The next Frontier of Digital Healthcare: exclusive interview with Kerry Stratton, Global Director, Healthcare of InterSystems

A new appetite for innovation

The pandemic has set the pulse racing on digital healthcare innovation. Healthcare providers are turning to new software that can help to transform care processes, but underpinning this transition is the demand for reliable, accessible, usable data that is ready for action, so better decisions can be made.

For the savvy solutions provider in this era of rapid change, to stand still is to fall behind. One company is taking the fast route to the next frontier of digital health with EMR and unified care record solutions and a data platform specifically engineered to extract value from healthcare data. Kerry Stratton, Global Director, Healthcare Solutions for InterSystems, speaks with Hospital Insights Asia on staying agile to stay ahead, helping governments and hospitals to make smart decisions, and adding real life value to virtual healthcare.

Trends of a changing time

“I think the whole COVID experience has been a real test for healthcare IT providers”, says Stratton. From diagnosis to discharge, the crisis has driven digital disruption across the healthcare sector.

Asia especially has picked up the pace. A recent survey put the region at the forefront, with 78% of Asian hospitals ‘excited’ by digital health compared to 66% globally and 91% willing to try new healthcare innovations compared to a worldwide figure of 84%.

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia is at the start of an ambitious pilot plan to roll out electronic medical record (EMR) systems across all hospitals nationwide. In Vietnam, 14 major public hospitals recently announced the implementation of EMR systems. And with an ageing population, Singapore has embraced the need for greater agility and a more effective, accessible healthcare service.

“Everything is changing so rapidly”,  says Stratton. “We’re seeing exponential growth in both technology capabilities and the volume of healthcare data”. But speed is only part of the solution.

“It’s not just about doing business for the sake of it, quickly”, he says firmly. “It’s about how you extract value from digital platforms”. For InterSystems, this value depends on the quality of digital assets – the healthcare data itself – not just the quantity.

Healthy data in the key to digital health success

InterSystems sees “healthy data” as the foundation of digital health success. “Healthy data is clean, accurate data available anytime and anywhere”, Stratton explains. “It is ready for action, enabling better decisions.”

Data sources include EMR systems, specialist applications, biomedical devices, healthcare portals, national health records, and others. The challenge is not just connecting these data sources, but translating them using appropriate standards and aggregating information “cleanly” for safe, reliable and immediate use.

“The hard part is ensuring the integrity of data and extracting value from it”, says Stratton. “If clinicians cannot trust it 100%, they will not use it. That’s equally true of a clinical decision support system designed to improve patient safety, or an artificial intelligence app promising to assist clinicians in identifying an accurate diagnosis”.

Healthy data also drives innovation outside hospitals. “With COVID-19, it has been proven how important it is to have key demographic and clinical information quickly to hand for contact tracing”, he says. “The next step will be more accessible and reliable vaccination records”.

Post COVID, the innovation will continue. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning can predict the likelihood of patients being re-admitted into hospitals”, Stratton suggests. “And precision medicine combines individual records with population research to offer the best treatment for each patient.”

Driving digital change at national level

Innovations in the private sector often coincide with wider government initiatives.  Technology decision making can be very challenging.

“Governments can take a long time to make decisions about digital transformation,” cautions Stratton. “It can be difficult to make decisions without solid business cases but quantitative measures are not always easy to pin down due to the complexities of health and care and are often hampered by a lack of baseline data.

InterSystems also works with governments with a vision for sharing data across the health and care system to drive service improvements and the best possible outcomes. While their journeys may look different, the goals and challenges of various governments are very similar. InterSystems, and Stratton, have built a strong instinct for their digital needs, working closely with progressive customers like the NHS in the United Kingdom and Western Australia Health, South Australia Health and Northern Territory Health in Australia.

The Northern Territory government in Australia has standardized on a single system for all of its public hospitals and primary care clinics, “bringing all information together in a trusted record that allows clinicians to make responsive decisions”, says Stratton. South Australia has chosen a different path, using a state-wide health information exchange that connects different healthcare systems, normalizing data into the same HL7 format and performing integrity checks.

Decisions made now will impact agility in the future so governments must solve short term needs while building a technology foundation for the future.  Interoperability initiatives are a foundation for value; once data is brought together you can start to mine that data and unlock its potential. Governments must adapt to massive increases in data volume, complexity and sources if they are to meet increasing expectations of how data will drive improved workflows and better care decisions. Working with governments to “assess technology and understand the benefits of data platforms”, InterSystems is helping them to thrive in this era where agility is critical.

Digital safety for a digital age

In a sector where cyberattacks account for more than half of data breaches, virtual incidents can have real world consequences. “If a banking system goes down for half an hour, it doesn’t usually hurt anyone”, explains Stratton. “But if a healthcare system goes down lives can be at risk”.

While digital innovation can help governments and hospitals improve healthcare services, no-one wants to suffer the reputational damage of a digital lapse. “Patients are very concerned about how their information is being used and shared… who’s looking at it, what’s being done with it, and can they trust the organisation that has got that information”, says Stratton.

“We’ve been making Internet-based healthcare information systems for many years and the reality is that our customers must constantly deal with the threat of cyberattacks”, he says. “But in healthcare, ensuring data safety is not just about cybersecurity. It is also about being able to maintain the information in a clinically safe way”.

InterSystems helps organisations and governments protect data and maintain trust with their patients and citizens through strong, military strength encryption. The company also has a dedicated information security department and clinical safety officers in each region to support customers.

“People are always comparing and asking why isn’t healthcare the same as other industries? They don’t always understand that healthcare is far more complex and has many additional requirements”, says Stratton.

Kickstarting change for a connected future

The present era of change is setting the pace for the future.

“COVID has created a sense of urgency and I think there will be an ongoing expectation for technology companies to provide a rapid turnaround”, observes Stratton. “In China, we had customers set up hospitals for critical care with full digital systems within two to three weeks”. InterSystems was also able to deploy systems remotely during the pandemic using teleconferencing and other digital collaboration tools at MercyAscot Hospital in New Zealand and Tzu Chi Hospital in Indonesia.

This potential kickstarted by the current climate has unlocked opportunities for the future. “We’ve seen many customers shift to providing virtual care overnight”, says Stratton. “That has spurred innovation around how we work with them to deliver more proactive, virtual care that can pre-empt serious problems, alert doctors and patients, and integrate artificial intelligence for better decisions”.

“Overall there’s been a high degree of success and satisfaction”, Stratton confirms confidently, adding that InterSystems will remain highly responsive to its customers’ needs in this changing environment. And with their help, and a commitment to healthy data, hospitals and healthcare systems are thriving.

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