The COVID pandemic brought many challenges to the Healthcare industry, which forced the leadership across the space to look deeper into opportunities for data sharing and telehealth. In this interview, Karsten Russell-Wood, Portfolio Leader, Post Acute & Home at Philips, discusses interoperability as an anthropology; interoperability for a resilient health system; and interoperability as the one thing we need to do better.

Connecting Systems and Sharing Data Across the Healthcare Landscape

COVID has been a prime example underpinning the need for data sharing, and as we move forward, the focus on new artificial intelligence tools to process the information further will gain greater traction.

There are over 2,300 exabytes (EB) of Healthcare data created annually, a truly astounding number. Add to this the growing complexity of added Healthcare systems and technologies creating even more data, and you begin to scratch the surface on the existing amount of information that needs to be analyzed and made accessible. While Healthcare digital systems have historically not focused on interoperability, the pandemic has pushed hospitals and care providers to look into the importance and critical nature of using data to drive knowledge and result in action; to look at how we ensure systems can connect and share data whether in the hospital or in the home.

Interoperability and Resilience in Healthcare

What interoperability really enables is the smart collection of data. If communication is a dynamic router of information, it is also an enabler of improved processes. In the absence of good interoperability, things aren’t talking. Those gaps create worse outcomes for patients and end up costing more.

Interoperability at its core is a new language. We understand that growing that language to various levels over time will lead to semantic interoperability through which systems can engage and use information broadly. That is critical to Healthcare today as silos are being broken down and the separation between different points of care delivery is so radically changing. This is significant across the U.S. and for Federal agencies like Veterans Affairs (VA) who are connecting data and providers and patients at a whole new level. Virtualized care is increasing the amount of data and at the same time, we are seeing providers and individuals actioning that information to be able to provide care consistently across patient encounters.

When we think about that level of connected care, between Government agencies and hospitals, and then even beyond, connecting care for patients in the home and in retail environments, truly allowing patients to connect anywhere, we see the scope that telehealth serves to increase that push to share and unify information.

Interoperability as a Digital Anthropology

If we look at interoperability like anthropology, as a study of development, the goal of this development is around meeting the Quadruple Aim: Improved Readiness, Better Health, Better Care, at Lower Cost.

If we can begin to imagine what comes next, if interoperability leads down a path of being able to truly aggregate information, then suddenly we can harness information in a truly powerful clinical understanding. That curiosity is one of the truly great advantages to hackathons, where we can look at data never brought together before, where we can allow really smart people to develop new tools and algorithms to make what was never imagined before, possible.

Interoperability = Proactivity

Interoperability that brings data together speaks to the very heart of resilience in the U.S. Healthcare system. The more interoperable systems are, the faster we can react to sudden patient surges, and the more future proof the system becomes. As systems like telehealth come online, we need to ensure they can support the consumption of data so that providers are not overwhelmed. Tactically we need to be proactive to ensure there is not a data overload, that there are smarter intelligent tools driving everything so that the data is actionable.

Philips partners with various organizations and networks understanding that this is too big a challenge for any one body to manage alone. Partnering as a consortium we can discuss and develop formats and frameworks, can agree to standards that will help deploy growing real and valuable interoperability. Interoperability is a very complex technical concept. If we are doing it well, we will see we do it semantically. If we do it poorly, it is more foundational.

Key Pieces of Interoperability

Interoperability will absolutely require technology, cybersecurity and clinical excellence all coming together. It starts with standardizing the data and formats to ensure the information can be shared. As that information is being readied, it can be exposed to cyber threats. That cyber function is a very important step in our maturity as a health system.

We are used to sharing information between an emergency department and an ICU or between an ICU bed and a unit, but now we are talking about sharing across hospitals, across state lines and beyond. The consumer expectation is that wherever they are, their data will be available so educated decisions can be made about whatever care it is they are to receive.

There is also the greater utilization of devices that will allow us to age comfortably in our homes. There are technical and financial barriers that have restricted the advancement of interoperability there, silos and individual vendors that restrict further sharing to the wider ecosystem, but changing technical design and changing views are making all of that more open. If nothing else, COVID has shown us the importance of and the value in collaboration.

