How Distributed Ledger Technology will transform health data
Accessing your own medical files is often a complex task. It might be your medical file, but you are far from owning it. You might have requested medical data transfers between two facilities - but these are often slow and fraught with errors. The information might relate to you as a patient, but you rarely have an active role in the management and implementation of said data.
The current system is fragmented and inefficient. The world has moved forward in leaps and bounds to the point where we have decentralised systems for handling virtual currencies, but vital information about our health is still stored on paper files and on aging computers. The famous NHS data breaches of 2017 are a prime example of the dangers that are lurking in plain sight.
There is currently no better solution to the issues raised by existing health data management than the blockchain - or more precisely distributed ledger technology (DLT). DLT is secure, immutable, and easily accessible. It could transform research, empower patients and bring much needed medical insight into isolated communities. These are just some of the ways DLT could transform health data management.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal forced people to realise the power of data. When users sign up for a new app or social network, it’s rare for them to pay any attention to the terms and conditions. After all, they aren’t sharing anything important so that data doesn’t really matter.
However, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook halted a research project which was asking hospitals to hand over anonymised patient data. If there is nothing wrong with sharing anonymised data, then why did Facebook feel the need to hit the brakes? They recognised that this was a grey area for data protection, as it’s easier to fill in the gaps of anonymised data using social data which is freely shared.
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What is clear is that patients need increased control of and privacy for their data if it is ever to be used to enact change via research studies or similar initiatives. Empowering patients to take control of medical data - and allowing them to decide which studies and trials they would like their data to be included in - will go a long way to increase trust.
However, empowering patients in this way is only ever going to be valuable if they have confidence in the systems that they are using. End-to-end encryption of patient data as well as an intelligent key management can help to keep it safe and allow patients to use it to make better decisions about their health. Patients could easily connect their data to health tracking apps, which could, in turn, feed information back to their primary health care provider to improve healthcare provisions. Patients might not always report the facts accurately to their doctor, but data does rarely lie.
This type of decentralised ledger technology is already in play, and we are excited to be blazing the trail. Empowering patients while pushing the medical industry forward with the right technology. Medical research and the search for cures is often held up by a lack of access to up-to-date medical records and blanket policies which forbid health care providers from sharing that critical information. DLT can enable patients to control their own data, ultimately, bringing trust to an industry that is critically important to us all.
Karsten Stampa began his career as a management consultant for various German institutions, mainly focusing on various aspects of regulation and has been COO/CFO at HealthBank since 2016.
His main interests are the development of trust-based management through visualisation and clarification of strategies, transparency and leadership as well as the development of (internal) control systems. Since 2008, Karsten Stampa has also been a lecturer at the HWR Berlin and teaches Strategic Management & Leadership.
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.