Connecting the data dots for the future of healthcare

2 Jun 2017

Sean Doherty, head of enterprise, public sector and IoT at Three Ireland. Image: Three

Sean Doherty, head of enterprise, public sector and IoT at Three Ireland, discusses the future of technology in Irish healthcare.

As technology advances, new developments are introduced to the way we work, shop, travel and communicate. Right now, we’re also beginning to see exciting developments in healthcare, which have the potential to transform hospitals, GPs, pharmacies, and the lives of patients.

Future Human

Over the last 10 years, technological innovations in healthcare have mainly existed at the mechanical level – just think of the complexity of MRIs, cat scans and remote surgery – but a big gap still exists: connecting the data.

Throughout every hospital, GP office and pharmacy in Ireland, patient datasets have been gathered; some are electronic, some are paper, but very few are joined up. Over the past number of years, Three Ireland has worked towards opening up communication between GPs and the HSE, as well between GPs and their patients, and ultimately improving patient care.

In 2015, in collaboration with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the HSE, Three launched Healthmail, an email service that allows healthcare providers to send and receive clinical patient information in a secure manner. In time, this technology will soon be available to pharmacies, enabling them to communicate with the GPs and HSE securely.

This year, Three went one step further with the development of GP Online, in collaboration with the National Association of GPs. GP Online is the first telemedicine service that allows patients to visit their own GP using a smartphone, from the comfort of their own home or while at work.

The next step for the Irish healthcare sector must be to connect this network of professionals and the vast set of patient data that exists, to create a single electronic health record database. Ireland has become a powerhouse for IoT technology, enabling anything to be monitored, and, with the advent of more stringent personal data laws (GDPR), ensuring encryption and minimising data breaches, the creation of an electric health record is now a feasible option.

What will this look like?

Joined-up technology solutions provide a more efficient, effective and less labour-intensive means of addressing, treating and tracking patient health issues. A patient’s health record is kept up to date both by their GP and hospital, but also by feeds from other devices, such as the patient’s wearable devices.

As data starts to follow a patient, they can be treated in their own homes and monitored in the hospital. Hospitals, pharmacies and GPs begin to get a unified view of the patient and can record any and all transactions they have with the patient. I can visit my own GP, see a consultant or turn up to A&E, and all parties, including myself, can access my single, central health record. Soon, after consultations with my GP, my prescription will be sent to the local pharmacy for me.

As these new technologies become available, clinical staff can also be freed up to work on higher-value tasks. Telemedicine will help to reduce the workload on GPs, as well as offering patients a remote-consult experience, suitable for older and less-mobile patients, as well as busy professionals for whom getting to the surgery of their doctor is a challenge.

Remote devices on or about the person, combined with mobile or wireless technology to beam back the results to the health cloud, can have a dramatic effect on patients in the home, whose data can be seem in real or near-real time by their physician. This would allow the doctor to intervene in a timely manner, should they notice a change they are concerned about, and these changes can be auto-flagged by a rule set or alarm threshold.

Electronic health technology is the obvious solution to track patient health. The value of early intervention can have a dramatic effect on our healthcare system, reducing patient visits to A&E, stays in hospitals and, ultimately, ensuring a better quality of life for all of our citizens.

The future is here, we just aren’t maximising the technology yet.

By Sean Doherty

Sean Doherty is head of enterprise, public sector and IoT at Three Ireland. With a background in sales and management, he has almost 20 years of experience in the telecoms sector.