Transforming Healthcare and Pharma with Digital Health Solutions

Today, it has become the norm for businesses to embrace advanced technologies to stay competitive and ensure that their staff are protected. The COVID-19 pandemic has further reiterated the need for healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors to deploy the right technologies to achieve greater visibility and efficiency.

Early 2020 projections originally placed the country’s healthcare and pharma industries on the path of robust growth, with the Philippine government set to increase its healthcare budget by up to 12% from the previous year.1 The additional fund would have allowed for medical infrastructure upgrades nationwide. However, the pandemic has since derailed these plans. In fact, many hospitals are currently facing tremendous pressure as they struggle to cope with the sudden surge in patient volume, which has caused shortages in intensive care unit (ICU) bed space, medical equipment, medical supplies specific to COVID-19 and personal protection equipment (PPE).

It would be unrealistic to expect more healthcare staff to be trained and more hospital beds to be added within the short term. That said, it is possible to deploy the right technology as a force multiplier to maximize front-line staff efficiency and minimize medical errors, which can easily occur when clinical and nonclinical hospital staff are overworked and fatigued.

There is at present a disconnect between how healthcare is delivered and how patients believe it should be. Accenture’s 2019 seven-country survey of almost 8,000 consumers showed that more than 50% of patients surveyed expect healthcare providers to have digital capabilities, especially with self-managed care being a growing trend.

From using data to better understand patient preferences and deliver a personalized experience to securely transmitting medical information, mastering digital technologies can help healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations shape the next generation of healthcare and pharma.

Top Digital Technologies

Investments in digital technologies such as mobile, analytics and cloud have varied over the years. The new opportunity lies in preparing for the next wave of disruption.

Among the top emerging disruptors are Distributed Ledger Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Reality and Quantum Computing (DARQ) technologies, which have the potential to improve workforce productivity and patient experiences while also reducing the cost of care and infection exposure.

What are DARQ technologies?

  1. Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT)

DLT enables large-scale collaboration and transactions among strangers – without middlemen or third parties – as well as self-executing smart contracts. DLT includes technology such as blockchain, which is crucial for securing patient identity and data management.

An example of DLT is the single, secure database pharmacists rely on for a more efficient access to patient records. By aggregating anonymized patient data, a pharmaceutical company could get a market-wide view of a drug’s efficacy in real-world use.

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI automates business functions, captures unprecedented amounts of data and enables the benefits of analytics to be more easily accessed. Another Accenture 2019 survey, this time of healthcare executives from 27 countries worldwide, revealed that 41% of healthcare decision makers believe AI will have the most impact over the next three years.

AI can be used to help streamline analytical processes and increase productivity by automating traditionally manual tasks or learning user preferences to reduce the number of clicks it takes to perform a task. This enables more accurate medical analyses and reduces the chances for human error.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health uses an AI-enhanced knowledge management tool as its “central brain” for its communication channels. The tool integrates chatbot systems to help streamline processes and relieve users from scavenging through previous medical records.2

  1. Reality (Virtual, Augmented, Assisted, Extended, etc.)

This creates new, immersive environments and provides on-demand information. Use cases for clinical, research and educational purposes are gaining popularity, but the potential is endless. Organizations may choose to equip pharmaceutical reps with augmented reality applications, create virtual prototypes or simulate interactions between molecules in the lab.   

  1. Quantum Computing

This can solve complex data sets that may help with discovering new drugs and materials and transforming cyber security.

  1. Temperature Monitoring and Sensing

Temperature monitoring and sensing indicators provide vital data to ensure the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical products during storage, transit and shipping. This is specially useful in ensuring vaccines are not compromised during supply chain management.

  1. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Patient care requires flawless fulfillment. RFID solutions offer pharmacists visibility into prescription stock without the need for manual data entry, and accurate unit-dose level data for all products. This transparency helps with delivery, the decommissioning of expired or damaged inventory and reverse decommissioning of uncollected medication.

  1. Mobile Health (mHealth)

One of the greatest opportunities is to provide healthcare to patients in remote areas or where healthcare access is limited. With mHealth technology, it is now possible to conveniently connect patients to healthcare professionals, regardless of distance, in a zero-touch setting.

mHealth solutions are mobile software and technologies that help create seamless and secure patient care collaborations across the entire ecosystem of providers, payers, device companies and other involved parties. Mobile health apps provide many cost-effective ways to encourage and increase patient engagement.

Healthcare professionals can implement mobile apps that allow them to reference formularies or literature databases, diagnostic apps that assist with daily practice or practical apps that assist with logistical support.

There are also mobile device tools that convert healthcare mobile devices into diagnostic tools such as an otoscope, a wireless blood pressure monitor or a pulse oximeter. Caretakers and medical professionals can streamline point-of-care processes through a single device that can access sensitive information, produce reports and record data in real-time with better accuracy.

The Department of Science and Technology, together with the University of the Philippines Manila-National Telehealth Center (UP-NTCH), University of the Philippines Diliman – College of Engineering, DOST - Advanced Science and Technology Institute and the Department of Health (DOH), developed a telehealth device capable of remotely accessing a patient’s heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation, blood pressure electrocardiogram readings and uterine contractions. With this technology, medical professionals are able to monitor and serve patients in far-flung areas and concurrently limit their exposure to COVID-19.3

In Senegal, a mobile health pilot program was deployed to help expectant mothers in isolated or rural areas get the medical care they need. This technology could shape much of how we live and connect as a global civilization in the future as it delivers the type of care that could aid in eliminating diseases and improve well-being worldwide.

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