Health Care Is Embracing Tech To Deliver Better Patient Outcomes

The health care industry is undergoing seismic shifts as the result of new technologies. When you think about the laundry list of items and challenges in your IT strategy – security, IoT, cloud, shrinking capital budgets, mobility – they all apply to the health care industry. However, it comes with a different set of challenges. The health care industry is not a single entity. Made up of hundreds of different federal, state and local entities, along with myriad commercial service providers, it is a loose confederation of parties that use disparate systems that are somehow meant to interoperate. Adding to that is a diverse range of customers for whom good service can be a matter of life or death.

At the recent AWS Summit, I spoke with Irene Ryan, the co-founder of CareVision and Bruce Haefele, the general manager for technology at Healthdirect about some of the challenges and opportunities they see.

CareVision, said Ryan, is about “democratising care”. She said their goal is to make it possible for clients and their families control and access to information that care providers typically kept under lock and key. They’ve been working with providers to help them to work cooperatively and more transparently so their clients can have greater control over their care.

Healthdirect is owned by federal and state governments, other than Victoria and Queensland, and was established “to help consumers access the health system, trying to get them the right advice at the right place and at the right time”, said Haefele.

In short, although both organisations have quite different ways of doing things, they are trying to achieve similar goals. Anyone who has had to access health services understands that it can be a very challenging system to navigate.

“There’s a lot of information portals and conflicting information out there,” said Ryan. “Just being able to navigate the system, just to get care, is the first challenge”.

One of the tools CareVision uses is the television. While tablet and smartphone technology seems like an easy tool for online health services, many older people struggle with that tech. But they all know how to use their television. Ryan noted that, on average, older people had the TV on for around seven hours a day. That makes it an ideal tool for sending them information like medication reminders or messages from healthcare providers and they can use the familiar remote control to transmit information action back.

In contrast, Healthdirect operates contact centres for services such as MyAgedCare and PregnancyBirth&Baby. They bring together data from multiple sources so that they are aggregated and more easily located. That covers websites as well as chatbots, such as a Facebook Messenger symptom checker.

The aim of the symptom checker is not to provide a diagnosis but to help point people to the best place to get the right type of care.

CareVision is already installed on many smart TVs, with TCL, Samsung and others. However, there are other options to install it separately as well as tablet and smartphone apps if that is preferred by the client. And they can also integrate with blood glucose monitoring, ECGs for measuring heart rate and other smart devices that delver diagnostic information without the need for a nurse or doctor to visit.

This extends to tools like Alexa. A person could ask Alexa what medication they’re due to take or to ask for advice in how to access a particular service or a care provider could ask Alexa to add a case note.

However, while there’s a single client receiving services, there are likely to be many different providers involved in supporting that person. By providing a single point of contact to the client, through the television provided by CareVision, all those medical professionals, family members and other parties involved in the person’s care could access the relevant info action without all communicating to the patient individually, and therefore overwhelming them with information.

Ryan said that her team is working to make it easy for service providers to connect into their platform, which is built on about 30 different AWS services. Those include the Alexa skill set, Lambda, Elemental and others.

One of the services Haefele runs is a service directory. But, like Ryan, he has faced some challenges with providers having different levels of engagement with technology and even different meanings for similar terms. That makes categorising them and supporting interoperability between different systems a challenge.

A challenge faced by the healthcare sector is the need to know where data is kept. Haefele, when he started his journey with Healthdirect several years ago, could see that cloud systems and services were going to be critical. So he built an on-prem platform that, when the time was right and AWS and others build a local presence, could be easily moved to the cloud. That included preparing systems that were Information Security manual (ISM) ready so, when AWS received that compliance, they could easily move.

That “lift and shift” model gave Healthdirect a “modicum of success” said Haefele but the real benefits came when the organisation realised they could deliver greater value to their shareholders and clients by adopting new approaches such as DevOps. This allowed them to move beyond the constraints of traditional virtualisation and system architecture. This, he said, meant the no longer think about Infrastructure as a Service but “Ecosystem as a Service”.

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