AI, Cloud Computing and IoT: How digitalisation is driving dramatic IT changes in healthcare
Tue 26 Nov 2019 | Jamie Bourassa
The IT architecture at the heart of today’s healthcare innovations is shifting to the edge. Schneider Electric’s Jamie Bourassa explores
Today, IT within the healthcare industry is undergoing profound changes. This has been driven, in part, by the development of advanced new treatments, including robotics, analytical imaging and robust data networks, which enable the lessons learned from pioneering medical practitioners to be distributed to peers around the world, more rapidly than ever before.
For healthcare providers, ensuring a quality environment of patient care is paramount. New technologies—from digital imaging to security-enhancing baby finders to “always-on” wearable technology—are helping to reduce errors, improve care, and decrease costs simultaneously.
In the 2019 Global Health Care Outlook Report Deloitte states that, “there is an exponential increase in the pace and scale with which digital healthcare innovations are emerging. Digital technologies are supporting health systems’ efforts to transition to new models of patient-centered care and helping them develop ‘smart health’ approaches to increase access and affordability, improve quality, and lower costs.”
Such disruptive digital technologies described by Delloite include Blockchain, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications; all of which are helping medical professionals diagnose and treat patients with increasing speed, quality and accuracy. However, underneath them, the role of the IT system and in some cases, the data centre, has become increasingly important.
The changing role of IT in healthcare
With the emergence of these disruptive technologies, the adoption of a new hybrid IT system—combining the ubiquitous nature of the cloud with local computing resource closest to where healthcare professionals both create data and need access to it—is both changing the business models of many health organisations and helping to solve many of their associated problems.
Consider, if you will, the impact of robotics on new medical treatments, those specifically used in modern surgical procedures. It is now possible for the most advanced medical instruments to carry out the most complex surgeries, under the control of a doctor who is positioned in a room separate to the patient undergoing treatment.
In this case, the surgical team will be surrounded by monitors and control systems, which they use to direct robotic equipment through the procedure. Miniature cameras operating both close to, and often inside, the patient, relay images that are analysed by the on-site IT equipment allowing surgeons to make life-changing decisions with greater accuracy and less risk of error than ever before.
Although not a subject yet synonymous with the healthcare industry, such IT equipment is an archetypal example of an ‘edge computing’ deployment.
Latency, for example, is a vital factor; the images have to be relayed and analysed in real time for the treatment to be effective. Using a remote server somewhere in the cloud is a poor option for such applications, and so the necessary IT equipment must be positioned close to the point of use.
Typically, racks of IT equipment, or micro data centres, will be found in networking closets near to the control room in which the surgeon operates – as will Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs), which are used to protect the equipment itself from power surges or outages. In this case, resiliency and availability are absolutely essential to the healthcare organisation.
AI, security and patient data
Another consideration might be Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) functionalities. For example, as imaging information, which is essential to the surgical operation, is analysed locally, key data points are shared via the cloud to other medical systems around the world.
These data pools will analyse and document outcomes of similar surgeries that have taken place, forming a feedback loop that uses a database of crowd-sourced information. In this way, the lessons learned by surgeons pioneering advanced medical techniques can be disseminated around the world rapidly, increasing awareness of new and potential treatments that benefit humankind in a manner that was previously unimaginable.
Finally, data security is another key aspect for the healthcare IT professional. The IDC Data Centre Operational Survey, published in January 2019, found that 45 percent of respondents cited data security and compliance as the #1 issue they are tackling. Within the same survey IDC found that 17 percent of respondents had also experienced a physical security breach in the past year. Furthermore, IDC’s March 2018 Enterprise Data Centre Edge Survey highlighted cyber and physical security as top concerns for businesses exploring edge computing deployments.
Since the technologies that run healthcare are becoming more and more of an extension of IT, these assets require a higher degree of both physical security and cyber security. How does one, for example, ensure that patient information, and indeed data centres and server rooms, remain safe and secure at all times? There are of course the software and cyber security services that an IT Manager must employ, but the biggest risk to patient information remains with human error; an unauthorised person gaining phyical access to its IT system.
Physical security therefore becomes paramount to the healthcare organisation and whether through ID cards, environmental monitoring or indeed, via secure access to IT racks or network closets, the protection of the patient’s data remains crucial.
The IT architecture of tomorrow
It’s clear to see that as healthcare evolves so will the technology architectures that supports it. However, in order to enable these technologies, healthcare facilities need a rock-solid physical infrastructure to support their assets.
Edge computing is the IT architecture required to deliver these new and digitised medical services, ensuring that patient care and treatment remain the primary concerns for medical professionals and not the resiliency of their IT systems.
So why should IT Managers within the healthcare industry take note of the edge? The answer is simple. This computing architecture is directly supporting tomorrow’s advancements in medical surgery, patient treatment and recovery.
In the future, as medical services continue to become more digitised, the challenges that accompany them – the need for continuous power, avoidance of Internet congestion or low latency, the security of IT, data and rapid access to patient information – can only be enabled by localised edge computing systems.