Last week the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) hosted a Webinar on Virtualizing Healthcare. Presenter Brendan Lovelock, Health Practice Lead at Cisco Systems, took viewers on a journey demonstrating how devices such as smartphones and tablets are transforming the health landscape. His presentation focused on exploring the futuristic concept of virtual healthcare, broadly described as the use of digital technologies to support connected care services between the spectrum of healthcare stakeholders. It was clear throughout the presentation that health data in its many shapes and forms was the foundation of virtual healthcare, and could be seen as both a challenge to efficiently harness or as a method to facilitate personalised patient care.
The presentation explored the three central components on the journey toward realising virtual healthcare; scale and complexity; event to action; and teaming. Overcoming the scale and complexity of networks and digital technologies, particularly in virtual hospitals who are facing the challenge of supporting a “tsunamic” quantity of devices, is a central challenge for healthcare organisation’s and digital technology providers alike. Regarding event to action, Brendan identified development and delivery of ubiquitous, high quality and robust wireless networks as the challenge to overcome. Virtual health has many applications for the support of teaming, the bringing together people in new ways, but how this will be facilitated remains a challenge to be addressed.
Although there are challenges to overcome if virtual healthcare is realised, it seemed clear from the presentation that access to data generated through virtual healthcare is opening up new avenues for enabling interactions in the health sector. Talking about data enabled clinician to clinician interaction in virtual hospitals Brendan asked “How do we, with permission, track people to make them more efficient at what they do?” This question is at the core of the emerging area of Practice Analytics. How can we harness health data to support better experiences for health professionals, organisations, policymakers and most importantly the general public? Harnessing health data for downstream uses, such as supporting teaming was presented as an essential component of overcoming the challenges of realising digital health.
The presentation also showcased some inspiring examples of hospitals already virtualised or in the process of virtualising. This included Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando which has built a logistics centre to remotely monitor hospital rooms both biometrically and via video link (with patient permission), and Mercy Virtual in Missouri which specialises in delivering virtual care to patients 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Brendan also identified some products that had the potential to enhance the patient experience in hospitals, often by making data more accessible to the organisation. A particularly interesting example was a product that used Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) to collect and feedback consumer data on their interactions to with websites to relevant parties. Brendan envisioned similar tools being could be re-appropriated in virtual hospitals to improve patient-provider interactions.
Brendan explained how such a product might support teaming, stating “Like a patient going through a website, it [the product] looks at how the patient is transitioning through the hospital … staff can tell where the patient is and where they are supposed to be, and they can give the patient support. Their [the patient’s] experience is optimised. It’s how you actually improve that experience, by understanding whether the patients are and supporting it.”
Overall the presentation was an insightful introduction to virtual health and the concept of virtual hospitals. For those interested in practice analytics, it seems clear that virtual health is unlocking an evolving and exciting array of new data sources to explore and utilise for downstream applications such as personalised care and professional training. Brendan ended with a simple, but optimistic statement that truly highlighted the interconnectedness of data with virtual health: “Thinking about the future, it’s important to step back and ask how can we make a more integrated environment where information flows…because organisations all use the same basic technologies it is just configured in different ways.”