Delivering better healthcare through data
In association with InterSystems
Data has become the lifeblood of healthcare. Almost all the advances in medical technology, from research to diagnostics, treatment, and continuing care, depend on access to high volumes of data.
Yet despite the technology-driven advances in modern medicine, problems with data continue to hold us back from exploiting their full potential. This is best summed up in a pithy quote from James L. Madara, MD of the American Medical Association (AMA): “There are oceans of data, but only puddles of clinical meaning”.
It is not that patients are reluctant to part with personal or anonymised treatment information – the problem lies with the quality and consistency of data and its ability to comply with the data standards adopted by care providers, such as Health Level Seven (HL7) or Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR).
Data that is plentiful but difficult to use
Medical data has become ubiquitous, but it remains sequestered in separate systems and silos. It is often in different formats and is incomplete and inconsistent, undermining its utility.
Research by InterSystems suggests that obtaining usable data is major challenge for a third (34%) of medtech organisations. Our research also points to data scientists in the medical sector spending as little as a fifth of their time analysing data. The rest is spent tracking data down, merging it, reorganising it and rendering it fit for use which is not an efficient use of the time of highly skilled individuals in short supply.
Because of these difficulties, gaining a holistic view of data has become a major challenge right across the medical sector.
Healthy data will unlock the huge potential of medical technology
This is frustrating because medical technology is advancing fast. The Covid pandemic lit a fire under digital transformation in healthcare. From virtual consultations to treat non-Covid illnesses, to electronic prescriptions, to test and trace applications, the response of Irish healthcare professionals has been impressive.
Regulators also allowed emergency use authorisation, fast-tracking new diagnostic techniques and treatments to market. This all changed perceptions of the balance of risk, because doing nothing was not an option.
It was during the height of Covid that many people first experienced remote monitoring of conditions. This is certain to continue as the benefits become more apparent to the patient or consumer.
Resolving demographic pressures
Societies need data-driven advances so their economies can handle the problems of growing populations and increasing demand at a time when medical inflation and health spending outstrips growth in GDP. Ireland’s population is projected to increase by 1 million by 2050 and life expectancy has increased two-and-a-half years over the last 15 years
To be affordable, healthcare needs to look at new delivery models using advances in technology. Remote diagnostics and treatment, for example, help prevent hospital admissions and reduce costs. The most expensive place to treat a patient is in an acute hospital, which is why we need to treat more patients at home using remote techniques. That is the way healthcare will move in the near-future, once we make data useable in different systems and devices, fully compliant with healthcare standards and with data protection legislation.
Cloud, mobile, connected devices and the roll-out of 5G, high-bandwidth connectivity are enabling new solutions all the time. We are also seeing a blurring of the lines between consumer wellness devices and medical technology. The Apple Watch for instance, can identify atrial fibrillation, a cause of stroke and heart attack. The use of wearable technology will become more widespread, generating highly valuable insights with wide application.
As we move forward, we will see the rapid evolution of the Internet of Medical Things. Systems and solutions will analyse large volumes of data instantly, producing insights for medical professionals
As quality data and consumer trust increases, AI will become more reliable in helping to diagnose disease and determining treatment. We are likely to see a virtuous circle with the more that AI is used (the more practice it gets), the better it will become. Of course, AI and machine learning succeed or fail on the quality of the underlying data.
The critical role of the smart data fabric
But how will we overcome the problems with data so we can enjoy these advances? The technology consultancy Gartner says the answer is the enterprise data fabric, which will be future of data management. This is a new architectural approach that ingests and harmonises data from multiple sources on-demand.
By allowing existing legacy applications and data to remain in place, smart data fabrics enable organisations to maximise the value from their previous technology investments, including existing data lakes and data warehouses, without having to ‘rip-and-replace’ any of their existing technology.
At InterSystems, we’re looking to take this one step further through our InterSystems IRIS for Health data management platform. By embedding a wide range of analytics capabilities, including data exploration, business intelligence, natural language processing, and machine learning directly within the fabric, IRIS for Health makes it faster and easier for organisations to gain new insights and power intelligent predictive and prescriptive services and applications.
This delivers the full potential from data assets, eradicating the problems of inconsistent and incomplete data that continue to hold back healthcare technologies that have such huge potential. It also enables organisations to use analytical techniques and build machine learning models even if they lack data science skills. This is a major gain that will open the door to more advanced use cases and wider application for many medical technology companies, delivering significant benefits to thousands of consumers and patients.
The future of medical technology is a bright one because the smart data fabric will enable medical professionals to make sense of an ocean of data. It is how the medical world will remove its biggest barriers to the highly significant advances in diagnosis, treatment and quality of life that technology can deliver.
John Kelly is sales manager – Ireland, for InterSystems