Next-level health tech
Connected medical devices can save time and resources but providers need to improve their data analysis capability.
From connected devices in smart hospitals and artificial intelligence for preventive healthcare, to telemedicine and portable diagnosis systems, digital technologies are becoming part of the everyday healthcare delivery system.
Nevertheless, health service providers around the world are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. For many the focus is still on improving back-office efficiency and simple transactions, while the majority of patient-facing activity remains unchanged.
But it is clear that technological transformation will be one of the major differentiators between successful and unsuccessful providers over the next decade, says the consultancy KPMG.
"Digital technology has a vital role in the healthcare industry, especially for senior and aftercare programmes," says Natasak Rodjanapiches, senior adviser to KPMG Phoomchai Business Advisory in Thailand.
"A combination of advanced technology can be used for multiple aspects of healthcare through real-time data collection from the IoT (Internet of Things) and wearable devices," he added. "Advanced analytics tools such as AI, precision medicine and robotic process automation can certainly help hospitals and healthcare providers deliver healthy and quality living to the elderly."
Taiwan-based LongGood, a rehabilitation software development specialist, offers a good example of how AI can be used to provide cheaper and more efficient services, which could be extended to other fields beyond rehabilitation.
"AI will increase work efficiency and facilitate more inventions and applications," Tsuying Li, a consultant to the company, told Asia Focus on the sidelines of the Smart Healthcare in Taiwan conference in Bangkok in July.
"Most important of all, AI can create different job opportunities as well. Why? Because AI will not replace humans, but humans who do not use AI will be replaced by those who do," she added.
LongGood is now working on EVAgo, a portable stroke evaluation system that can help medical professionals assess stroke severity in seconds. It can provide them with a stroke severity score, evaluate fall risk and other problems, and even offer rehabilitation training recommendations.
The application, now in the research and development stage, could save up to 80% of the time involved in stroke evaluation, said Ms Li.
"We are now developing a stroke severity evaluation tool that can detect stroke patients in the post-acute phase to assess the condition of the patient very quickly," she said. "The ageing population is growing, so the demand for this kind of tool will be tremendous."
If EVAgo is successful when it is launched next year, LongGood hopes to extend the application to other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Digital technology is valuable for senior and aftercare programmes, says Natasak Rodjanapiches of KPMG.
"Right now, doctors use a stroke scale to evaluate the condition of the patient, It takes a lot of time to ask questions and the diagnosis will based on personal observation," said Ms Li. "But we think we can provide them with a very objective tool to evaluate the patient and that is how we came up with the idea for EVAgo."
The software works with a three-dimensional sensor that captures body movements and detects any abnormality in a patient. All the patient has to do is to walk toward the sensor, which is like a camera, and a report will be generated automatically for therapists to evaluate.
"We will also provide training from physiotherapy to occupational therapy and based on those results, we can recommend what kind of training is suitable for the specific patient," said Ms Li. "Nurses and caregivers who can activate the software can use it because the operating process is so simple. We don't need a therapist or physician on site with the patient all the time."
Another Taiwanese company, Medimaging Integrated Solution (MiiS), is using AI to improve telemedicine, with a focus on medical and optical imaging, according to assistant vice-president Chiu Wen-Pin. One of its best-selling products is the Horus DSC 200 series, which is the first handheld digital fundus camera with a 45-degree field of view and embedded micro-fixation light with high resolution.
The new Horus Scope 300 series launched this year has enhanced digital capabilities. Its is a device-to-device solution to collect data from medical images and vital signs such as blood pressure, pulse, temperature and digital stethoscope readings using a Bluetooth connection.
"We were thinking, what if we can get all the information from the patient before they visit the doctor? So we started to integrate our products and connect them into a whole package solution," said Mr Chiu. "We are not only providing the medical images but we also integrate the vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature and readings from other devices together."
This "total telemedicine service" is now being used in Taiwan and MiiS is looking to bring it to Southeast Asia. AI enters the picture with the Horus Digital imaging box, which enables the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) to support real-time action.
"We are using AI solutions to combine with our digital non-mydriatic fundus camera to look for and mark the symptoms of possible blindness to help a general practitioner tell what is going wrong with a patient's eye and make a referral almost immediately," said Mr Chiu.
In its study of digital transformation efforts in the healthcare field, KPMG said that successfully replacing analogue processes with digital ones starts with rethinking the purpose of the services. The provider can then re-engineer how they are delivered and capitalise on opportunities afforded by data to adapt and learn.
In the report titled "Digital Health: Heaven or Hell?", KPMG identified key lessons from those that have successfully realised the benefits and overcome the setbacks. Fundamentally, it says, transformation comes from new ways of working, not the technology itself.
"You need a transformation programme supported by technology, not the other way round. This is the fundamental lesson that underpins everything else," said Mr Natasak.
Second, the majority of the issues faced are people problems, not technology problems. This means that healthcare providers require sophisticated leadership and change management capabilities.
"Technologies need to solve problems recognised by people who are going to use them, be they patients or professionals. This requires a deep understanding of the work as well as the needs of the worker," he said.
Apart from coming up with new ways of working and finding the people who can use new technologies effectively, healthcare providers also have to invest in analytics. This is because spending on digital systems but overlooking the capabilities to use the data collected will not deliver any meaningful payback.
"The inability to share and combine data between different systems is a major hindrance to realising the full benefit of technology in healthcare, Mr Natasak said.
He also cautioned that data sharing requires strong information governance and security, particularly in the face of a growing threat from cyberattacks.