Healthcare Technology: Improving the patient experience with interconnectivity

Can you remember the last time you’ve had to solely rely on calling your doctor’s office to schedule an appointment? While this was once the norm, this now can be viewed as an old-school inconvenience. It’s becoming more and more common to book appointments directly online, along with with viewing ratings, credentials, and accepted insurance. We can even interact with our doctors via video chat and manage our medical needs through digital portals, whether looking up lab results or asking a question. With certainty, healthcare is undergoing digital transformation. However, generating high volumes of sensitive data requires around-the-clock maintenance and security. As a result, a new set of opportunities and challenges have emerged, prompting technology providers to push boundaries and innovate within the parameters of industry regulations and data privacy law.

Healthcare Technology: Improving the patient experience with interconnectivity
Healthcare Technology: Improving the patient experience with interconnectivity

Expectations around the patient experience, doctors’ use of time, self-serve medicine, personalized care and access to digital health records have evolved at an unprecedented rate. By 2022, the healthcare analytics market is estimated to be valued at $29.84B.

This article will explore the impact of new healthcare technology on patient outcomes, with a core focus on interconnectivity and the role it plays in aggregating data, systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Content Summary

Opportunities and Challenges for Interconnectivity in Healthcare
Use Cases: Performance
Use Cases: Security and Compliance
Use Cases: Financial

Opportunities and Challenges for Interconnectivity in Healthcare

Interconnectivity is different from traditional forms of ‘two-way’ connection in that it facilitates collaboration between many entities across vast networks. Two-way communication, while still relevant, is now augmented by interconnection where everything and everyone is connected seamlessly in real-time. As such, interconnectivity is changing the way organizations, including healthcare organizations, exchange and process data, opening up new doors to innovations and advances in technology that provide security and efficiencies all in one.

Healthcare technology providers are constantly striving to meet the demands of consumers to remain competitive. The rate at which data is exchanged between IoT devices, record systems, and practitioners can, quite literally, be a matter of life or death. As a result, this has created room for innovation at a level of sophistication not seen before. It has become the responsibility of both the healthcare system and technology providers to carefully manage and optimize interconnectivity within the broader ecosystem.

Opportunities and Challenges for Interconnectivity in Healthcare
Opportunities and Challenges for Interconnectivity in Healthcare

Fueling the industry’s growth has been a substantial investment from private equity firms. Between 2010 and 2017, private equity dollars towards healthcare-related acquisitions increased by 187% to $42.6B. The injection of capital has opened up doors to a new way of doing business. Legacy systems, IT infrastructure and antiquated networks have typically precluded interconnectivity between patients, doctors, medical records and devices. In a quest for smarter health solutions, technology providers have developed an omnichannel approach that not only creates efficiencies in how data is managed but also improves patient outcomes.

Historically, the healthcare industry has been fraught with heavy administration and data management requirements. On top of that, patient access to health records and information has not been made easy due to regulations around security and privacy. Advances in technology and big data are beginning to alleviate the burden on both clinicians and patients, changing the way healthcare is delivered once and for all.

The following sections will explore the different use cases for interconnectivity within a healthcare setting, and how technology can be leveraged to solve inefficiencies across the industry.

Use Cases: Performance

Interconnectivity has the power to create strong workflows across all systems, platforms, and tools in the healthcare industry. The following use cases explore how interconnectivity can positively impact performance within healthcare.

Improving the Patient Experience. About 33% of doctors spend only 17-24 minutes with their patients, according to a 2018 study. The rest of their time is spent bogged down by paperwork, including electronic health records (EHR). So as you can imagine, when a doctor only has 15-20 minutes to spend with you, there’s only so much they’re able to assess before needing to get to the next patient. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have played an important role in delivering a better patient experience. Algorithms can detect and analyze your medical records for important clues and insights even when your doctor isn’t able to meet with you face-to-face. High network speeds and bandwidth are necessary to achieve this and will help deliver care without compromising patient outcomes. Platforms that connect front-line healthcare workers with data analytics and patient information in real-time have incredible potential, provided they can facilitate a secure, direct connection between entities. As an example, the ability of a physician to order lifesaving medication through a secure app on their smartphone for a diabetic patient points to a simple yet valuable efficiency made possible by interconnectivity.

