One of the few advantages of being older is having witnessed, firsthand, all the historical impacts that technology has had on us humans. From computers and tablets to smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, our world has become all about personalization and immediacy. We will not be able to put that genie back in the lamp.
Most industries have been dealing with this reality since the Internet became a way of life in the '90s, and they have become vastly more efficient. However, healthcare is late to that realization. While problematic in the near term, we can overcome this tardiness by using emerging technologies to counteract the design deficiencies of both healthcare delivery and the solutions that currently support them. The system designs of both were inward-facing, not patient-focused, and most never contemplated the new interconnected world we now live in.
The cloud will be to healthcare what the Internet was to every other industry. The reason is very simple. Cloud computing will help mitigate the scarce labor shortages we're facing on both the clinical delivery side as well as the data scientist and data processing side.
But there's another aspect to the rise of the cloud that we often forget. It still takes people to power the decision-making, particularly in healthcare. Advancing clinical decision support automation begins to encroach on the idea of practicing medicine, which is usually resolved by simply providing more recommendations to the clinician, whether they want them or not.
Yet, in the area of operational excellence, healthcare is becoming a matter of haves and have nots. From my "Captain Quality" days at a large healthcare software company, I learned the value of data in measuring internal processes. The old axiom was if you can't measure it, you can't manage it. In my experience though, there are many things that can't be measured, but still have to be managed. What's more, we make decisions every day without the benefit of all of the data.
For large institutions, with ready access to people power in terms of data scientists and analysts to make sense out of terabytes of data, they can leverage the data revolution to drive operational excellence. For mid-sized and smaller hospitals, the revolution is passing them by. Unable to recruit sought-after analytics resources, they have data that can improve their operations gathering dust.
And it is here that the cloud and "as a Service" thinking can help reshape healthcare across all players, from the smallest to the largest institutions.
Regardless of shortages, we know there are processes we have to modify to facilitate both how the services are obtained and how they're rendered. The process inefficiencies in every part of our healthcare system have to be dealt with as we move forward. The healthcare consumer is being empowered daily through technology to gain more control over the one resource that we all don't have enough of – time.
The healthcare industry is not only desperate for actionable data to improve processes, but more importantly for platforms that help provide answers to why we are performing at the level we're measuring. We're drowning in data, but thirsty for answers.
There is a genuine temptation in the technical community to layer platform on top of platform and assume it will fix the problem, when sometimes it's just an answer we're looking for. What many healthcare organizations need right now is not the "moonshot," but steady and consistent improvement that is affordable and manageable.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence attached to cloud service platforms, coupled with expert delivery of that capability "as a Service," will help democratize the capabilities of our systems and, more importantly, deliver on the promise of big data. Once we've fixed the nagging day-to-day operational aspects, we can begin to leverage those processing capabilities that will enable healthcare to take the next leap toward predicting outcomes. Only then will we be able to get answers to potential problems in our processes before they become issues.
Our healthcare industry leads the world in using technology to treat disease. Personalized medicine isn't just a concept anymore. The immediacy of the world we live in demands that we take the same passion we use to develop these clinical solutions and direct them at the process issues that make our systems too costly. But to truly change the path, we need innovative delivery options to make use of this deluge of data, and to make it accessible by the 200-bed hospitals and community access hospitals as well. Otherwise, we create a system of data deserts.
To a system thirsty for answers, we need not only technology, but business approaches that solve the real issue – a shortage of human brains capable of making sense of collected and situational data from ANY institution, regardless of size or place.
We now have the cloud service platforms and the software applications to enable us to tackle these issues. And now we have organizations willing to bundle them with experts to truly enable "Answers as a Service" and to make big data available to all. The only remaining question is whether we have the courage to deploy them and, more importantly, faith that the answers we get will change healthcare delivery forever.
Mike McGuire is Chief Sales Officer for G2 Works, a healthcare technology consultancy. He has over 35 years of experience building, managing, and selling successful healthcare IT companies. His experience includes industry leaders such as McAuto, McKesson HBOC, ACS, and Allscripts as well as start-ups like Vertisoft and Holon Solutions.