Imagine spending your whole life with tunnel vision, never having a complete picture of what’s going on around you. That’s what running a healthcare system without full access to data can feel like.

In this information age, these frustrations could soon be a thing of the past. Cutting-edge technology is increasing visibility at all points of the healthcare system, challenging providers to re-imagine their approach.

From securing drug delivery to rapidly diagnosing patients, what are some ways that data is improving health provision? SAP looks into key trends that are making an impact in healthcare.

Healthcare management

Many healthcare providers are already using electronic health record systems to seamlessly share information with all clinicians involved in a patient’s care. But they can go one step further, migrating entire healthcare management systems onto an integrated platform.

Older healthtech systems often suffer from duplicate patient data and may be difficult to maintain, configure and support. Newer solutions can automate manual processes, allowing staff to focus on patient care and satisfaction. “The global Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated healthcare providers’ pace of digital transformation,” says Thiam Hwa Lim, Healthcare Director and Industry lead for SAP Southeast Asia.

For instance, Zuellig Pharma, one of the largest healthcare providers in Asia, has employed robotic process automation to streamline customer orders. Automated systems work 24/7 to reliably receive and process orders, taking on the equivalent of 20 employees’ workload. This has allowed the firm to keep up with orders and continue delivering pharmaceuticals, even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

A sound logistics system can also increase information transparency across the supply chain. Tracking medical supplies at all parts of the process — from manufacturing to wholesale to pharmacies and hospitals — can provide quality assurance. Pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, for example, adopted a track-and-trace system for its products to combat counterfeits, giving buyers peace of mind that their drugs are genuine.

Reducing human error, saving lives

Prescription errors affect over 7 million people annually in the US alone, The Network for Excellence in Health Innovation reported. These lead to 7,000 deaths and cost healthcare organisations US$21 billion. Tech can help healthcare providers fix this.

Software screening systems are now available on the market to identify and intercept prescription errors. Machine-learning algorithms can analyse historical electronic medical records and flag significant prescription outliers. Physicians are then alerted to these cases.

A 2019 study of MedAware, one such system, showed that 89% of alerts were accurate. Importantly, the software only generated warnings for 0.4% of prescriptions. The low numbers of alerts encouraged physicians to see each warning as significant, increasing the software’s effectiveness.

Early detection

Some health conditions can be screened by AI and machine learning-based systems, faster and cheaper than by physicians. This optimises patient diagnosis and treatment, especially in areas where physicians are in short supply.

For example, Forus Health has produced a portable device that can screen common eye problems before they lead to blindness. These devices are deployed to eye checkup camps in remote areas with limited connectivity, to detect and prevent diabetic retinopathy.

The devices use AI-powered retinal imaging to diagnose patients in minutes — retinopathy-positive patients are then advised to consult an ophthalmologist to mitigate their conditions. They have since been used to screen more than two million patients in over 20 countries.

AI models are also being developed to quickly and efficiently diagnose cervical cancer from Pap smear slides and distinguish between different types of strokes from X-ray images. A prototype that can pinpoint early signs of lung cancer from CT scans is also in the works. These systems can make diagnoses faster and more accurately than doctors themselves.

Wearables are set to provide the next push for predictive healthcare. By harnessing data from wearable devices, such as skin temperature and heart rate, researchers hope to flag early signs of viral infection in users and encourage them to take measures to prevent virus spread. “We are seeing higher adoption of solutions like telehealth and healthcare analytics as hospitals change the way they operate in this crisis and strive to make better use of data to drive their decisions,” Lim says.

Researchers from Stanford Medicine are now trialing algorithms for this detection system, and even hope to develop the capacity to anticipate infection severity based on smart device data in the future.

From prevention to prescriptions, technology is enhancing patient care and reducing the burden of healthcare professionals. “SAP is #Heretohelp healthcare providers on their journey towards becoming an Intelligent Healthcare Enterprise,” adds Lim.

As a new age of data-driven healthcare dawns, healthcare providers can look forward to new tools and technologies becoming more widespread.

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