Delivering digitally empowered healthcare

Technology in healthcare offers an opportunity to improve long-term patient outcomes.

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While the advances of modern medicine are a triumph, the reality of a population that is living longer represents a great challenge for the future. Sadly, as the United Kingdom’s public services are starved of significant funding, the circumstances of economic austerity are such that there is a pressure to do more with less. People won’t stop getting sick, so how can we treat them better, and make sure they are sick less often? 

Technology, specifically digitisation, can make services more efficient. But more streamlined data processing that saves on folders and filing cabinets is simply the start. Technology, if used effectively, can transform every aspect of a patient’s pathway, from diagnosis through to treatment and discharge. The aim of implementing technological solutions into the National Health Service is not just to cut costs – although that is a welcome side-effect – but rather to progress speed, quality and provision of care, through more informed decision-making, and to make sure that patient outcomes are actually improved.

At Siemens Healthineers we take a holistic approach to using technology to advance healthcare. We are constantly innovating our portfolio of products and services in our core areas of diagnostic and therapeutic imaging and in laboratory diagnostics and molecular medicine. We are also actively creating Value Partnerships™ to combine our entire portfolio of technology and services, as well as providing digitally enabled performance management services and even architectural re-design and construction of hospital departments

Our innovative Value Partnerships™ business models help to increase organisation-wide value in order to meet immediate and future goals. Within the context of a modern, digitally-enabled health system, we develop lasting, performance-oriented relationships focusing on: enhancing processes, streamlining operations and improving patient experience. We are adding new capabilities and scaling up existing ones to transform care delivery, elevating the quality and precision of care delivery by advancing the level of innovation in the organisation. 

As an example, our managed equipment service (MES) offers a proven partnership model, which allows an NHS trust to have access to innovative Siemens technologies for a fixed annual fee, with Siemens managing all equipment-related concerns, such as maintenance or replacement, in a bespoke arrangement tailored to that trust’s individual needs. 

Financially, the benefits of the MES are obvious. Upfront capital costs have become more challenging during austerity, and with MES contracts typically lasting somewhere between ten and 25 years, this makes budget forecasting for the trust more consistent and manageable long-term. The MES also promises to develop at the same pace as the technology itself, with Siemens taking on the responsibility for updating equipment as and when required, thereby removing that stress from the trust.

Among Siemens Healthineers’ flagship Value Partnerships™ are the contracts with Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. At Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust the partnership includes the provision, update and maintenance of imaging systems, such as x-rays and ultrasound. Siemens Healthineers manages equipment planning, staff training and provides technical support on-site relating to all machines used. 

Siemens Healthineers’ Ysio Max, a high-end digital x-ray machine, offers unique automation that makes sense. It uses auto-positioning, responding only to the touch of a human hand, and automatic detector identification. The Trust also uses Siemens Healthineers’ Definition Edge CT scanners and Cios Connect – a robust multifunctional “C-arm” for everyday surgery.

At Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust the digitally enabled radiology performance management service (RPMS) developed by Siemens Healthineers, provides a sustainable programme of process improvement facilitated by analysis and visual management of their operational data. This comprehensive approach allows Trusts to review work flows, set goals for change and satisfy a culture of continuous improvement. 

Using technology to collate information swiftly and securely will enhance patients’ and clinicians’ experiences in equal measure. For example, having patients’ medical histories, including any useful information about allergic reactions, available in real time, will help doctors to reach their diagnoses more quickly. Specifically within the context of imaging, granulated data analysis can help to follow up incidental findings from a scan effectively.

As for a patient’s perspective, being diagnosed on the spot rather than having to wait weeks for test results, is not only helpful in terms of improving the chances of treating whatever condition they have more promptly, but is also a way of providing peace of mind. 

Delivering digitally empowered healthcare, ultimately, is not just a case of a trust buying a flashy bit of kit and patting itself on the back. Equipment is only useful if medical staff and patients alike both know how to get the best out of it. Trusts should aim, then, to create digital ecosystems, with interconnectivity recognised as their guiding principle. Smartphones, for instance, could become advanced tools in the hands of thousands of patients and practitioners. Equipped with the right software, they could provide user-friendly, alternative solutions to major medical challenges – preventing the over-prescription of medication, promoting self-care, encouraging positive lifestyle changes and warning of the early signs of health problems.

Digital healthcare, crucially, must make better use of big data analytics and the ability of machine learning algorithms to mine that information and make sense of it, noticing the patterns that are difficult, even impossible, for humans to see. Recognising problems sooner speeds up the diagnostic process and leads to more timely treatment. Treating people more quickly, and more effectively, can reduce the risk of repeated or lengthy stays in hospital. 

An already stretched NHS would certainly welcome that change.

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Nancy West is head of enterprise services at Siemens Healthineers.