The medical sector has long been searching for faster, cheaper, better data to improve patient responses to medical devices and therapies. More data is also needed to help inform investment decisions in research and technology, meet regulatory requirements and validate new products entering the market.
Pressure on each of these activities is increasing as the world’s population ages, and more people require healthcare. The rising demand for data is also a product of new regulatory organisations and legislative measures, which aim to protect society from poor technology. In Europe, for example, one of the proposed new directives from the European Commission is for some medical device companies to provide post-market clinical data for their products annually, which will require ongoing data collection from patients and customers.
Problems surrounding the need for data extend well beyond the cost and time required to run clinical trials and build new platforms to deal with data. Major issues lie in moving data between the many parts of the healthcare industry that have traditionally operated separately, such as biomedical and pharmaceutical companies, research facilities, medical practitioners and hospitals.
The separation between these entities means that healthcare data sits in ‘data silos’, and efforts to connect the information held by each party are held back by logistical, social and political barriers, such as public concern over the loss of privacy if health records are shared.
These issues and potential solutions were examined in detail by industry leaders at the AusMedtech conference held in May. AusMedtech is an annual event run by AusBiotech, which brings together representatives from across the medical industry to showcase health innovations and examine issues facing the sector.
“In order to ensure a medical therapy or device remains safe, effective and performing correctly, companies have to figure out how to get feedback data from their products continually,” says Neal Fearnot, Vice President of Cook Group Incorporated in the USA, and key speaker at AusMedtech. “That’s a global challenge.”
One of the major focuses of the conference was how to employ a “patient-centric” approach in solving this problem.
“Of all the stakeholders that we have, the patient is the most important,” says Fearnot. “The rest of us in the industry have to think about how to make policy, equipment and procedures more effective so that when the patient needs healthcare, they get what they need.”
On the one hand, this means asking patients to drive change. Lee Hickin, Microsoft’s commercial lead for the Internet of Things, was at the conference to talk about the future of health IT. He says that in order to break down existing data silos, patients need to demand connectivity.
“They need to say to the creators of these products, ‘Why isn’t your product connectable? Why doesn’t it communicate with other services?’.”
The industry hopes that if patients can get a hold of their own data, they will be empowered to make better health decisions, which will in turn reduce the burden on medical facilities.
While Microsoft is not a traditional member of the medical industry, Hickin says they see self-care as core to the future evolution of healthcare.
“We believe that as we as individuals become more aware of our health, we will take more care of our health.”
The topic was raised in a different light at Meditech, a separate medical technology event in May by the Warren Centre. Cochlear’s Chief Software Architect Victor Rodrigues was a panellist at the event, and made the point that when it comes to self-care technologies, people are often afraid of losing contact with a physician.
But Hickin believes that’s not the aim of these technologies. “It’s not about replacing clinical and consultation health,” he says. “It’s just about the individual knowing what their physical state is.”
– Elise Roberts