Connective tissue is the most prevalent tissue in the human body. In simplest terms, connective tissue has four central functional roles: Movement and transport; support of vital components; connecting systems; protection from attack. Today’s healthcare system could (arguably) be diagnosed with a “connective tissue disorder,” in that it lacks necessary agility, is inconsistently supported, remains largely disconnected and has been proven to be vulnerable to cyberattacks. In order to improve the functionality of healthcare and to fully realize the capabilities of healthcare technology and data, it is the right time to invest in establishing a connected health ecosystem through cloud-enabled interoperability.
Not a minute too soon
Ever since digital trend-spotters began providing an annual perspective on an “internet minute,” I have been fascinated by the sheer volume of activity (and the pervasiveness) this view illustrates about our digital lives. For 20171, every internet minute would include an estimated 3.5 million Google searches; 16 million emails sent; 4.1 million videos viewed and nearly 350,000 apps downloaded. Healthcare-related activities are a significant portion of these activities. Gartner estimates that there are over 8 billion “things” connected to the internet—and growing. We live in a hyper-connected world to the point where many are arguing that we are over-reliant and obsessively attached to connected devices and internet content.
Contrast this perspective with the state of our current healthcare environment—particularly digital health. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare IT spending occurring over the past five years, frustrations continue to grow over the lack of a connected healthcare system. This disconnected state creates significant barriers to patient engagement, provider care delivery, data access, system efficiencies, and behavioral insight. While assimilating a growing stack of technology assets within the body of healthcare and life sciences organizations, we seem to have (physiologically speaking) forgotten the essential role of connective tissue. The urgency of the investment to address this missing element can be captured in three perspectives:
1. Keeping pace with science
Many of the greatest medical discoveries of this generation are coming from monumental advances in genomics, precision medicine, and immunotherapies. We have reached a scientific “tipping point” where the ability to cure specific types of cancer, architect treatments to optimize outcomes for individual patients, and identify disease risks genetically are not only within reach, but are being introduced into current clinical practice. However, each of these breakthroughs demands a combination of more effective and scalable data agility and technology integration. Simultaneously, these 21st century scientific breakthroughs require the existence of a digital healthcare ecosystem to enable the movement of information, support patients and empower providers, while connecting multiple care systems and protecting personal data. Of note, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), one of the world’s leading organizations for cancer specialists and researchers, was among the first healthcare organizations to highlight the gap between scientific breakthroughs and the disconnected healthcare system. In early 2017, ASCO introduced new standards for the Interoperability of Cancer, stating “…the capacity for distinct digital systems to share and reuse information, is paramount to improving the efficiency and coordination of cancer care.” The creation of this standard is likely an outcropping, in part, from a 2016 ASCO survey of cancer care advocates, nearly 80% of whom reported that electronic health records (EHR) data-sharing was “difficult” or “very difficult”, significantly impacting cancer patient care.
2. Unlocking precision medicine
Today’s clinical trials are a window into the clinical practice of tomorrow. As mandates for precision medicine move researchers to seek ways to tailor treatment to the individual or most appropriate population cohort, the role of technology and data expands. HCIT is becoming a central component of the next generation of clinical trials, finally overcoming long-held analog management processes. At any given time, more than 20,000 active human clinical trials are in progress in the U.S. Increasingly, researchers are incorporating IoT devices, telemedicine, and biometric data into trial protocols. By creating the framework for a “connected clinical trial,” many of the key challenges within these research efforts can be better supported, including patient recruitment and enrollment; remote patient engagement/monitoring; secure data ingestion, aggregation and sharing. In addition, the seamless integration of SDKs (such as the Apple ResearchKit) into clinical trials can potentially help to streamline time and resource requirements.
3. Integrating disease data
The fundamental promise of HCIT is to leverage the power of technology and information to give patients and providers greater control over health and wellness management. Today, this vision has greater potential than ever, with growing adoption and familiarity of wearables, voice-enabled AI, and disease-specific monitoring and diagnostic devices. Yet, a host of barriers remain, many of which are directly attributable to the lack of connective tissue to create pathways for both information sharing and effective collaboration. These interoperability gaps negatively impact coordination between stakeholders who influence access, workflows and outcomes, while producing barriers to essential health information. With the majority of patients (independently or through caregivers) having multiscreen access to digital information and content, it’s time to invest in and leverage a secure connected health cloud and intelligently engineered APIs to link technologies and data sources to “consumerize” their journey. In doing so, we can design a digital health ecosystem that not only is better aligned with a patient’s care needs and a provider’s care delivery objectives, but also one that reimagines what’s possible.
Connected healthcare is better healthcare
The future of healthcare will be created by building an ecosystem that allows the full value of scientific breakthroughs, produces agile methods to develop applications, and incorporates technologies into clinical research. That same system, when focused upon movement, support, connections and the assurance of security, will create a cohesive patient journey through a more accessible healthcare continuum. Investing in the connective tissue of healthcare today will create the potential for a healthier future. In the end, connected healthcare should always produce better, more innovative healthcare for patents, caregivers, providers and organizations.