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Smart healthcare is a data proposition

November 10, 2016  |  Written by Dale Green, Marketing Director, Digital Realty

Not a week goes by without a breakthrough in healthcare and medicine driven by new technology. Innovations are advancing on a daily basis and many more are waiting to be tested and rolled out. For instance, in June 2016, a new form of laser treatment to manage the symptoms of enlarged prostates was introduced and recommended for rollout across the National Health Service (NHS).

We’re also starting to see the emergence of wearable technology empowering people to take more control over their day-to-day health. This data can also be passed onto doctors, alongside other innovations that will affect the doctor-patient relationship. 

Beyond this, treatment, research and other ‘behind the scenes’ activities will change the way that health services operate at a fundamental level. The NHS committed itself to plugging a £22bn gap in its funding by 2020 by implementing efficiencies. Numerous ‘paperless’ initiatives are in focus now, and an automated diagnostic process will surely grow in importance over the next few years. 

Advanced scanning and 3-D modelling technologies already exist in business. When applied to medicine, computers will be able to perform anomaly analyses in seconds. Doctors will instantly get results, likely improving the speed of diagnosis and, crucially, treatment. The 2-3% productivity improvements that the NHS needs could potentially be found in this one development. 

Such high quality technology is available today. Connected monitors are helping diabetics maintain consistent blood glucose levels by sending alerts to patients’ mobile phones should a problem arise. Scientists in the U.S. recently developed a microscope that utilises machine learning and AI to more effectively locate cancer cells present in blood samples. And in March 2016, a world-first algorithm designed to diagnose the world’s biggest killer – heart failure – was announced as a result of the Second Annual Data Science Bowl, a competition promoting crowd-sourced solutions. This is expected to save time and cost once commercialised.

Gartner estimates that approximately 91 million smart fitness devices – including wristbands, watches etc. – will be sold this year. Forecasts around the Fourth Industrial Revolution all include robotics enabling healthcare, improving efficiencies and introducing new forms of medical treatments.

So the technology exists, but why are we not seeing more of it in action?

I believe there are two reasons for this. First, is the need for exhaustive testing. Healthcare is an area where guarantees of quality are needed over and above most other industries. 

Second is a technology challenge of a different kind: hospitals are not data centres. The latest medical technology creates more data than hospitals can currently deal with themselves. Their infrastructure needs to change.

Digital records – supplemented by smart health devices – smart buildings and next-generation diagnostic equipment all create a digital footprint. And the data has to go somewhere. But at the same time, records need to be accessible, smart buildings need real-time data, and diagnostics need databases to analyse against. 

Hospitals and other healthcare providers don’t have the infrastructures of business pioneers. They have a data challenge. They need an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) to host their apps and data, and provide a robust service level agreement.

It’s a much better option than trying to put data centres in hospitals. It allows all hospital space to be used for care-giving and alleviates service and maintenance headaches. Facilities and headcount are focused on health rather than data centre operations.

Working with Atlantic Health System (AHS), a not-for-profit private healthcare organisation, we created a custom-built data centre solution at our multitenant Piscataway facility. It allows AHS to scale up its existing power footprint in a secure, reliable and cost-effective manner. The solution also provides visibility of the technology in a way that allows the organisation to handle high volumes of data demands at any given period.

AHS is a great example of a healthcare service setting itself up for the future, and more will likely follow suit. With more time and resources being ploughed into research around gene-sequencing and other highly data intensive tasks, organisations will discover the significant benefits of shifting to IaaS.

Whether the future lies in zero-incision solutions or nanobots implanted into the body, the reliance on data will only grow. The good thing is that these developments fit in with the bigger healthcare priorities of doing more with less. But the infrastructure that supports the changes will hold the key to success.

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