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Technology in healthcare: ‘It’s a really exciting time’

Technology is transforming healthcare for patients and providers

Surgeons at Rouen hospital, France, perform a hysterectomy using the da Vinci robotic surgical assistant. Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

Surgeons at Rouen hospital, France, perform a hysterectomy using the da Vinci robotic surgical assistant. Photograph: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

 

Technology is transforming healthcare. “It will be the main catalyst for change in the coming years, which is why companies such as Google and Apple are all getting into healthcare,” says Dr Caroline Whelan.

As chief operations officer of the Mater Private Healthcare Group, she sees its impact – and pace – first hand. “A few years ago, all the talk was of keyhole surgery. Already we have moved on from that, through the use of minimally invasive surgery and robotics.”

The Mater Private has performed more than 2,000 robotic-assisted surgeries to date, using its high-spec da Vinci robotic surgical assistant.

The hospital is becoming increasingly innovative in how it uses its technology too, recently carrying out a synchronous liver and lung resection using robotics, a European and possibly world first.

Technology is also helping improve patient access, Dr Whelan points out. Mater Private hospitals in Cork and Dublin use an electronic GP referral system that enables GPs to refer patients to any specialty within the hospital at the touch of a button, as well as a system allowing patients to make same-day consultant appointments directly.

Greater convenience

New technology also allows the hospital to monitor patients seen at outreach clinics across the country, providing greater convenience for patients.

Data is leveraged to improve services. “We monitor our patient outcomes in specific specialties to identify and respond to trends,” says Dr Whelan.

“Our data management allows us to benchmark ourselves against national and international standards. We receive ratings in relation to processes such as admissions and discharge and in relation to our professional staff and catering.”

At an operational level, it monitors all of its service engines – including theatre, cath lab and day therapy – for on-time starts and session overruns. “We monitor the reasons for those not-on-time starts so we can find the root cause and resolve the issue going forward. There are real-time visual displays in all departments showing current performance,” she says.

“We also monitor on-time discharge, number of bed moves – to ensure patients do not move wards or bed unnecessarily – and patient ‘cohorting by specialty’ to ensure all patients are placed on the ward with the skill and expertise to best manage their specific illness. Again, this data is displayed on the wards so teams are aware of how they are doing in relation to each of the metrics.”

Across the public system, the introduction of electronic health records by the HSE will prove transformational, according to Kelan Daly, director of healthcare with KPMG, allowing for better clinical decision-making and the standardisation of processes in acute settings.

“At present, the larger teaching hospitals have relatively robust systems in place but the smaller hospitals are predominantly paper-based. This has implications for safety if, for example, you are from Dublin and end up in hospital in Kerry, and the team there can’t get access to all of your notes,” he says.

Better collaboration

New digital tools and a unique identifier for each citizen will enable the sharing of information and better collaboration, helping “to keep people out of hospital and if they are in hospital to get them back out as quickly as possible. But to do that you need to be able to share information safely and quickly across the system, from the consultant in hospital to the public health nurse at the patient’s bedside at home,” Daly says.

The use of predictive analytics to identify cohorts of the population at risk before they get ill is another of the benefits digitisation will allow for, while sensor-based devices with remote monitoring will enable patients to manage more of their own care.

“Going to a building and queuing up to be seen is a 19th-century model of how to deliver healthcare,” Daly says. “Technology is enabling a redefinition of how people engage with the health service, and e-records are the building blocks for that. In terms of the difference technology can make in healthcare, it’s a really exciting time.”