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Accessibility and automation: the next frontiers of healthcare

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Health and well-being are fundamental human needs. Also, the success of human societies can be largely measured by the health and well-being of its citizens. In the past 100 years, inventions like penicillin, cortisone, organ transplantation, medical imaging, and cancer treatments have greatly extended our lives and transformed our economies. However, the development of new therapies is facing diminishing returns while the rising cost of healthcare service delivery places a strain on our economies.

To continue improving health outcomes at a sustainable cost, we must improve the accessibility and mobility of healthcare services to expand their geographic reach and to provide continuity of care between hospital and home. Inevitably, we must also increase the automation and productivity of the currently very human-centric service delivery. These goals are strongly interrelated: modern AI tools can use connected data sources to improve the productivity of healthcare and free up time for helping patients.

Access to healthcare services anytime, anywhere

According to WHO, more than half of the world’s population is still not covered by essential health services. Healthcare personnel and infrastructure are too stationary and expensive to deploy in less developed areas, which puts the health of people, societies, and economies at risk.

However, even the more affluent populations in urban regions are affected by accessibility challenges with continuity of care between hospital and home, or wherever the patients live their life. Globally, six out of ten leading causes of mortality are related to chronic diseases, and it is said that one in three adults suffers from multiple chronic conditions. These conditions evolve over time, requiring personalized care plans that can be quickly updated as needed. Patients also need to understand their conditions to adhere to their care plans.

These needs call for continuous patient monitoring, automated response loops, and patient empowerment to care for themselves while at home and on the move.

We need economically feasible ways to evolve the current healthcare service model to location-agnostic, mobile, and virtual hospitals. Telemedicine and connected diagnostic IoT devices can extend healthcare access to remote locations without locally deploying scarce medical professionals and stationary infrastructure. Such solutions are quickly becoming commonplace for the treatment of diabetes (connected glucose monitors and insulin pumps), cardiac rhythm management (connected implants), assisted living and medical alerts (smart homes and emergency calls), and other connected health devices.

AI will drive automation and free up time for helping patients

While no one can question the tremendous value of healthcare, it is also hugely expensive. In 2020, healthcare costs were US$ 8.3 trillion globally, equaling 10 percent of global GDP, and growing.

Since healthcare remains a labor-intensive occupation, there has been little scope for substituting capital for labor, as is the case in other industries Most nations are now facing a shortage of healthcare workers and are in a situation where the demand for healthcare services is increasing due to aging populations. At the same time, the pool of qualified and available candidates is not growing. Consequently, the healthcare industry must increase labor productivity to retain and sustainably improve health outcomes. The object of such automation must be to use less time for tasks such as administration, routines, data collection, and analysis so that more time can be spent helping patients.

Connecting MedTech to 5G public and private hospital cellular networks can remove mission-critical capacity bottlenecks in connected patient care, health operations, and building automation. The latest digital and computational technologies including AI can be used in many ways to automate workflows and eliminate waste.  Automation can also enable less skilled workers, patients, and their caregivers to do more, freeing highly trained doctors and nurses to work at the top of their licenses.

Open connectivity standards can accelerate the transformation of healthcare

At Nokia, we supply wireless networks and license our connectivity and other standardized technologies to other companies, including MedTech device manufacturers, so they can leverage our innovation in their products. We are also shaping tomorrow through scientific discovery and technical research at Nokia Bell Labs, producing technologies and Intellectual Property in fields such as biosensing, analytics, cloud, security, short-range radio, and user interface. We have defined many fundamental technologies used in virtually all mobile devices. Since 2000, Nokia has invested around 150 billion EUR in R&D; last year alone, we invested more than 4.3 billion EUR.

Healthcare and MedTech can greatly benefit from the R&D investments originally made in industries with open standards and fast product cycles. Using scaled-up technologies is cost-effective because it frees up MedTech companies’ R&D resources to focus on their core differentiators. More importantly, it enables seamless integration of healthcare services with the patients’ daily lives using technologies and standards they are already using, such as cellular connectivity, Wi-Fi, and smartphone apps.

Heikki Harju

About Heikki Harju

Heikki Harju, Director, Business Development, develops Nokia’s patent and technology licensing business. During his career at Nokia, he has gained experience from various business verticals including digital healthcare, mobile devices, fixed and mobile networks. Heikki has an MSc in Economics and Business Administration, and his interests include innovation, strategy, business development and data science.

Connect with Heikki on LinkedIn

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