Comment: How the NHS-Amazon partnership could revolutionise the delivery of healthcare

Mohit Joshi of Infosys explores how connected devices and IoT can enhance treatment management for the benefit of patients

Mohit Joshi of Infosys discusses how the recent news of a partnership between the NHS and Amazon marks a turning point in the use of technology to help democratise healthcare for more-effective diagnoses

In the era of democratised healthcare, can patients really help themselves?

When it comes to our health, the internet gave us access to a wealth of medical and wellness information that can be both beneficial and damaging in equal measure.

Google is the first port of call for most of us for any health issues, empowering people to have an informed conversation with their physician.

And the recent news of Amazon Alexa’s partnership with the NHS to provide users with voice-assisted health advice is yet another step towards consumers increasingly taking their health into their own hands.

But, when such information is incorrectly applied, we could be trying to solve the wrong issue, or an illness that doesn’t exist.

Reversing consumers’ tendency to turn to the internet for health advice is not an option, but there is an opportunity to make it more meaningful and less detrimental.

Instead of trying to apply generic web advice to our symptoms, consumers should be empowered with their data, alongside the right education and enablement to take charge of their own wellbeing; empowering them to take daily decisions that help them better control and understand their own health.

Reversing consumers’ tendency to turn to the internet for health advice is not an option, but there is an opportunity to make it more meaningful and less detrimental

Not just that, a more-personal, data-driven approach can be applied to healthcare to ensure that professionals can better analyse treatments, medical adherence, and ultimately create a more-efficient healthcare system.

Having the right data, in the right context helps professional and patients understand, prevent, and treat ailments more effectively.

And users feel more empowered when they have more control of their data in one place and it makes treatment a more-co-ordinated process.

Currently, healthcare is cumbersome in the way it gives patients a view into the data that is held about them.

With the NHS, for example, the health records of 65 million people are held on clusters of databases that are getting ever more comprehensive.

If patients can access some of the insights from this data, they will not only understand their own bodies better; they will also understand the treatments and why they are being prescribed.

Trust is a vital element of patient satisfaction and there’s progress that can be made with how the healthcare sector uses data.

Currently, 71% of people in the UK trust the healthcare industry, which is higher than the global average.

However, the picture worldwide is one of an industry that is fragile in terms of trust.

The truth is that patients will have more trust in the treatments they are given if providers are able to ‘show their workings’. That means taking the customers on a journey, not just showing them the destination.

Data is the key that will help providers to do that. And the future of healthcare data makes it possible.

Wearing the future

But the revolution in HealthTech isn’t going to be driven by number crunching alone. A lot can also be said about the hardware – like wearables – that will serve as a receiver of data and a user-friendly way of getting helpful solutions directly into the homes and lives of everyday people.

Wearables and connected devices will help us measure more aspects of our health and wellbeing to address ailments with greater accuracy

Worldwide shipments of wearable devices will reach 225 million in 2019, an increase of 25.8% from 2018, according to Gartner.

Generally speaking, consumers are getting accustomed to having a device with them throughout the day that has more functionality than just telling the time.

Wearables and connected devices will help us measure more aspects of our health and wellbeing to address ailments with greater accuracy.

Part of this is helping patients manage their own conditions – diabetics, for example, are well attuned to the importance of blood sugar data throughout the day; while cardiac patients can use wearables to track the lifestyle changes that will impact their wellbeing.

The second part of the equation is that this data should also be shared with physicians in order to personalise our professional medical care and track its effectiveness.

Addressing chronic care with the use of wearables will be a great place to start as it will have a huge cost impact. It can then be rolled out for other patients.

The era of precision medicine

These examples point to the wider picture of data being the enabler behind better, more-specific treatments that put generic off-the-shelf treatments out to pasture.

Better use of data means personalised treatments based on patients’ own bodies. The future will see less reliance on doctor intuition and more emphasis on proven metrics.

Mohit Joshi

The term ‘precision medicine’ may bring about ideas of treatments that are unique for every patient. However, we’ve seen greater efficacy in placing patients into subgroups based on characteristics that predict the effectiveness of the treatment.

And, although there’s so much potential to be found in this approach to medicine, there are still obstacles to address before we see it being used widely in the UK and beyond.

First of all, it takes a lot of time to analyse data about the population and create the subgroups for whom a treatment plan can be applied and evaluated.

There is so much we can achieve with precision medicine, but the bottom line will be how the various stakeholders prioritise it

For each group, data has to be collected from thousands of patients, which is a massive undertaking. On a related note, we also need the industry to play nicely with each other to the point that they share data to the greater good of helping patients.

Underpinning all of that is a regulatory framework that allows it.

Industry investing in the future

Broadly speaking, current solutions aren’t optimal in this area because data is siloed in the various healthcare segments.

Member genome solutions work to address this by bringing in a technology framework that helps provide insights on member behaviour patterns, disease progression, care quality, and interactions across channels.

A member genome solution should ingest structured and unstructured data and filter out the noise to create a flattened data output. This is the type of data that provides insights into the characteristics of subgroups which could then be used to create and test treatment hypotheses.

Infosys is active in this space with the Infosys Member Genome Solution and we’re already forming much-needed industry partnerships to help physicians more accurately diagnose patients through AI and machine learning.

We are one of the strategic partners of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, working together to leverage the expertise of both parties to improve preventive care and enhance predictability of treatment outcomes of potential diseases.

There is so much we can achieve with precision medicine, but the bottom line will be how the various stakeholders prioritise it.

Data isn’t currently an easy asset to analyse in a way that the industry needs. But, with the commitment from the industry, it is possible to bring healthcare into a new era

At the moment, it isn’t an inexpensive approach, so companies really have to do some soul searching to see how much they see these types of solution as integral to their future and whether they are willing to invest in it today.

Transparency when it comes to data is a good thing. It helps patients to make informed decisions, builds trust in the industry, and the means to have information about themselves at hand.

Informed patients make rational decisions about their own wellbeing, and data-driven treatments are more effective.

It’s therefore in everyone’s interest to put data at the forefront.

Data isn’t currently an easy asset to analyse in a way that the industry needs. But, with the commitment from the industry, it is possible to bring healthcare into a new era.

We want the power to be both the hands of the patients and the practitioners. Data, and cooperation around that data, is what will drive us forward.