The Art of Meeting Healthcare Demands. As hospitals keep up with increasing healthcare demands, many leaders are turning to technology providers for long-term solutions. A study by IBM found that 52% of Kaiser Permanente’s annual 110 million patient-physician interactions are now online or mobile. Equally impressive is the rate of adoption for cloud services among healthcare organizations, which is expected to reach $35B by 2022. Such investments are indicative of a shifting landscape towards scalable, optimized networks to reduce latency and mounting data storage costs. In this case, interconnectivity ensures data travels via secure pathways within a distributed network architecture. Instead of data moving from one central location to different outposts, it can be held where it’s needed and processed on demand.

The Art of Meeting Healthcare Demands
The Art of Meeting Healthcare Demands

Using Data to Change Patient Behavior. Data can be used to help inform more thoughtful and healthier behavioral choices based on an individual’s specific medical status and needs. In 2019, biopharmaceutical and medical device companies are set to release cutting edge digital therapies and associated health services that will help patients make meaningful behavioral changes for improved health outcomes. In turn, providers can glean real-time therapeutic insights from patient use, while insurance companies and employers gain access to tools for managing beneficiaries.

The virtualization of system infrastructure in a healthcare setting has the potential to help providers gain a better understanding of patient behavior through data. However, for a secure network to be deployed, a secure cloud connection must be in place to ensure seamless access to virtualized assets.

Use Cases: Security and Compliance

Healthcare data is highly sensitive and personal, which means security and compliance are top of mind for both healthcare and technology providers. The following use cases explore how interconnectivity can be used to solve issues around patient safety.

Cybersecurity and Patient Safety. Interconnectivity between medical devices and systems must be reinforced by airtight infrastructure and compliant data centers. HIPAA laws require healthcare providers to be extremely vigilant with their management of patients’ data. From 2017 to 2018, the number of exposed records in healthcare breaches more than doubled, totaling over 13 million records that were breached with the main cause being hacking/IT incidents. When it comes to the transmission of protected health information (PHI), patient safety is at stake. According to the Wall Street Journal, inadequately secured health devices that send and receive patient diagnostic information pose a serious risk, as exemplified by the 465,000 pacemakers that were recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration due to cyber vulnerabilities, jeopardizing patient safety. The growing interconnectivity between medical devices, health IT, electronic health records (EHRs) and patient access to data has placed an even greater level of responsibility on the shoulders of technology providers.

Interconnectivity Security Protocol. The HIPAA Privacy Rule encompasses national standards put forth to protect patient medical records and other personal health information. These standards apply to any healthcare provider that conducts electronic transactions involving personal health information. However, research from Clearwater found that authentication deficiencies, endpoint leakage, and excessive user permissions account for nearly 37% of all cybersecurity risks in healthcare settings. To curb this unnerving trend, the FDA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly released an initiative to help manage threats related to medical devices. As part of this initiative, DHS released a framework outlining best practices to help healthcare providers protect patient information against attacks on IoT medical devices. These guidelines include methodologies, procedures, and processes to reduce cybersecurity risks cost-effectively and ensure that the protocol stays relevant to healthcare stakeholders. Best practices are broken out by small organizations and medium to large organizations and include tips on protecting email systems, access management, asset management, network management, incident responses, and medical device security. Establishing guidelines following the HIPAA Privacy Rule, alongside secure interconnectivity across data centers, is an effective method of protecting patient information.

