public hospital or outpatient clinic in Ireland, their entire imaging history will be immediately available to the clinical team, minimising errors and accelerating decision-making”.
The company reported a reduction in imagery report turnaround times from up to two weeks down to 30 minutes in some of the first Irish facilities that have the systems installed.
As part of this agreement, the company will also provide “3D and advanced visualisation, research tools and electrocardiography for cardiology”. Also, a new voice recognition system will be introduced that will enable digital dictation and transcription of radiologists’ reports, all in the name of improved efficiency.
Naturally, consumers of the health system also do well from advancements in services like better imaging services and faster access to results, but this group can uniquely benefit from other trends in medical technology and patient care.
One example that has revolutionised patient and visitor experiences is the availability of Wi-Fi in some hospitals. For in-patients, outpatients and for those that are visiting loved ones, this amenity is welcomed and grants a distraction or source of entertainment while waiting for doctor’s visits or procedures. The Wi-Fi also allows patients that are in for a long stay to keep in contact with their loved ones.
When a Wi-Fi service is installed in a hospital, the organisation’s physics department has to be consulted to ensure that there is no interference with any medical equipment.
In situations where there is a risk of this happening, a substitute solution is the installation of PCs with an Ethernet connection that can facilitate Internet access without searching for a Wi-Fi signal.
Although utilised in different ways by different organisations, the introduction of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology plays a part in patient care.
RFID can be integrated with an electronic data interchange system that might keep track of medical stock, help locate portable equipment such as blood pressure monitors in the building or even keep track of patients.
In some hospitals, admittance wristbands are imprinted with barcodes that are scanned when a patient is admitted, when medication is administered or when they are released.
The purpose behind using RFID in hospitals is to cut down on harm that may come to patients as a result of human error. The applications of RFID in hospitals are wide-ranging and their implementation comes down to a hospital-by-hospital basis.
Insurance companies and other commercial entities that contribute to the costs of patient health care are constantly looking to minimise their own expenses while retaining their member numbers. Thus, they welcome efficiencies in hospital administration and patient care, and the improved satisfaction of patients as a result of Wi-Fi and other amenities.
A trend that has become mainstream in the health care industry that ticks all the boxes for the payers group is GP video consulting. This technology sees a health insurance customer download an app and then book an appointment for a live video consult with a GP.
Aviva Health’s version of this offering describes the service as suitable for consults regarding medical advice, consultant referrals or prescriptions.
There are two ways this technology benefits payers. Firstly, there is often a small number of free video consultations included in certain healthcare plans. This means that when a customer uses these free consultations instead of visiting a doctor face-to-face, they won’t submit claims for money back on the GP fee and this in turn saves the insurance company money.
Secondly, technology savvy customers who don’t have time in their schedules to visit their doctors in person might become long term adopters of this new service and generate more revenue for the insurance provider or payer. Naturally, fast Wi-Fi speeds are needed on both sides of the call to maintain a clear video stream.
For this group of payers, there is another technology on the horizon that will greatly affect the health care community. Wearable tech, such as fitness monitoring wristbands help consumers track their exercise and activity levels with detailed output data.
It is believed by some that in the next decade insurance companies offering health cover could have a vested interest in offering these to their customers. In this scenario, providers could offer discounts to those that are willing to wear the band and share the data. The insurance company could then discount premiums because they now have accurate data of how fit and healthy someone is.
There are a number of groups that could be considered ‘quality monitors’ in the Irish health care sector. One that is most relevant to the discussion on technology’s impact on the industry is HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority). HIQA is an independent authority that reports to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and promotes quality and safety in the provision of health and personal social services.
One of HIQA’s duties is to carry out a Health Technology Assessment (HTA). This is research that generates information about the clinical and cost-effectiveness of health technologies in Ireland.
HIQA, requires the data generated by stakeholders in the sector to be as accurate and as available to them as possible so that they can draw solid conclusions and make effective recommendations that could inform policy makers.
Efficiencies affecting other stakeholder groups in healthcare can benefit quality monitors like HIQA and lead the way for the way for investment and implementation of new medical technologies in Ireland, following assessments and various considerations.
For example, in recent years HIQA conducted a HTA on the possibility of robot-assisted surgery in Ireland and another that examined the possibility of a national deep brain stimulation service in Ireland.
Many of the aforementioned technology-driven services depend on a number of unique ICT requirements to ensure consistency of service.
Some of these depend on levels of services that surpass the needs of stakeholders in the private sector.
For example, low latency and lots of up time are very important to the likes of hospitals. This ensures that data can be inputted and stored on systems with no delay to staff duties or inconvenience to a patient’s experience.
Also, the storage and transmission of digital outputs coming from modern imaging machines in radiology departments and others, require lots of bandwidth and flexible storage. With some hospitals that are made up of a group of different facilities, IP Transit solutions are required to effectively manage critical traffic across the networked sites with high bandwidth speeds. IP Transit connects companies to the Internet using their own IP address pools and autonomous systems without having to concern themselves with the complexities of Internet routing.
As IT in the health care sector continues to advance, it will be critical that businesses in the public and private sectors continue to have access to high quality ICT services that can move in parallel with the demand of the industry