Ageing populations, the rise of chronic diseases, and the growing demand for quality standards and services are realities that are shaping the healthcare landscape in cities around the world today. Delivering value to expanded groups has taken on new importance for healthcare providers, amidst cost and resource constraints and evolving expectations of increasingly empowered consumers. These factors are steadily driving the sector’s transformational shift towards digitalisation, placing smart technologies at the core of processes that leverage interoperability and integration.
As the global population ages, the healthcare systems of every country face significant challenges to meet the needs of this demographic. By 2025, 300 million of the projected increase of one billion people will be aged 65 and above by 2025, according to the United Nations (UN). In countries like China and India, there are even greater challenges due to the sheer number of older people. Ageing populations are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, and along with rising costs and resource constraints, these challenges are placing a huge burden on government healthcare systems.
Over the last few years however, healthcare providers have worked closely with industries to deliver quality customer experience. The industry is right on track as we see a transformational shift from volume to value of care. Without a doubt, the evolution in data, mobile and cloud technologies has disrupted the healthcare industry, and this disruption has forced healthcare and insurance companies to move towards a model that is more customer-centric.
In Asia, smart healthcare is progressing more rapidly, as evidenced by increasing budgets to support these developments. Healthcare IT expenditure in the Philippines is predicted to reach US$ 60 million by 2019, while the implementation of the Digital India Initiative is expected to contribute US$ 280 billion to the country’s healthcare sector by 2020.
The surge in digitalised networks and data monitoring systems present promising opportunities for the region’s healthcare sector. These advances, which are seamlessly integrated into mobile health apps on smartphones, provide improved, real-time access to information and speedy treatments, empowering patients to take active control of their health data, and choose the type of care that is best-suited to them.
From expediting diagnosis to enabling remote patient monitoring, smart technologies continue to play a key role in improving patient outcomes, lowering costs, and creating efficiencies in today’s healthcare.
Cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), powered by cloud computing remediate the laborious task of storing and managing massive volumes of data, while also ensuring smoother back-end workflow. In larger hospitals like the Nagasaki University Hospital in Japan, this solution has led to optimum productivity and immediate access to data on hand. Relying on near-field communications technology for data transmission, the mobile touch-screen computers in the hospital reads and confirms a patient’s identity through barcodes located on the patients’ tags. The three-point authentication (nurse, administrator and medication) eliminates the manual process of having to scour through patients’ records, keeping prescription errors to a minimum.
Automated tracking via Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags have also successfully been deployed in hospitals to address logistical challenges and reduce inefficiencies. At Denmark’s Det Nye Universitets hospital in Aarhus, staff and approximately 20,000 objects (hospital beds, wheelchairs, medical devices) are embedded with RFID tags to help personnel locate these through information screens installed in the premises or mobile apps. Easy tracking means less time wasted on locating and mobilising much-needed assets, allowing staff to focus on core responsibilities, namely, attending to patients. Improved accountability and traceability, capable of supporting efficiency and patient safety, will be a cornerstone of this initiative.
Simprints, a biometric fingerprint solution provider from England, uses IoT for faster identification of patients in countries affected by climate disasters. The technology works offline and is a boon for places with unpredictable Wi-Fi connection. Simprints taps into existing mobile data collection apps found in smartphones of frontline workers. When a patient biometrically enrols through Simprints, a unique ID is generated from a fingerprint template, and scanned to the phone. When wi-fi becomes available, it automatically syncs with Google Cloud. Simprints’ ability to track beneficiaries worldwide and provide mandatory treatment enables patients in countries like South Asia, Africa and Middle East to have access to basic care.
IoT also facilitates the relationship between patients and healthcare providers, and improves productivity. Singapore start-up, BitCare launched a two-way audio call feature for nurses to respond to patients’ calls from anywhere in the ward using a mobile app. Through this feature, nurses can prioritise their time while managing several patients at a time, and provide assurance that patients would be attended to shortly.
No doubt, the healthcare industry poses one of the most high-risk working environments. Artificial respiration, surgical tools and inspection of medical devices depend heavily on reliable, round-the-clock supply of medical compressed air. This means, any room with internal shortcomings from energy-wasting equipment must be immediately resolved.
A specialist in compressed air systems, BOGE knows only too well, the importance of compressed air that accedes to statutory requirements and safety standards and recognises the hospitals’ priority in remaining energy-efficient. It leverages Industry 4.0 technologies to guarantee that compressed air production can be evaluated and optimised promptly.