Proactive Detection of Misconduct. Full transparency into how IoT medical devices are interconnected is critical. Understanding their place within the broader healthcare ecosystem will uncover the level of risk they pose. As organizations drill down on risk, they can implement proactive measures to minimize the impact on patients’ health and safety. Methods such as network segmentation, patching, and device removal represent some of the ways healthcare entities are mitigating these risks. When setting up and managed correctly, cloud services can also equip healthcare providers with more control over security in addition to flexibility and scalability. It’s important to maintain solid access control procedures for your user accounts by, for example, designating an IT owner for each cloud cased system. Monitoring device behavior and understanding their place among complex medical workflows can aid early detection of any misconduct. Furthermore, secure connection through authentication and manual penetration testing on software and hardware are instrumental in being able to pinpoint security breaches and attacker entry points.

Use Cases: Financial

Technology is often developed to create efficiencies and reduce costs. Interconnectivity has helped the healthcare industry save on operational expenditure, data storage, and communication management. The following use cases explore how interconnectivity can help healthcare organizations optimize their costs.

Reducing Wasteful Operational Spending. $126B per year is wasted on operational spending in healthcare, including inefficient use of healthcare IT, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Believe it or not, many healthcare facilities still use paper to onboard their patients, which translates into countless hours of admin work. Faxing, scanning, printing and shredding PHI documents eats up precious time and resources. Interconnectivity has brought forth digital solutions that reduce wasteful costs and enable efficient workflows around patient registration, prescription management, and data storage. Interconnection makes this possible by enabling more seamless collaboration no matter where you are in the world, reducing downtime due to more network resiliency, and reduced latency on a distributed architecture.

Strengthening and Streamlining Communications. A report led by CRICO Strategies National revealed that miscommunication across 7,000+ cases in various healthcare settings resulted in a $1.7B loss. Fragmented communication between patients and healthcare providers can cause issues for both the system and those who are receiving care. Critical information that gets lost in translation cannot only severely impact patient health but also drive up costs that come from efforts to recover or rectify missing information. The connection between tools, platforms, and systems of record – accessed by both the patient and practitioner – has the potential to get messy, especially when multiple providers are involved. The upside of interconnectivity is the ability to localize alternate connectivity options using Software-Defined Network (SDN) technology should one area of the network go down.

Improving the Quality of Patient Care. In hospital settings, human labor accounts for more than 50% of operating costs. The interconnectivity that supports the integrity of patient data can help reduce the burden – and valuable time spent – on administrative tasks, ensuring healthcare providers maximize their time with patients and improve the quality of care delivered.

Healthcare providers are also held accountable by SOC 2 compliance, a critical component of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)’s Service Organization Control reporting platform. SOC 2 exists to make sure that systems are built according to code, taking into account security, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of customer data. Like anyone else, healthcare providers must demonstrate their capacity to deploy systems that measure up to SOC 2 standards, while still creating efficiencies for staff and patients. For example, digitizing records and data management up to SOC 2 code has tangible benefits for the patient population. Healthcare workflows are more reliable, PHI is transmitted more securely and practitioners get the right information at the right time — all of which improves the quality of care patients receive.

Future of Connected Healthcare Landscapes. The healthcare industry has come a long way. With digital technologies playing a role in almost every aspect of our lives, healthcare providers have made concerted efforts to integrate them into patient care. A vast network of interconnected IoT devices, cloud-based data centers, analytical applications, and EHRs have created a digital ecosystem like no other. Healthcare providers are leveraging these technologies to change the way doctors are spending their time and the way care is delivered to patients.

Future of Connected Healthcare Landscapes
Future of Connected Healthcare Landscapes

As healthcare modernizes, new challenges and opportunities arise. Improved patient experience cybersecurity protocol and IoT medical devices are becoming more crucial within the evolving healthcare industry. Now more than ever, it’s important for providers to invest in trusted partners that understand the nuances around technology and big data.

Source: Digital Realty

Published by Thomas Apel

, a dynamic and self-motivated information technology architect, with a thorough knowledge of all facets pertaining to system and network infrastructure design, implementation and administration. I enjoy the technical writing process and answering readers' comments included.