By Dr. Keren Priyadarshini, Regional Business Lead of Worldwide Health, Microsoft Asia.
The healthcare industry was not quite prepared for the novel virus that quickly escalated into a global pandemic. From dealing with the various symptoms as they appeared, to managing the surge of patients, and ensuring quick and efficient information sharing throughout the public health system, the fallout from the pandemic was felt across every sector. To such an extent that the World Economic Forum called for The Great Reset – a rallying cry for leaders to shape recovery and create a world that is more equal and sustainable.
Making healthcare more accessible to those who need it
The World Health Organization identifies healthcare as a basic human right. And access to healthcare can be improved with technology, tools and processes to make medical knowledge readily available to those who need it.
Mobile applications, like iMOKO in New Zealand, extend healthcare services to underserved communities by rethinking the traditional healthcare delivery approach. ‘Digital health workers’ in schools and kōhanga reo (early childhood education and care centers) diagnose students’ health issues, a clinician approves the treatment, which is then shared with parents via the app – removing the need for costly trips to the doctor. Much like telehealth is another way to bridge the access gap; New Zealand’s Ministry of Health announced a new framework to support the expansion of the nation’s digital mental health programs, such as e-screening and e-therapy.
With one in six people around the world over 65 by 2050, elderly care is equally important. In Korea, the Yonsei University Medical Center is using wearable AI devices to support the elderly with depression and other mental health conditions. Supported by a Samsung Galaxy Watch, AI speakers and Azure Kinect – a Microsoft AI-based motion recognition device – the system captures data around the elderly’s quality of life so that staff can tailor personalized care and monitor the need for emergency response in real-time.
Digitizing healthcare systems for better public health management, collaboration, and efficiency
Amidst the pandemic, some hospitals have struggled with limited patient engagement, disaggregated data, data silos, and a shortage of personnel. These are by no means new problems, and some healthcare organizations have been at the forefront of adopting solutions to overcome them. For example, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) in New Zealand used to rely on paper documents and single sources of information that could not be accessed from elsewhere.
Following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, CDHB moved to a cloud-based platform to improve service delivery with insights from patient data. It put healthcare in the hands of patients, with self-management tools easily and remotely accessing their health information on their devices. Artificial intelligence (AI) and increased connectivity today can take this a step further – monitoring subtle changes within the user’s body to spot danger signals, predict health events and encourage them to seek early diagnosis and treatment, and helped them build business resilience.
In Thailand, the Ministry of Public Health is adopting a data-driven strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are happy to be a part of this initiative. Together with Thai start-up Feedback180°, we developed a platform to pool data that drives the work of medical personnel – the tool now has more than 1,500 daily users with data covering 966 hospitals across the nation!
On top of efforts to reduce data silos and increase healthcare efficiency with automation, close to 34 percent of workers in Asia Pacific – including those in the healthcare industry – said they were worried about contracting COVID-19, due to the lack of tech or protective equipment to effectively socially distance.
The Seoul National University Hospital used Microsoft Teams to facilitate remote work and non-face-to-face collaboration throughout the hospital’s entire network, reducing the risk and spread of infection. Collaboration tools like Teams were integral in mitigating social distancing challenges, especially for those working on the frontlines – from early February to March 31, weekly Teams mobile users grew more than 300 percent, and we even reached a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in a day.
Speed is critical when it comes to saving lives – in New Zealand, the ‘six hour target’ for emergency departments resulted notably 700 fewer deaths. Time saved is not just from treatment and prescription, but from maximizing equipment and resources as well. asBUILT partnered with the Auckland Hospital to conduct one of the country’s largest digitalization capture projects. Digitizing the blueprint of their infrastructure empowered hospital managers to redeploy resources across various floors and better respond to emergencies. The digital twin also realizes operation and management efficiencies by combining IoT and data analytics.
Beyond hospitals: Enabling the wider healthcare ecosystem
In addition to hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry faced its own challenges. Mandatory lockdowns for Zuellig Pharma’s customers, offices, and staff threatened its ability to supply vital medicines and drugs to 350,000 medical facilities in 13 countries. To ensure that day-to-day operations were not disrupted, the business had to swiftly shift mission-critical systems onto a secure cloud – what would have taken weeks was completed within days as the company’s systems migrated to Microsoft Azure.
Technology in healthcare can also help in verifying the legitimacy of vaccines and drugs – a serious problem should an illegitimate prescription be administered to a patient. Zuellig Pharma’s blockchain-based app, eZTracker, authenticates the product by simply scanning the packaging code. This can play a key role in curbing the spread of potentially dangerous drugs and vaccines.
Adopting digital health tools will be the next step in futureproofing our healthcare industry. Dr. David Rhew, our global medical chief officer at Microsoft, was quoted saying that the pandemic has “given us a great understanding that we need digital tools in health care”. This includes tools and applications that enable everything from telehealth to remote patient monitoring, care team collaboration and care at home. Virtualizing and streamlining other aspects of care from ventilator management to supply chain management will become vital elements of health care in the current and post-COVID-19 era.
Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare is just one of the many ways we are banding together to help the sector to better facilitate patient outreach and triage, track resource and supplies, securely share patient information, and manage discharge and provide continuous care for patients.
Re-Envisioning the future of healthcare
The pandemic has been a litmus test of human progress in many ways. While our healthcare systems have been thrown into the proverbial deep end, the accompanying digital transformation has made us more resilient.
With technology being interweaved into the day-to-day operations of the healthcare industry at a rapid pace, I look forward to a truly digital healthcare industry – one that can be a guide for other sectors as we undergo The Great Reset and as we focus on being digital first responders to the world’s first responders.