Finding the best approach to big data and connectivity in healthcare


Telehealth is one of the five healthcare trends in 2023. — 123rf.com

If 2022 has taught us anything, it is that change is permanent.

In politics, this week’s Parliament session was the culmination of months, if not years, of political instability that has coalesced into a relatively stable form of government.

There is hope that this will allow leaders to spend more time governing, rather than allowing our country to stagnate in a pool of non-decisions.

But even then, the guarantee of yesteryears where five-year parliamentary terms are sacrosanct is no longer present.

Zooming out of domestic issues, we are faced with multiple headwinds – rising inflation, the climate crisis, persistent supply chain disruption, the volatile state of commodities and an increasingly antagonistic technological cold war between the United States and China.

Ironically, we seem to be more complacent about the mother of all recent disruptions – Covid-19.

Perhaps forgetting is a defensive mechanism to shield us from the trauma of the pandemic, but it would be unwise to not take a step back and learn from the manner in which our lives have been disrupted and what needs to be done to prevent further setbacks in the future.

Pandemics will inevitably return, but we face a number of short, medium and long-term challenges in healthcare.

These range from increased waiting times as we face physical and human resource capacity limitations to the need to develop appropriate infrastructure and skill sets in order to fully utilise and embrace the digitalisation of our healthcare sector.

An article in Forbes identified five healthcare trends in 2023:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Remote healthcare – virtual hospitals, healthcare communities and telehealth
  • Retail healthcare
  • Wearable medical devices, and
  • Personalised healthcare.

The applicability of these trends, alongside preparation for both infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, will be determined by the manner in which we approach these challenges.

Importantly, this must include appropriate digitalisation of services and again, the manner in which we approach big data.

Guidance needed

Reacting quickly to a challenge can only be done if we have data to guide us.

It may not be complete, but it has to be useful enough to help us make decisions.

Data helps us with a diagnosis, which leads to an intervention that is aimed to improve the prognosis.

This is not dissimilar at a systemic level.

Data that is collected and analysed appropriately can be put to good use when making decisions regarding resource allocation and patient services.

A shortage of medical professionals in rural areas and difficulty gaining access to villages are some of the healthcare challenges in Malaysia. — FilepicA shortage of medical professionals in rural areas and difficulty gaining access to villages are some of the healthcare challenges in Malaysia. — Filepic

This is applicable to any number of scenarios – patient waiting times, intensive care unit bed availability, the need to build a new hospital, decision to bulk purchase medication, identification of leakages in procurement, updates in dengue or flood prone areas – we have a lot of data sitting in siloes that require integration in order for it to be analysed and utilised effectively and efficiently.

Alongside data per se, connectivity will play a significant role.

The government’s decision regarding Digital Nasional Berhad’s role in 5G rollout will determine the extent to which enterprises will be able to utilise services such as wearable medical devices, and for healthcare providers to invest in remote healthcare.

The benefits of high speeds, large capacity and low latency are particularly pertinent in the healthcare space, where the ability to react in a timely fashion has a huge impact on outcomes.

The manner in which people are connected is important too.

For example, telemedicine has the potential to reduce inequality of access to healthcare via remote healthcare provision, but this is dependant on a number of factors as well.

In a 2021 survey conducted by Medical Protection, 66% of doctors agreed that the benefits of telemedicine have been unquestionable during Covid-19, and that it will remain a fundamental tool in practice.

However, 96% raised concerns about patients whose access to remote services may be impacted by factors such as digital literacy, disability, language, location or internet connection.

Policies will also need to be reviewed in order to maximise use of data management and connectivity. For example, our Telemedicine Act from 1997 should be updated to reflect current concerns and issues.

Going back to basics and addressing gaps will allow us to prepare for periods of instability.

Adam Tooze, a history professor at Columbia University, United States, used the term “polycrisis” to demonstrate the multiple areas of disruption, most of which may be negative in nature.

Instead of hoping and praying for stability, we need to be agile and adaptable.

That does not take away the need to prepare in order to be able to react appropriately – after all, the healthcare fraternity is used to dealing with sudden changes as long as we are ready: a victim of a bad car accident suddenly appearing at the Accident & Emergency department will be dealt with quickly and appropriately as long as the staff have sufficient training and resources.

Having said that, the victim of the car accident would bleed to death if decisions were not made and the right equipment and staff were not available.

The same concept applies more generally – an ever-changing landscape and the manner in which we deal with each of these factors will be determined by political commitment and ability to make correct decisions in a timely fashion.

Delays in decision-making may render available options obsolete, especially in healthcare and the digital space.

Dr Helmy Haja Mydin is a consultant respiratory physician and chief executive officer of the Social & Economic Research Initiative, a thinktank dedicated to evidence-based policies. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Big Data , Connectivity , Healthcare

   

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