Emerging technologies are having a massive impact on healthcare. Looking ahead, leaders in healthcare have a number of questions on their minds. With technology interventions, how can they improve patient outcomes? What would be the impact on the jobs in this sector? How can we tackle negative health outcomes stemming from social inequalities?

To answer some of these questions, KPMG healthcare specialists got together with experts from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Catalysis. Given the diversity in their backgrounds, the speakers had unique perspectives on innovation, designing care systems and monetisation of care pathways. 

Challenging the status quo with healthcare innovation

New technologies are changing how patients are cared for and what routine care looks like. Medical devices, apps and technology integration in routine processes are having the most impact. We have already seen how critical technology interventions have been during the pandemic – telehealth solutions replaced a lot of walk-in visits. With some of the ongoing developments, we can reimagine care systems.

Innovation gives us an opportunity to challenge the status quo, said Rafael Guerroro, clinical director of innovation, Alder Hey Innovation Hub. This includes how doctors are trained. Rafael described how organs from 3D printing and immersive technology are being used for training purposes. Additionally, immersive technology can also be used for remote expert advice in intensive care units and during surgery. As a result, even intensive care would not be bound by location.

There are many other such innovations that can help clinicians improve outcomes for patients. Take for example the use of blood tests among children undergoing heart treatment. They have to be tested up to 20 times every day. This takes up a lot of time and resources. With a transdermal sensor that looks like a sticker in the arm, we can now have real-time readings sent to a phone via Bluetooth. 

Using AI for better outcomes

We are just starting to explore the possibilities with artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. AI technologies can help doctors overcome heuristic biases in tasks and improve decision making, said Darren Gates, director of AI, Alder Hey Innovation Hub. A lot of clinical tasks are about spotting patterns, making predictions, weighing possible treatment options and balancing risks. Insights gathered from large data sets can help with all of these.

AI can help improve operational efficiency and identify risks earlier. For instance, an AI model can predict the likelihood of readmission in 48 hours and make timely intervention possible. A model can also help derive personalised risk profiles for patients.

For clinicians, the most useful characteristic of AI is to have the ability to parse through irrelevant data for actionable insights. Currently, most of them have to deal with information overload – from physiological data and genomic data to ICU data. At the same time, they have to keep up with medical knowledge that doubles at a rate of every 73 days or less. As a result, clinicians are able to use only a fraction of the information being collected. An intelligent healthcare system can feed data directly back into the care delivered. This can pave the path for more individualised care. 

The impact of automation and augmentation in healthcare jobs

Care systems could look very different a decade from now. Automation and augmentation in healthcare jobs will be an important part of the technology-led transformation. For example, with the use of artificial intelligence, the role of dermatologists and radiologists will be vastly altered and enhanced, said Charlotte Refsum, senior manager, Infrastructure, Government and Health, KPMG.

A tool like Faethm can give us granular insights of the impact, considering existing workforce skills and the ones needed for the future. As per the analysis for the healthcare sector in the UK, 263,000 roles can be automated while up to 79,000 tech jobs will be added.

For this transformation, education and skilling of medical workforce will be critical. We will need to understand the varied impact on different specialties. For instance, AI can assist dermatologists and radiologists, while 3D printing and robotic surgery will be relevant for surgeons. Thus, we will need to consider targeted training with micro-credentials for healthcare professionals.

The speakers shared similar views regarding adopting innovation. They emphasised on the need to adapt innovation to local conditions. There’s no single solution that can work in systems with different needs and resources. Rafael Guerrero said we need to understand the diversity of care systems in different countries and how they work. It’s not necessarily accurate that poor nations have poorly equipped health systems. 

Keeping patients at the centre of a care system

While thinking of a care system, it is important to keep patients and develop around their needs, said Russell Jewel, partner, Infrastructure, Government and Health, KPMG. We see that patient needs often take the backseat while designing care systems. The focus remains on aspects such as governance structure, financial mechanism and infrastructure.

Building out from patient needs can pay rich dividends. Ted Toussaint, healthcare innovation strategist at Catalysis, talked about rethinking care pathways as part of process improvement plans. He elaborated on Care in Place, a model designed for high-risk elders. The goal was to measurably improve the patient and employee experience.

After gaining an in-depth insight on what patients value, the focus was on identifying key problems and solving them. Ted’s team found that most older patients found it difficult to make it to the hospital. When they finally did, they had to stay longer for recovery. Instead, treating the underlying symptoms at home could help most of them avoid a hospital visit down the line.

The team, thus, came up with a new care pathway for home-based urgent care. With this new model, there was a 42 percent reduction in ER visits for patients. Patients were delighted as their needs were met without a long hospital stay. Clinicians also had reduced emotional fatigue. Additionally, there was a $2 million reduction in annual medical expense.

Tackling negative health outcomes from social inequality

We know that a lot of health outcomes are directly correlated with how and where people live. In the UK, life expectancy is lower in the north of the country, while the mortality rate from preventable diseases is higher. When it comes to children’s health, there are hidden costs of poor or compromised children’s care to families and society at large.

While thinking of solutions, we see the biggest impact is often from initiatives that have nothing to do with healthcare provision and more to do with the environment people live in, said Michael Allen, partner and global lead, Future Workforce in Healthcare, KPMG. He gave the example of the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The hospital was able to reduce chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases by putting ventilation in people’s home rather than doing anything at the hospital. Similarly, in India, communities have made gains by doing simple things like boiling drinking water.

So, how can leaders help to improve social inequality-linked health outcomes? It all starts with mapping issues and closely monitoring outcomes, said Louise Shepherd, Chief Executive, Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. 

Monetising ways of care and IPs

Monetising healthcare models via patents is something that holds a lot of potential, the speakers said. The NHS can be a part of the global healthcare supply chain, providing expert services and technology. It holds a lot of untapped value in its talent, know-how and technology.

As there are no internationally acknowledged children’s care pathways, there’s an opportunity to patent clinical protocols. We already see other institutions doing this. For example, SickKids from Canada charges for treatment guidance in China which the NHS provides for free.

To monetise, it becomes important to find partners who would be a good fit. You have to think about the value they bring, how they fit your core offering and how there could be a better value proposition for investors, said Matthew Reed, strategic director, Materials Innovation Factory, University of Liverpool.

Rafael Guerrero had a different take on monetisation from innovation. He said monetisation is also about looking at how we can save money by using new healthcare pathways. 

Key takeaways

  • The nature of innovation in healthcare will lead us to rethink existing care systems.
  • AI solutions can help overcome several human biases and limitations for better decision-making.
  • Systems of care have to evolve around patient needs. They also have to be adapted to local scenarios.
  • Our future systems will have to consider an important aspect: how far can new models of care and technology increase access, especially in hard to reach communities?
  • We need to get better at tracking and tackling poor health outcomes from social inequalities. It can mean making small changes to people’s living environment.
  • Clinical protocols, care pathways and technologies can all be monetised by working with the right partners.

To further discuss any aspects of innovation in healthcare, feel free to reach out to Ian Atkinson.