Interconnection: The Heart of Smart Healthcare

Countries in Asia-Pacific are looking to be ‘smarter’ for stronger economic growth, wealth and the betterment of people’s lives through smart initiatives. One area of key focus as part of these initiatives is one of the greatest assets we all have – health and wellbeing.

Across the region, healthcare is being forced to adapt to rising costs and changing regulations. In Singapore, the government was well aware of the challenge of rising healthcare costs. Its National Day Rally 2018 directly addressed it with the extension of the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) – a scheme that subsidizes outpatient medical and dental treatments for lower- to middle-income citizen households and Singaporeans above the age of 69 – benefits to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions.

Other pressing issues include the increasing demand from patients for personalized care and an increasing number of digital-savvy service users that expect app-based, always-on and immediate solutions. Hence, the requirement for real-time, secure communications and data exchange with patients, partners, health ecosystems and network/cloud providers are forcing healthcare companies to invest in new interconnected digital value chains, R&D, diagnostics and care delivery models. All these are in the midst of heightened security concerns, as demonstrated in the recent SingHealth data records breach incident.

Traditional IT infrastructures were not designed to be ‘smart’. Today, public and private sectors face challenges such as inefficient healthcare administration, massive data pools, uneven distribution of access, and privacy and security issues. Legacy systems and preventing providers from delivering the targeted healthcare that patients require, and cannot support more omnichannel, real-time interactions between patients, doctors, and medical records, resulting in poor patient experience. Thus, it is now of paramount importance for C-level leaders in healthcare organizations to transform how their IT is architected to support the new way of doing business.

Breaking Down Legacy Barriers

According to the Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific Digital Health Outlook report, commissioned by Equinix, the top-of-mind issues that healthcare IT decision makers face when driving the adoption of digital services include:

  • Network connectivity and bandwidth – Ensuring speed, access, and high-quality experiences
  • Impact on productivity and ROI – IT downtime, poor application performance, and unintuitive workflows that impact investment returns
  • Data security – New technologies, sources, and use of health information are prompting healthcare organizations to take a closer look at their data security, privacy, and compliance architecture.
  • Cloud adoption – Home monitoring, Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), precision medicine, and drug discovery depend heavily on cloud adoption in healthcare

Delivering to expectations through edge innovation

Addressing these concerns requires an interconnected platform for data continuity, big data, analytics, and AI, precision medicine, and IoMT – all of which are smart by nature – to deliver a seamless end-user experience, increase ROI on technology, and address cybersecurity issues.

Deploying strategic control points close to technology ecosystems, such as an IT architecture based on interconnection and colocation, mean healthcare organizations will be able to incorporate new digital technologies, integrate health ecosystems, and access network, cloud and IT service providers to scale patient-focused digital healthcare services.

Faster patient outcomes also rely on improved network connectivity and bandwidth to ensure speed, reduce latency and guarantee consistent patient services, user access, and flow. By leveraging an interconnected approach, healthcare companies can re-architect IT for security and compliance while enabling new digital capabilities and scalability. It enables them to create agile, digital-enabled services to better cope with increased demand during peak periods and more easily accommodate mobile users to deliver personalized, outcome-based patient care.

Developing connected platforms that empower the front-line healthcare workforce with patient information, analytics, and connected healthcare devices is also key to improving efficiency and protecting data.

Smart healthcare in action

Healthcare stakeholders are already embracing digital transformation to improve service capacity and delivery. A 2018 study by IBM entitled ‘Incumbents Strike Back’ found that 72% of healthcare companies have, or are planning to deploy, a platform business model to help improve patient care. It also echoed in the findings from the Global Interconnection Index, which predicts that the healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific will grow its use of Interconnection Bandwidth by 74% by 2020.

In Singapore, the government has already taken steps to digitize healthcare with the 2016 launch of the Healthhub web portal and app. Healthhub allows Singaporeans and PRs to access their medical record and appointments through the app, serving as a one-stop online health information and services portal. It also functions as a digital healthcare companion by being a source of information, tools, and services to help them take greater ownership of their health.

Singapore is also exploring the possibilities of telehealth – the long-distance delivery of clinical care through electronic communications – as a new model of patient care. A project piloted with the National University Hospital in 2017 explored the use of healthcare devices to monitor patients from a remote location, which was made possible via sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. Regular feedback from telehealth devices would also allow healthcare professionals to intervene before a situation becomes critical, or during a worst-case scenario even alert relevant emergency services to the situation.

In both of these examples, big data approaches and app-based delivery will require low-latency, always on, scalable, interconnected data, incorporating both cloud-based and legacy site-based data resources. Once provisioned, the benefits derived from overlapping data sets, their analyses and result-sharing can empower transformation in the healthcare sector.

While the majority of healthcare companies in Asia Pacific have yet to realize the full potential of services that can be delivered if the right ecosystem partners for an IoT platform are in place, progress is being made. Innovations like AR, VR and AI are spaces for technology and healthcare organizations to expand into by not only creating new solutions but also introducing new models of healthcare delivery. Such technology solutions are already in pilot phases and expected to enter Asian markets by 2025.

With so much transformation taking place in the healthcare sector, those who fail to embrace digitization risk losing market share to disruptors, face profitability challenges and be increasingly exposed to cybersecurity and compliance issues.  In the meantime, for those who understand the importance of ‘smart’ healthcare, interconnection will continue to play a key role in delivering a better user experience and smarter services for the providers and medical professionals that help us take care of our greatest asset – health.

Tejaswini Tilak – Senior Director, Vertical Marketing, Equinix contributed this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.