Exclusive interview: DataStax's Martin James on the future of IoT in healthcare
DataStax is a Silicon Valley-based mature start-up working with customers such as eBay, Walmart and MacDonalds, while partnering with organisations like Accenture, Capgemini and Deloitte, who have recognised the company’s disruptive technology enables them to win more projects.
At the start of the decade, a database development by Facebook recognised the requirement of coping with huge amounts of data. Facebook put that in the hands of the open source community when it became an Apache Cassandra project – DataStax was the organisation behind the development of that Cassandra database platform, providing 85% of the code for that product over the last seven years.
We asked Martin James, RVP for Western Europe at DataStax, the following on the company and the future of IoT in healthcare.
So, Martin, why should healthcare companies choose DataStax?
“We’re able to operate at scale with large volumes of data in real time. Babylon Health achieved an eye watering level of scalability so supporting companies in that pursuit is a real sweet spot for us. The talk in the last eight years around big data has seen a lot of money made around it, but I’m not sure true functionality is being delivered.
“Big data is often a batch-oriented thing to enable you to put large amounts of data into a data lake for analytics, but that’s after the event. So, what if you could move away from the past and make a decision based on what’s happening now? That’s what sets us apart with our customers whether that’s in healthcare, banking or manufacturing.”
What challenges do you still face in developing your offering for healthcare?
“The big challenge, across sectors, continues to be data security and governance. Beyond GDPR there are other laws and regulations coming into the market – next January will see the launch of the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) to restrict rogue ingredients from entering the medicines supply chain and being distributed through the market.
“Each medicine will have a unique identifier and anti-tampering device and these things will need to be monitored. We’re ready to support this as we’ve proved with our logistics customers we have the ability to help them manage alerts when the temperature drops on something or when a box is opened – to do that involves managing vast amounts of data from IoT sensors.”
Now, the company is focused on maintaining sufficient richness of functionality to make it a complete commercial proposition around five key capabilities DataStax calls CARDS… so, what are the capabilities that make up CARDS and how can they support IoT?
“CARDS is all about applications that have a requirement to deliver C – contextually relevant information. A – means always on, so the platform is always available. It’s something we’re good at, not like a back-office finance application that runs 9-5 and goes down at weekends. R – stands for the fact that we run in real time because we’ve all become more impatient across the world. We don’t want to make a doctor’s appointment in two weeks-time, we want problems like these solved right away. D – recognises that a lot of the companies we work with have highly distributed environments. IoT itself is a highly distributed database environment with millions upon millions of devices and data collection points. S – responds to the need for this solution to be scalable.
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“With IoT you can’t predict what data volumes will be or the usage patterns so a database layer that is linearly and predictably scalable is really important. The general requirements for IoT involve terabytes of data being transmitted from millions of devices. It’s not a batch, it has to happen in real time. We see lots of IoT use cases in utilities and also coming into manufacturing with our customers in the automotive space. They’re featuring designs with a dozen different touch points in a car, sending data back to the manufacturer about the way that car is being driven and predicting when it will need to be serviced.
“With healthcare we want our problems fixed now. In a recent workforce survey, PwC found that 85% of clinicians interviewed believed the majority of diagnostics will be formed via data from an app, with less and less from in-person care.”
What technological breakthroughs and new initiatives are you harnessing to deliver IoT solutions in healthcare?
“Along with CARDS, in the last two years we’ve also launched our Graph Database. If you’re a Facebook or LinkedIn user you get recommendations on who to connect to – what’s managing that is a Graph Database. It’s very good at understanding the relationships between data. It’s something that our customer Babylon Health (delivering accessible healthcare digitally) is using to link its data – which is very important in healthcare and life sciences to ensure the sensitivity of data and make sure you’re conforming to any data privacy regulations.
“The Graph Database ensures you bring together data that is appropriate, and in the format required to be digested by the user. We hear a lot about single points of view and we think about the single patient view. We can bring that to data irrespective of the format so clinicians can understand everything associated with a particular patient and where that data is held (hospital, GP, dentist etc). Think of the value-added service you could provide to that patient.
“The world is moving to cloud-based advocation and our customers notice that our database is built for the cloud which enables them to run their data on whatever cloud platform they like – AWS, Google, Azure. And it can be seamlessly managed with what they see as data autonomy, so they are no longer restricted in how they choose to manage their data. We’re proud of the way we can offer that in the hybrid cloud environment we work in.”
Could you highlight a recent win for DataStax in healthcare?
“We secured Babylon Health as a customer in December last year. Based in the UK, it’s a real disruptor in the marketplace. We’re seeing the implementation of AI across many industries and they’re using the Graph Database to link up different data streams and provide a service in real time. In the healthcare space they’ve been able to develop applications using chat bots, based on AI, that deliver critical services to patients with an always on capability.
The amount of data Babylon are processing is incredible, and yet with just over 1.5mn members it is relatively small and not yet a tier 1 health provider. It manages lots of data types from text to video and, with the kind of innovation we’ve seen with Airbnb, that will allow them to disrupt further and be highly successful. DataStax is also working with Healthcare Anywhere. They offer all-in-one telemedicine that takes you beyond video with convenient appointment scheduling, automatic reminders to patients, revenue cycle management, automatic patient payments, tracking patient trends, and marketing to help grow a practice.”
What are your predictions for how the industry will further its use of IoT to provide services and treatment for patients?
“We’re going to see more services which can be consolidated into your health app for a single view of everything from your dental care to physio. The customer experience will be dramatically enhanced by the speedier delivery of services because we’ll be doing less in-person visits to doctor’s surgeries and hospitals. The challenge will be in ensuring the accuracy of what’s being done because you are dependent on the information that’s coming via a wearable device, web portal etc. It’s important for organisations to understand the impact if these services go wrong or if a patient’s health is degraded.
“Ultimately, I predict we’ll see a better patient experience for all. It’s the same as maintaining the health of your vehicle… MOT on one day, annual service on another, insurance and tax to arrange – it can be quite frustrating unifying all of that. Similarly, bringing healthcare services together to a single point can help us understand the impact of one thing on another. For example, your GP might be trying to help you understand why you’ve had persistent headaches but doesn’t know you’ve made three visits to the dentist in the past six months. Maybe there’s an opportunity to better explore the IoT connections between different health issues and departments in order to deliver a better diagnosis.”
How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.