Digital platforms are set to be the gamechangers in achieving digitisation of healthcare. The integration of digital health platforms is key, enabling hospitals and healthcare systems to effectively deploy capabilities that can transform the delivery of care. A cloud-based platform provides the foundation for various digital health applications that can be used to support collaboration and clinical workflows, including innovative tools based on machine learning.
In this Q&A, Mathias Goyen, Chief Medical Officer at GE Healthcare, talks with two leading experts in healthcare IT about the potential of digital health platforms, and examines how they can unlock benefits across the sector.
- Felix Nensa is Full Professor for Radiology with a focus on AI at the Essen University Hospital, Germany.
- Jens Dommel is the Head of EMEA Public Sector Healthcare at Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Start-ups looking to build solutions for healthcare institutions may struggle in accurately solving for clinical pain points. How can these companies design digital solutions that can have a meaningful impact?
Felix: It can be hard for outsiders to understand the healthcare domain. It is important to identify the problem that you are trying to solve first and remain focused on that. The complexity of historical IT architecture needs to be hidden in order for start-up companies to bring their innovative and agile approaches to healthcare; having an existing digital platform on which to build applications does exactly that. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every time a healthcare app is developed. This saves time, effort and resources of a smaller company, allowing it to focus on the development of an effective solution. Digital health platforms allow agile developments that work backwards from demands; clinicians come to IT specialists with a problem, a solution is built quickly and then further refined on feedback from colleagues.
Collaboration is key in developing digital tools for healthcare. Can you talk about the partnership approach at AWS?
Jens: The AWS Partner Network (APN) is a global community of partners using AWS to build solutions and services for customers. AWS helps these partners develop market and sell their offerings by providing valuable business, marketing and technical support alongside a proven, global and secure infrastructure. Our partners are uniquely positioned to help customers take full advantage of all that AWS has to offer, and accelerate their journeys to the cloud by participating in medical services like HealthLake Imaging, Amazon Omics and others. AWS has millions of active customers, and a dynamic community of over 100,000 partners from more than 150 countries. We believe that the cloud is not just a technology; it is a culture change. Together, AWS and partners such as GE Healthcare can provide innovative solutions, solve technical challenges, and deliver value to our mutual customers. A great example of this is our partnership with GE Healthcare to enable the Edison™ True PACS solution for radiologists.
There is an opportunity to enable precision medicine using AI tools from digital platforms. What further steps are required in this area to make personalised healthcare a reality?
Felix: Data needs to be scaled in both horizontal and vertical dimensions to enable precision health. The horizontal scaling of data means identifying more and more attributes that can be used to better characterise patients. Vertical scaling is all about collecting more data points on each of those attributes, using products like wearable fitness trackers. Currently, treatment pathways for medical conditions have been informed by clinical studies on small patient groups that are not representative of a diverse population. If we want to go towards personalised healthcare, we need to characterise our patients better and collect data on a large scale. Real insights can then be pulled out of these huge datasets by simulating in silico trials using the computational power offered by the cloud.
Jens: The key to predictive, personalised medicine is making sure that data securely flows to the right places, and cloud technologies are one of the primary tools helping to achieve this. Cloud data storage and management platforms – such as data lakes – can house structured and unstructured patient and administrative information in a centralised, secure location. AI and machine learning (ML) services automate data ingestion and processing, then standardise data to provide true interoperability. Practitioners can then compare an individual patient’s data with anonymised large population patient data, including genomics. AI/ML-based learning models can use that large, detailed view to predict specific, individual health threats with unprecedented accuracy. ML models can also use this data to develop evidence-based treatment plans that apply precisely to the patient and condition at hand.
The development of radiomics platforms is exciting in this space. We’re seeing computers capable of identifying tumour features on a CT or MRI scan that a clinician may have missed. Could you explain how radiomics can help oncologists?
Felix: A radiologist might characterise a patient’s tumour by describing the scanned image with a few words and some measurements. However, this doesn’t necessarily direct the treatment given by an oncologist. Computers can easily extract many more features from medical scans, characterising a tumour with thousands of data points, and a few of these may be important biomarkers to aid clinicians. Radiomics will shape the future of radiology and it has incredible potential, but we still need to prove its reliability in the clinical setting.
In the next five to 10 years, how will AWS be supporting clinical care?
Jens: It’s helpful to talk about the outcome of implementing digital technologies, rather than the tools themselves. By using AWS, healthcare organisations can work with our partners to drive transformation, engaging with patients at every major touchpoint of their healthcare journey to provide a more personalised approach. Interoperability – paired with AI and ML – is already helping healthcare organisations to optimise use of their data, increasing diagnostic accuracy and efficiency, making preventive and predictive care a reality, and improving patient access and experiences. As cloud services are more universally implemented, I believe we’ll see increasingly accurate diagnoses arrived at more quickly, reduced nurse and clinician time spent on routine tasks – such as paperwork – easier patient access to their own health information, and a shift from reactive to preventative care.
What will the future workplace of a radiologist look like in the face of digital transformation?
Felix: There will still be radiologists, of course, but the job description will dramatically change. I believe in the Gartner statement, which says that by 2024, healthcare providers that have adopted a digital health platform approach will outpace competition and partners by 80 % in the speed of digital transformation and new feature implementation.1 I am convinced that digital platforms will be the game changer in healthcare. In the present state, there are examples of hospitals and services shutting down due to understaffing, meanwhile the time of healthcare professionals is largely occupied by administrative, repetitive tasks. We need to attract talent to the healthcare setting, allowing these professionals to truly interact with their patients on a daily basis; digital transformation can achieve this.
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1. Singh P, Feder S, Jones M, Meyer A. Gartner Report: Competitive Landscape for Digital Health Platforms.; 2021.
The statements by GE HealthCare's customer described are based on their own opinions and on results that were achieved in their own settings.