Tech transforms healthcare ecosystem

15 February 2022
Growing reliance on digital technologies is disrupting the healthcare ecosystem, from patient care through to data management

The global healthcare industry is in the throes of a strategic shift.

Several factors are at play: a global pandemic; the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, which has led to the use of a range of new technologies in healthcare; lifestyle changes necessitating intervention; and a growing recognition of the need for the prevention of disease instead of only a cure.

Studies show that the global health industry was worth $8.45tn in 2018, with global healthcare spending forecast to exceed $10tn by 2022.

In general, the demands on healthcare workers are enormous. In addition, during the pandemic, healthcare workers routinely reported significant emotional, physical and professional stress from responding to Covid-19. Across the globe, healthcare organisations are struggling to support their employees, and to retain them.

These demands are leading to a steadily increasing reliance on digital technologies.

In other industries, the use of technology has repeatedly resulted in reduced costs and increased efficiencies. Healthcare is no different.

Today, the use of technology in healthcare could be the catalyst for the clinical, financial and operational transformation that healthcare is seeking to deliver.

The benefits are many. One example is the use of the internet of things (IoT). Allowing multiple connected devices to collect and share information with each other, IoT promises to make healthcare services more effective and to alleviate the burden placed on healthcare providers.

An example of the real-world usefulness of IoT is in smartphone applications that can track symptoms and send updates on the patient’s condition to the physician or remind patients to refill prescriptions.

Indeed, in a 2021 survey, 64 per cent of physicians said they believed the use of IoT could help significantly reduce the burden on nurses and doctors. Particularly promising applications include health monitoring for the elderly, for people with chronic deceases, and during sports.

The use of IoT also brings into focus the challenge of big data. The healthcare industry routinely generates large amounts of data, and this is even more the case as the use of IoT becomes increasingly widespread. Big data analytics allows for applications with several positive outcomes.

For example, the analysis of health data could prevent epidemics, improve preventive care and create comprehensive reports with valuable insights. However, specialised data engineers are needed to establish the big data management strategies required to enable big data analytics.

In other industries, the use of technology has repeatedly resulted in reduced costs and increased efficiencies. Healthcare is no different.

Artificial intelligence (AI) also has many applications in healthcare. One of the world's highest-growth industries, the AI sector was valued at about $600m in 2014 and is projected to reach a $150bn by 2026.

AI can greatly reduce errors and improve the diagnostic process, especially when there are large caseloads, as has been the case during the pandemic. It can predict and diagnose disease at a faster rate than most medical professionals and can also assist with customer service.

It can also help with medical research: in 2007, a robot called Adam analysed billions of data points in public databases to hypothesise about the functions of 19 genes found in yeast.

Upskilling healthcare

The possibilities are seemingly endless, but these advancements are no use without the skills required to master this changing industry. As a result, we are seeing the growth of several new career paths and jobs that meet this need.

A degree in data science has gained a great deal of popularity, with LinkedIn reporting a 56 per cent increase in job openings. Data scientists combine the skills of mathematicians, trend-spotters and computer scientists, analysing complex datasets and seeking deep insights.

The demand for this expertise is evident not just in the healthcare sector but across a range of industries, including business, finance, government, science, transportation, forensics, energy, the environment and academic research.

Similarly, a degree in AI can teach how to deploy cutting-edge tools and techniques and build the next generation of software tools – something that could have an array of applications in health and wellness.

The possibilities are seemingly endless, but these advancements are no use without the skills that are needed to master this changing industry.

With the industry undergoing a rapid digital transformation, it is only natural that cyber threats are not far behind. While other industries also experience cyberattacks, the nature of the healthcare industry’s mission poses unique challenges. Ramifications go well beyond financial loss and breaches of privacy, as loss of data could put patients’ lives at risk and a disruption could mean the unavailability of timely care.

At the annual meeting on cybersecurity hosted in 2021 by the World Economic Forum, it was revealed that over 10 million records have been stolen, of every type, including social security numbers, patient medical records, financial data, HIV test results and the private details of medical donors.

On average, 155,000 records are breached during an attack on the sector, and the number can be far higher, with some incidents reporting the breach of over 3 million records. A qualified cybersecurity specialist will be able to apply a variety of technical strategies, tools and techniques to secure data and come up with creative solutions to meet the challenges of the ever-changing environments of cybersecurity.

In a post-Covid era, healthcare is rapidly reinventing itself. There are newer and more innovative business models being developed all the time. Against this backdrop, we can expect the healthcare jobs and technologies of the future to also transform.

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