There has been a significant shift in care delivery needs with domains of knowledge and accountability shifting as primary care providers have access to information they didn’t before. Those providers now have the ability to become bigger agents of patient centric care.

Philips’ Role

Trust and partnership are two key components for Philips. As health systems are redesigning themselves and becoming resilient, there is a greater need to ensure there are partners that will get them to that next level. It is not about finding a partner that wants to replace everything they have. Health systems are financially more constrained than before so the ability to connect to devices the health system may already have, to support an agnostic ecosystem away from that focus on proprietary networks is key.

Helping health systems continue the journey they may have already begun is about harnessing the investment already made and continuing to build on and invest there. Some of this may come from evolutions in cloud deployment, through working with standards organizations to develop common language and common exchanges.

To help these systems succeed, we must look at the needs through the lens of the customer, to avoid reacting to the needs of today, to be proactive and help them plan for requirements they hadn’t considered. There is a missed opportunity if we aren’t thinking about moving faster toward supporting care in the home, thinking about challenges to interoperability to design health systems to be more efficient in the future.

Interoperability for Remote Care

VA and its systems and hospitals are a great example of a health system that knows that whether it is urgent care, care through a retail environment or home care, the need is for access to data at the same level as hospital quality of care. The advent of wearable devices, new engagement platforms and telehealth has helped mitigate the tension around access to data to where telehealth is now the standard of care helping people in remote areas gain the access to care they need.

That also serves to reduce the burden on the patient’s care network, their family and friends, and it reduces the unnatural struggle to connect providers that may be hours away. If the only option for chronic care patients is driving hours away to see their specialist, that isn’t a sustainable model. Bringing more care to communities through retail offerings, increasing the use of consumer grade devices, the amount of data exchange is moving towards being more semantic.

Many people think of Philips as a treatment company, but we are one of the few companies with a large personal health division. We don’t just see health in terms of treatment but prevention, and that lens allows us to follow the patient over time. Over any patient journey, there are many touchpoints and that’s where interoperability gets real, where there are real people benefitting from the data.

COVID was Not the Start of the Journey

Philips started on this journey long before COVID, but the pandemic allowed us the flexibility to be able to have examples of response. It is fundamentally clear in Healthcare informatics that building a platform approach allows solutions to really generate value through modules, building platforms that can speak with each other and support the agility needed to be responsive in times like this pandemic when the customer has burning challenges to be resolved.

COVID intensified the data exchange needs, from platforms that were deployed or extended globally to virtual care and remote monitoring in critical care units. The pandemic has created a national, if not global mandate, to move toward patient-centric care and it will be data and interoperability driving that. Our view is focused on the thinking that what’s ours isn’t just ours but ours collectively. The real integration of data across the ecosystem, without silos, without tension is the next step, and we think the pandemic has demonstrated the urgency that will initiate that needed push.

At Philips, we are concentrating on where care is moving, beyond hospitals. We want to help create an ecosystem of care that harnesses all of the initiatives around interoperability. Friction creates waste, so we need to eliminate that waste and remove the friction from care delivery in order to move forward. We are investing a lot around research and development, around capabilities and performance focused on accessibility and efficiency supporting the patient, provider and the health system. We want to be that ecosystem connector bringing together all of the data from hospital to home and making it actionable. This is the time when change will happen. There is a common dialogue taking place now in which people are talking about whether we need to do better things or do things better. Interoperability exists. We know what it can do if it is perfect. That’s where we need to move.

About Karsten Russell-Wood

Karsten Russell-Wood is a Healthcare marketing professional with over 20 years of global product development and strategy experience. He currently serves as the Global Portfolio Marketing Leader for the Connected Care Post Acute and Home Cluster of Philips Healthcare. He is responsible for linking the innovations of Philips’ product teams to the prospect and customer-focused commercial operations of the business unit to build the Philips global brand, create consumer awareness, dominate thought leadership, and drive customer preference for the solutions through all channels, every day.

Check out more articles from this year’s edition here.

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