Among its customised solutions are air compressors equipped with smart monitoring systems. BOGE’s Airtelligence Provis 2.0, for example, commands up to 16 air compressors with the assistance of browserbased visualisation that is linked to an existing server structure enabled by an Ethernet interface. Users can log into their computers to review data, including pressure history and free air delivery.
BOGE’s air status allows users to control up to 32 components—from wherever and whenever—through the air status application on a smartphone. The remote diagnostics tool provides ongoing updates on operating and idle time, maintenance status and more, ensuring that abnormalities are immediately detected, and performance is welloptimised. Such technologies, centred on digitalised management and coordination, assist hospitals by saving on operating and energy costs while ensuring that medical operations relying on compressed air remain uninterrupted.
The demand for medical assistance, medicines and accessible clinics are definitely on an upward trend. Patients these days seek quality healthcare services at affordable costs, and at the touch of a button. More organisations are now committed to overcoming shortages in manpower within the healthcare industry with much-needed solutions.
The multi-tiered mobile technology, mClinica connects pharmacies, patients, drug companies and distributors on a single platform. The smart inventory monitors drug purchases, to whom and at what quantity, giving pharmacies a clear idea of the supply to demand ratio and the ability to replenish depleting stocks quickly. Comprising more than 5,000 pharmacies and 70 million patients across Southeast Asia, the Singapore-based company previously identified a combination of drugs in densely-populated Indonesia that could have been lethal, and in the process, was able to act as a preventive measure against pharmaceutical errors.
Short-handed medical experts and lack of access to hospitals can result in lives at risk. The maternal mortality rate in Indonesia is among the highest in the region due to lack of access to antenatal care. In 2014, the Philips Mobile Obstetrics Monitoring (MOM) initiative and Bunda Medical Centre capitalised on the significant mobile penetration rate in the country to bring scalable telehealth to expectant mothers in rural West Sumatra.
The pilot programme allowed midwives to build the health profile of pregnant women with data from tests done in nursing clinics and the soonto-be mother’s home. The data was uploaded from the app to the central MOM server, allowing obstetricians and gynaecologists to supervise the entire pregnancy. Upon detection of high-risk pregnancies, immediate care was rendered.
The discovery of high-risk pregnancies increased three-fold with no maternal deaths recorded. From the tremendous positive feedback received, the contributors signed a deal to launch the programme in 2016. The timely referral and management of the MOM now offer women in rural villages the rare opportunity to see their foetuses during pregnancy and receive similar medical privileges as mothers in urban cities.
Bringing quality healthcare to new heights, BookDoc radically revolutionised the healthcare experience by streamlining the patient’s journey through consultation-booking, navigation and transport before arriving at the clinic. While locals stand to benefit, travellers who are unfamiliar with a host country can also receive medical help with ease. Patients simply book an appointment on the regional database, with the option to choose from a range of clinics, including 24-hour medical care. The mobile application works in tandem with reputable organisations like Google (Maps), Grab, Airbnb, Agoda and several recommended hotels and restaurants, creating an integrated healthcare ecosystem online, on a singular plane.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. AI has the potential to improve patient experience by better anticipating their needs, partnering with healthcare providers with next-level patient data and providing outcomes at a faster rate. The use of robotics in healthcare is also expanding. Both AI and robotics can take over or perform tasks such as sorting through enormous volumes of data and medical scans much faster than humans, and in the process, be able to clear pathways for better and earlier diagnostics. For researchers, the assimilated data can present new insights. AI is already being used to detect diseases such as cancer more accurately and in early stages.
Robotic-assisted surgery, such as the da Vinci Xi Surgical System, further enhance the capabilities of surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgery, even in the most complex situations. It is not uncommon to see surgeons sitting at a console, viewing 3D images of the surgical site, and controlling the arms of the robotic instruments inside the patient’s body. Because the robotic arms are tiny, they allow surgeons to make smaller incisions with greater precision. Additionally, the da Vinci Xi provides more ergonomic support, giving the surgeon stability, dexterity and proper posture and positioning for lengthy procedures. Robots can also help with simple tasks like lifting patients from their beds and moving them to a consultation room or operating theatre.
The dynamic face of presentday healthcare offers vast growth opportunities for technological innovations in the future-ready healthcare sector. IoT networks, smart monitoring devices, innovative mobile technologies, and AI are game changers, offering the ultimate healthcare experience for both health professionals and patients. Groundbreaking technologies and the industry’s determination to upend existing healthcare practices will, no doubt, prepare Asia to meet the needs of its growing middle class and rapidly ageing population.