By Asina Pornwasin
THE NATION WEEKEND
Without a doubt, digitalisation is shaping the future of healthcare, while bringing the major benefits to patients of more personalised and precise treatments.
According to Michael Reitermann, Siemens Healthineers AG managing board member and chief operation officer, artificial intelligence-based solutions are already turning the vast amount of available healthcare data into actionable insights.
“This digital revolution will shape our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and will change the very nature of healthcare towards more precise, personalised and affordable treatment,” said Reitermann.
These technologies will improve the overall patient experience, he says. From more complete patient records, to decision support tools to options in remote monitoring, digital enhancements will put patients in the position of a consumer. It will allow patients to feel ownership of their overall care, along with confidence in the quality of care they receive.
“At Siemens Healthineers, we have been incorporating AI and other machine learning in our technology for many years,” said Reitermann.
“We already have over 30 AI-enriched offerings on the market, and we continue to expand our pool of data and partnerships with customers to increase access to the data needed to further develop AI-based solutions.”
Digitalisation also helps reduce the cost of healthcare by automating recurring tasks and increasing efficiency and productivity, he adds. He points to examples: sample-tube characterisation and result interpretation in the lab, and AI-guided image interpretation in radiology. The main assets for the age of AI are data, information and knowledge, he says.
AI technology improves the overall patient experience. For example, AI has developed a 3D camera for computed tomography systems that position the patients in the isocentre to guarantee the best possible images at the lowest possible dose.
Other useful the data generated in the healthcare ecosystem include patient records, prescriptions, along with radiology and laboratory test results.
“We now also have consumer products and wearables that generate a vast amount of behavioural data.
“Such data on heart function, sleep cycles, physical activity, when combined with data from the ecosystem has the potential to give us leading indicators on the patient’s health and quality of life,” said Reitermann. This opens unimaginable opportunities for personalised high-quality medical care.
“We can reduce unwarranted variations through evidence-based care pathways,” Reitermann said. “Instead of having to consider decisions from many individual doctors based on their own experiences, proven therapies based on a large amount of curated and successful cases – thanks to AI – can propose the best possible treatment. Via digitalisation we can also close care gaps, such as avoiding missed follow ups or making sure that the handover from one physician to the next physician or to a rehab facility is properly managed.”
He added that digitalisation also allows for the remote service monitoring of systems, avoiding unnecessary downtimes – and so improving efficiency and patient care.
“We are now also taking that data, via AI analytics, to actually predict possible system failures so that they can be addressed before they impact clinical operations,” said Reitermann.
Asean healthcare market
Healthcare has become a higher priority for many governments in the region, as evidenced by the harmonising and scaling down of regulatory requirements to raise transparency in the healthcare sector.
It is seeing positive results when it comes to international activities in different countries of the region.
Like other regions around the world, the Asean healthcare market is transitioning from procedure-based to outcome-oriented healthcare, and a stronger emphasis on digitalisation should result in more benefits for patients, Reitermann said.
“Asia Pacific is too diverse a region for a general response. Let’s focus on the Asean bloc, where we see good overall growth in the healthcare markets, fuelled by population growth and a growing middle class,” said Reitermann.
Role of robotic technology
Medicine can be made both more efficient and more precise through robotic technology, he says. It plays an important role along the entire healthcare continuum from diagnosis to treatment and aftercare.
“For example, two years ago, we launched a new angiography system utilising an industrial robot that performs scans up to 15 per cent faster, compared to a conventional system.
“The system also follows the patient on all table positions to provide the best possible imaging support for their treatment, giving a view of the body from virtually any angle. This kind of imaging system is crucial for the further development of minimally invasive surgery,” said Reitermann.
In addition, it has an x-ray system that utilises robotic arms that can be precisely positioned, enabling all areas of the body to be x-rayed in 3D while the patient is in a natural position, rather than forced into awkward poses to meet the limitations of a conventional x-ray system.
“And of course, there are surgical robots that can make difficult procedures easier for a broader physician base,” said Reitermann.
Data protection and patient privacy
He said that the highest priority for hospitals is to provide exceptional patient care without interruption.
It is crucial to be protected against cyberthreats, such as viruses or
ransomware, that may impair operations, compromise patient data, create
financial damage, or harm the overall reputation.
“When it comes to cybersecurity, our vigilance enables us to deliver systems that support efforts to shield the healthcare institution from threats while protecting the patient data. All equipment currently under development and some existing offerings have built-in security controls that can be adapted to support network requirements,” said Reitermann.
Guided by a central set of security requirements and product-specific threat and risk analyses, the company develops its equipment according to internationally accepted standards and procedures, he says.
“Our company-wide processes at Siemens Healthineers provide strict guidelines for mitigating risks posed by identified threats at any point, from equipment development to service provision.
“These guidelines are constantly adapted and updated. Furthermore, the FDA guidance for management of cybersecurity in medical devices has been embedded into our processes,” said Reitermann.