Healthcare is something that, at one point or another, touches upon every single person – whether it’s their own health or that of older or more vulnerable relatives.
Yet, across Europe, access to both reactive and preventative healthcare resources is being stretched as a result of people living longer and under-resourcing of health professionals.
One way in which connectivity can help tackle this strain is through allowing more advanced technology to be used, alongside enabling better access to existing technology.
One of the biggest hurdles though is not the lack of this technology, but the high levels of digital exclusion. Despite many people taking things such as the internet or digital literacy for granted, millions of people lack basic skills or access to digital tools.
I believe that everyone should have access to these digital tools as a basic right.
The Digital Exclusion Epidemic
Digital exclusion is the term that we give to members of a society who are unable to access many tools and services that we take for granted. This can affect everything from access to digital resources around health conditions to being able to book appointments online.
Across the continent, 80 million Europeans never use the internet because of the cost, with many of these being vulnerable citizens who would benefit most from access. In the UK, 10% of people have never used the internet, with 4/5 of these being over 65.
This lack of access has a number of negative consequences:
Firstly, individuals are unable to access online resources which could help provide information around existing or likely health conditions. This also rules out advanced services such as remote healthcare provisioning or wearable tracking. This not only limits the individual’s ability to help themselves, but makes them more likely to have to seek help at hospitals or from local doctors.
Secondly, a lack of connectivity makes the job of care workers visiting homes more difficult, as they are not able to do their job as quickly or as effectively. This means that resources are again stretched further. Ultimately, there is a need to shift between the capabilities of health and social care in order to maximise both resources. Look at hospitals for example: they’re already over-populated, including patients who remain on wards as they don’t have the means to be looked after if they return home. We need to be looking at how technology and connectivity can help give patients the same type of care at home as they are receiving in the hospital.
Finally, it’s not just physical health, but mental health as well which is impacted. Digital exclusion means being unable to use social networks or other tools to stay in touch with family and friends.
All of these don’t just have an impact on the individuals involved, but the wider healthcare ecosystem and society as a whole too.
This is not something which can be fixed overnight, but it’s something that can be solved if public health bodies, technology companies, governments and individuals work together.
How We Are Helping
We’re working alongside the government and councils of Suffolk on a project called Connected Together. This is a digital connectivity inclusion project, trialled in Haverhill, Suffolk, which aims to support greater independence through the use of digital services to citizens currently with care and support needs, while also providing quick, secure connectivity for the public sector workers who routinely visit them.
We believe that by installing connectivity for free into the homes that need it most, we can help spark positive changes that will benefit local councils, care workers and those living in the community.
We believe in the power of advanced technology to make a real difference in the future, but we also realise that having basic internet access is the bedrock for this to happen. There is a cost to this, but it’s one that pales in significance to the savings that will be seen further down the line.
Another initiative I’m excited by is the Center of Connected Health established in Cisco’s German Innovation Center, openBerlin. This innovation centre is one of many that we have set up worldwide, with the intention of showcasing digital solutions to complex problems and making those tangible for the healthcare sector.
The role of Cisco’s Center of Connected Health is to demonstrate the innovative ways in which we can connect different healthcare silos with the goal of significantly improving the efficiency and quality of care for care providers and patients at the same time.
It deploys consistent standards to help hospitals, clinics, care providers, insurers and patients securely and responsibly access patient data. In the future we expect to see multiple electronic health record solutions maintained by multiple providers. The real challenge then becomes the ability to securely connect those sources.
By demonstrating and explaining the value of connected health-data solutions, the Center of Connected Health will smooth the healthcare sector’s journey towards digitalisation.
What’s more, in our co-innovation centre in Dubai, we’re continuing to look at the role of connectivity in improving healthcare. The centre provides a test-bed for innovative telemedicine solutions, with an example being an application that allows for a patients’ vitals to be tested and then analysed alongside all other health records. This helps identify the need for medical care more effectively and helps collaboration across the eco-system. Elsewhere, a new Cisco co-creation pilot, developed by the Cisco Saudi Arabia CDA team, has pioneered virtual, smartphone-enabled consultations between patients and physicians.
Solutions such as these will become all the more significant as more and more people in the Middle East and Africa get online for the first time.
If we are to truly benefit from the improved care technology allows us, then we need to make sure everyone has the basic digital tools, abilities and access. Connectivity will allow for better technology and data to be shared, making life better for everyone.