The outlook for our National Health Service has never looked brighter. Although the challenge has always been immense, with the right leadership, technology can be harnessed to change the future of healthcare services
When news of the WannaCry ransomware offensive shook the headlines in 2017, all eyes turned to see how the UK would respond to a devastating hit which cost the NHS £92 million and caused the cancellation of 19,000 appointments.
The industry went into overdrive to understand what lessons could be learned. And given that hospitals and GPs store highly sensitive and confidential information, making them natural targets for cybercriminals, cyber security experts were tasked with finding new ways to alleviate the growing cyber-threat pressure, if not prevent it completely.
The fear and risk associated with the deployment of tech-powered solutions will not go away while data is stored and managed centrally, this architecture not only provides a ‘honeypot’ for bad actors but also makes meeting data protection more difficult, in turn hindering decision-making, and crippling progress.
There is a trilemma (CIA) – confidentiality, integrity and access. All three must be met simultaneously. Confidentiality: Keeping data private; Integrity: Ensuring data can’t be tampered with; Access: Authorized parties are able to access the information when needed.
True patient empowerment can only really be achieved through the orchestration of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Programming (NLP) and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) that will enable real-time, data-rich, secure, and increasingly virtual, digital care delivery models.
The good news is despite apprehension and conservatism, a courageous technology-led transformation is underway. Indeed, Matt Hancock’s sharpened focus on innovation – evidenced by his setting £412 million aside to transform technology in hospitals – is, in part, fuelling confidence. Consequently, the UK’s healthcare sector is perched on the precipice of a new era.
We are at the dawn of a ‘New Data Age’; to realise the benefits of exponential data growth, we must be able to trust it. Edward Cole, chief strategy officer, Atlas City comments.
But as with the roll-out of any new technology, there comes challenge.
The increasing application of data science and the confidence in AI indicates that the value of data is being recognised in a way not previously possible. AI is dynamic, as it generates its own data, adding new challenges in tracking the provenance of the data sets (and the algorithms supporting the logic).
Meanwhile, NLP has the potential to become an important branch of AI, bringing with it the ability to understand ‘context’, but the challenge here is in its appropriateness – how do you validate the signposting and assure correct outcomes?
Realising the real-time vision
Blockchain-based distributed ledger technology (DLT) has qualities perfectly suited to delivering health to the vision of a Real Time Health System (RTHS): to see and act in real-time to improve care outcomes, patient engagement and administrative processes; a world where diagnosis and prognosis is delivered by a combination of technology, human expertise and pastoral care.
Blockchain DLT can manage vast amounts of IoT and sensor data in a new way, where robotic machines work in harmony with people and other machines according to immutable business logic (smart contracts); where sensors capture patient data from a variety of devices and run analytics to deliver welfare; and where the hospital maintenance and supply chains function more efficiently.
The unique quality of Blockchain DLT is that it can incorporate a compliant unique biometric digital record of your identity into very transaction/procedure, allowing the medical supply chains to operate with authority. This authenticity and authority, enables confidential data to be safely shared within the hospital network, across borders, and with insurance companies etc.
A Blockchain-based Healthcare Ledger moves trust away from a central authority and distributes it to a network of customers, GPs, care profession, service and suppliers etc. who validate the transactions on the network using mathematics. Records can then be accessed accordingly using identity controls compliant with local and international regulations.
To summarise, the main benefits of DLT are that it can be used for incorporating document management and collaboration; AI and knowledge management; information security; threat management; and information governance.
So, now consider the impact of combining DLT and blockchain within a single, integrated platform – with data encrypted end-to-end. Ultimately, this has the potential to bring the RTHS vision to life.
Cutting through the jargon
What does this mean for patients and healthcare businesses and professionals? When a DLT is used instead of a centralised ledger, how do they benefit?
For the patient, it’s about empowerment. Patients are inherently nervous and suspicious of how their private data is handled. There’s growing concern that both government and large global organisations are increasingly complacent and disrespectful when handling their data.
On the healthcare business side, it means gaining access to better insights for patient care. GDPR serves to ensure data is managed, and despite the overhead of compliance, the benefit of insight through the knowledge transfer is significant.
But there’s a caveat to healthcare businesses: not all DLTs are GDPR compliant, so look for solutions that have been engineered to demonstrate the patients have the right to be forgotten.
What practical action can healthcare providers take?
Test for Trust – establish a proof of concept that can demonstrate for CIA (confidentiality, integrity and accessibility), and then test that this system can operate on enterprise scale.
The wonderful news is that once these tests are proven using this unfairly tarnished and contaminated technology it can be put to good use across the entire healthcare sector – managing clinical trials, monitoring the spread of rare diseases, insights using AI to identify clusters of failure or abuse, the provenance of drugs in the supply chain, management visibility, and patient trust. The possibilities are enormously exciting. It will require collaboration, imagination and a commitment to invest in computer science.
Chief Strategy Officer