International cooperation can support digital transformation in healthcare in many ways. However, healthcare is special when it comes to digital transformation.

A global industry in a locally regulated and locally managed service domain

While ICT is probably the most global industry on Earth, with global supply chains, global players and global standards, healthcare is still very „local” as a service – local processes, local protocols and local culture.

In many ways Healthcare applies global standards and best practices (people tend to have similar health challenges around the world). However, local regulatory and management practices can be very different, as well as protocols, administration or even financial background.

Global technology now has the power to penetrate local healthcare systems. Global IT providers co-operate with clinicians and academic experts, often using a collaborative approach with specialists to support this process. Therefore, technology and best practice is now available across various countries and industries.

The patient – acting as a customer, though more vulnerable

We should not forget about the consumer. The consumer is called „the patient” in this case.

Patients are more vulnerable than the average customer, as their situation is very special, and they are often not in a situation to properly assess their status, have options and make a fully informed decision. However, the patients now tend to have expectations, which come from customer experience in other service industries: personalisation, user experience, information at his/her fingertips, even gamification and empowerment. This is the journey that we are now embracing in healthcare.

Too busy to embrace innovation? Too busy to save time and resources?

Healthcare is SPECIAL. Any good healthcare specialist I know (in any country) is overloaded with work. AND they feel there are more innovations out there from innovators than they can possibly absorb – some examples might be new innovations in diagnostic imaging, robot-assisted surgery tools, using AI in patient data analysis and many more.

We exhibited this year at the Dementia and Nursing Care Show in Birmingham. I met several health specialists and experienced care managers. My overall experience was that many of them feel somewhat uncomfortable with technology. They feel they lack knowledge and experience, while learning these would require even more resources. However, technology is there to serve them – I remember when we implemented a solution for Fresenius Medical Care which saved more than 30 minutes on every single patient’s administration, not to mention increased patient safety as technology reduced the risk of human errors. It was about real impact for the patient and the staff.

Safety comes first

Healthcare is about patient safety. Not a single innovation can be implemented unless it is proved to be absolute safe. This may lead to slow decision making processes – in a very fast changing tech environment.

Technology also raises several NEW questions related to healthcare: shall we use robots to combat loneliness? Is it OK to give patients tools to self-manage their condition? Can we trust software to classify diagnostic images to support decision making of radiologists?

Startups and innovations in the spotlight

The good news is that current innovation trends encourage large tech companies and small innovators to contribute to our collective digital health future. This means more attention, acceptance and funding all around the world. Institutions and governments identified opportunities in digital transformation in healthcare: Germany has passed a law to acknowledge digital treatments: the E-Health Act was followed by the Digital Care Act. Prescription of digital tools such as health bands is now part of treatment options. This trend is also being seen in the UK.

Interoperability, cloud environments and 4G, 5G networks can support this process – enabling global solutions to be used in local healthcare. (Just a few examples: DICOM files can now travel a bit easier than before, services from the cloud give fast and seamless access to applications and data, while less physical travel is required to perform technical support tasks.)

We need this computing capacity to analyse the aggregated health data, by health imaging tools or IoT widgets or collected in patient records. The magic is in the relationships! Scientists can find new information and solutions just by connecting the dots and reveal relationships too complex for a human eye or the human brain.

Share your experience with us

I am more than interested in hearing some of your views.

Does anyone have direct experience with….

  • Digital transformation projects and challenges in Health?
  • Do you have any direct experience as a PATIENT who actually knew that it would have been possible to personalise their treatment if data is used more effectively?
  • Does anyone have experience with unused „data silos” or important data that is not used to provide better treatment? (Just think about smart wearables, as data is often NEVER shown to a doctor.)
  • Any IT specialists struggling with specific challenges of healthcare? (Regulatory/GDPR? Clinical testing? Specific patient groups with cognitive difficulties? Interoperability issues? Just to name a few we have already seen in NETIS.)
  • Anyone who thinks the solution does exist…but there is not enough time, money or knowledge to implement it? (It may be easier and cheaper than you think, and can bring very, very tangible results.)

These are all issues which are challenging, however, not impossible to solve.

International collaboration does matter – and can make a real difference

It might be the case that if you are a clinician, your International clinical peers can share with you successes in Australia/Germany/Estonia… If you are a health IT specialist, it may just happen that your perfect Machine Learning Expert sits only 2 hours’ travel and a phone call away. They may be currently working on a Horizon2020 project reflecting YOUR problem. Global talent pools can provide the best value for money –while YOUR expertise may be sought somewhere in Spain, US or Hungary – if you are connected to the right channels.

Thinking global (or at least at the European level) can also be useful when you have a short term project, if you need some rare skills or your budget is very limited. (If you face ALL these at the same time, you may be in trouble. Heading to Mars having only training shoes and a bicycle?)

Your startup can scale up with international talent, while you can outsource some non-core, repetitive but important tasks.

Let me illustrate this with our recent project for Medway Community Healthcare, which had a telecare solution for elderly households. They could maintain this with our team’s help and do necessary updates (including a complete redevelopment of a particular application) as all tasks could be safely done remotely, within a tight budget.

Forms of international collaboration: from outsourcing to team augmentation

Some of you may not be absolutely familiar with some forms of international collaborations but let’s quickly go through a few examples.

You OUTSOURCE if there is a particular task to be performed, especially in a market which is not your home market, when the activity is not your core activity but important. It can also be a cost saving exercise (some countries like Hungary may have excellent technical talent pools, and much lower cost of living, with a similar average living standards like in the UK) but again I’d say value for money is key. Outsourcing is focusing on deliverables, while the team is not managed directly, and communication between the entities can be formal and standardised.

Partnerships are perfect when the organisations have complimentary skills and services. You may need us if you are a mobile expert, but need a company with Microsoft expertise, and we may need you if you are a professional medical content provider.

If you have a startup, you could benefit from team augmentation – this gives more security than freelancers and more industry knowledge than agencies. It might be useful to know that in the case of team augmentation your extended team works ONLY on your project.

Avoid traps and mitigate risks

Be careful when you are offered a service which is Cheap, High Quality AND Fast – to avoid any disappointment. You may also find out that you and your partner use exactly the same term but you mean completely different things by it (you may test this by defining „server”). However, you can use standards and some main principles of Accessibility, Sustainability and Compatibility to mitigate such risks.

At the very end, where does NETIS fit in this puzzle? We have 10 years’ experience in healthcare ICT, product development and infrastructure support and integration.  We are committed to patient empowerment and patient education, data-driven healthcare as well as supporting the British economy and the United Kingdom. We trust our organisations can collaborate well together – and hope to meet our potential international partners in one-to-one meetings or smaller and larger events related to digital healthcare. Progress comes through trusted collaboration and we hope that our workshop in London was- the first step towards new relationships.

This is an edited version of my presentation delivered on 17 October, 2019, at the Hungarian Embassy in London, for a professional audience involved in digital healthcare. You may visit Prezi for the associated slides and images used in the presentation.

Author: Eva Lajko