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Digitising the diagnostic process

Healthcare technology can be used to shorten referral times and improve capacity.

Tackling cancer is now a national priority. It affects over 14m lives each year and accounts for around 15 per cent of all deaths1. Newly detected cancer cases and the number of people living with cancer are on the increase, and in 2011 this disease eclipsed cardiovascular disease as the top cause of death in the United Kingdom2.

Improvements in cancer awareness mean more and more people are coming forward for investigative testing, and over 1.5m urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were made in 2016 – an increase of 50 per cent in the last four years3. In addition, as people age their risk of living with multiple healthcare conditions increases, so any design of cancer services should take into account the management of the elderly patient population.

The Cancer Strategy for England sees late presentation and a lack of early, definitive diagnosis as the key cancer-related challenge faced by the health service2. With diagnosis at an earlier stage consistently associated with better survival, the potential gains are clearly significant. Technology has a key role
to play in making earlier diagnosis a real and tangible possibility.

Shortening referral times

A perfect storm of increasing demand, capital squeeze and workforce deficits, have led to an inconsistency in waiting times from referral time to actual diagnosis; this is exacerbated by the majority of diagnoses taking place within the hospital system. As a leader in diagnostic solutions, Philips is working with a number of public and private partners to deliver a solution that will drive efficiencies and introduce additional capacity into the system. Multidisciplinary Community Diagnostic Centres will offer patients access to dedicated facilities within the community setting helping to alleviate some of the demand on hospitals by efficiently and effectively providing earlier diagnosis using NHS protocols, and ultimately better survival rates.

Improving diagnosis capacity

Pathology plays a critical role in the detection and diagnosis of a range of diseases, including cancer. In the past 40 years the number of new cancer cases has tripled. However, the quickly growing demand for pathology tests has not been matched by the number of highly trained specialists entering the field4.

Digitisation offers enormous opportunities. Operationally, preparing a tissue sample for review is a complex process. Technology such as Philips IntelliSite helps pathologists to organise and review a large number of cases quickly and with ease. Listed as one of the 12 most important healthcare innovations for 2017 by Popular Science5, IntelliSite enables scanned slides to be accessed digitally and reviewed by specialists from anywhere.

What is more, digitisation can also improve accuracy. Automation of the exchange of information reduces manual errors. They can also be shared with experts anywhere in the world at the press of a button, creating the option of a second opinion. In addition, the computational algorithms used within the Philips IntelliSite solution can distribute cases to the right experts to prioritise workflow.

The East and South Yorkshire Pathology (EASY Path) Network was initially set up between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust and Philips to prototype a new model of histopathology service delivery, utilising digital pathology. It is now exploring the feasibility of including other organisations to create a virtual distributed network of specialist histopathology teams across the boundaries of the individual acute trusts in the region.

Removing information silos

Technology holds the key to bringing together all key patient and medical data in one location, so that clinicians have a clear and intuitive view of a patient’s status across the pathway – from early detection to diagnosis, treatment and homecare. Philips IntelliSpace Oncology is a new cloud-based cancer decision support solution that uses Artificial Intelligence to ensure seamless data integration across specialties and locations. Available through a single-view dashboard, IntelliSpace Oncology offers powerful data mining and analytics capabilities that integrate a hospital’s cancer patient records. This means clinicians have easy access to an extensive patient database, enabling them to compare their patients’ data with that of other patients who have similar characteristics to gain data-driven insights into treatment choices and the effects those choices have on patients’ quality of life.

From a patient perspective, they will need to make many difficult choices about their treatment path and care, so having the ability to view all the relevant data is key to helping them make solid decisions along with their doctor. In fact, according to the Future Health Index, an international report commissioned by Philips, more than half of the UK’s general population believe the use of connected care technology made their cancer experience better. IntelliSpace Oncology enables deeper patient involvement through personalised educational materials, access to status dashboards, patient-reported outcomes and satisfaction surveys, along with family and care giver support.

At Philips, we believe in seamless care – partnering with healthcare systems such as the NHS to unlock the collective potential of data, technology and, most importantly, people. Technology can cut through complexity to improve productivity and organise care around people so everyone receives the right care, in the right place, at the right time. As a result, Philips is committed to supporting the NHS as it moves towards adopting and integrating digital solutions and technology to support diagnosis and treatment.

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Neil Mesher is CEO of Philips UK and Ireland (UKI).

Photo: Getty
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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.