As the old adage goes, “a stitch in time saves nine”. It’s certainly better to solve a problem before it becomes a much bigger one – a truth reinforced by Covid-19.

The pandemic has stress-tested the healthcare sector, exposing gaps and underscoring the need for a major healthcare revamp. Organisations are now looking to tech to make healthcare more accessible and ease the burden on frontliners.

Telehealth is a tool that has proven useful in the pandemic. GovInsider spoke to Dirk Dumortier, Head of Business Development, Smart Cities and Healthcare for APAC, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), to discuss the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Telehealth to reach more

Healthcare professionals around the world have turned to tech to extend the reach of care during the pandemic, Dumortier says. Telehealth, for instance, can increase access to healthcare services in remote areas and reduce the manpower strain on hospitals.

Countries such as China have started using telehealth during the pandemic. Citizens can use apps to book online consultations, and the industry is set to be worth more than US$50 billion by 2050, reported CNBC.

ALE has supported healthcare providers’ telehealth initiatives. Its video-conferencing platform Rainbow helps to connect healthcare professionals with patients, wherever they may be.

The Cantabrian Health Service in Spain wanted to implement a telehealth solution to continue serving citizens during the pandemic. It used ALE’s Rainbow tool to implement a cloud-based telehealth service, which enabled patients to consult doctors remotely without risking exposure to Covid-19. Physiotherapists were also able to help patients continue their rehabilitation sessions, especially for those living in remote areas.

Securing data

Telehealth can improve access to healthcare, but securing patients’ medical health records remains a challenge, Dumortier says. Healthcare providers must protect sensitive patient data to maintain trust in telehealth services, he adds.

Remote consultations increase the risk of cybersecurity breaches and tampering, wrote the non-profit Emergency Care Research Institute this year.

ALE ensures all conversations on its Rainbow platform are “secure, recorded and available for both doctors and patients,” Dumortier says. All information fully belongs to the organisation and is secured end-to-end.

Patient data is also held within secured data centres, and each device or user has to be authenticated before they can be physically connected to their network, he adds.

In order to safeguard and future-proof our healthcare sectors against Covid-19, policy-makers need to be proactive rather than reactive. With digitalisation, governments can take a step ahead of Covid-19.

The future of healthcare

Healthcare is undergoing a digital revolution, and providers are turning to technologies such as AI and data analytics to enhance care.

Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital and R&D agency A*STAR developed an AI-powered tool that can quickly detect abnormal chest X-rays. It can analyse X-ray scans within seconds and highlight anomalies which may be a sign of pneumonia.

The country’s healthtech agency, IHiS, also plans to use AI to analyse genomics data, its Director of Data Analytics & AI told GovInsider. Genomics data can help determine the risk of Down syndrome in pregnancy, for instance.

ALE has continued to provide mission critical voice and data services to hospitals, Dumortier says. It has developed chatbots for a hospital in Europe, for instance, that enables patients to do a fast Covid-19 self-assessment.

Its Nurse Digital Workplace tool is also used by healthcare providers in Singapore and Australia, he reveals. The tool integrates nurse call systems, medical devices, and more with location-based services to reduce the time nurses need to search for information and medical equipment. That gives them more time to spend caring for their patients.

Telehealth methods can help governments reduce the strain on healthcare sectors. Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms can be prioritised to receive urgent care at the hospital, while patients experiencing mild symptoms may be asked to isolate and recuperate at home.

Photo by Army MedicineCC BY 2.0