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Connecting Across Boundaries: Digitalisation in Hospitals

This is the second installment in our ongoing series exploring trends in the European medical device industry.

In today’s job market, when we think of life sciences the main industries that come to mind are pharma and biotech. But the medical device market often gets overlooked, and yet it’s increasing in importance dramatically.

At Planet Pharma, we’re seeing a growing demand for the technology that helps medicine communicate, whether that’s between hospitals, physicians or patients. COVID-19 has pushed this development even faster with the need for contactless medicine and connectivity between providers and countries.


The Medical Device Industry is Changing

The term “medical device” is perhaps a misnomer. The whole med dev industry is moving away from creating devices to providing software that serves the needs of the medical world. Software as a service (SaaS) is the conduit now for delivering solutions that improve workflow and facilitate healthcare communications. And while some service providers provide the same software to different industries (customized for healthcare), more firms that serve only the medical arena have appeared on the field.

As an example, with the onset of the pandemic, many companies have introduced telehealth technology to give patients and doctors the ability to meet virtually. Because this is all so new – even in a highly regulated market like healthcare – there are many products to choose from. It’s kind of a free-for-all.

Even in Germany, which has a more conservative healthcare system, a law was passed in September 2020 stating that every citizen has the right to access care remotely. German physicians can also prescribe apps for treatment, for instance, for virtual physical therapy. These healthcare apps existed before but they weren’t used and weren’t integrated into the system. But we’re on the verge of a major shift.


Digitalisation in Hospitals Today

Within hospitals this digitalisation becomes more complex because every department has different data needs, from simple electronic records to sophisticated imagery, to extensive databases. To solve this challenge, medical software companies create a common platform and then design individual solutions for each department.

The impact that technology is having in hospitals both internally and externally can be seen prominently in the following instances:

  • Digital Pathways: The use of electronic health records has been progressing for some time. But now there’s an even greater push to remove paper from other parts of the process and go directly to digital pathways. Within hospitals, new software solutions are being used to improve workflow, like helping patients schedule a vaccination appointment. In the past a patient would go to reception to check in. Now the process begins with a kiosk or tablet, maybe even one that can scan temperature too.
  • Scheduling: Digitalisation is showing up all over the internal workings of hospitals. Staff scheduling, for instance. Instead of a pin board, schedules are electronic, and staff is emailed their work hours. In facility management, software is keeping track of medical equipment and supplies. Medical staff can monitor vital signs via portable monitors and track patient movement and safety with smart beds.
  • Software Solutions for Radiology: This is enabling doctors to quickly interpret scans and compare them to databases. This reduces the time to diagnosis and helps physicians find the right treatment faster. In oncology, there’s many start-up healthcare tech companies that are specifically focused on the use of artificial intelligence to interpret data from multiple sources so that, again, practitioners can find the best solution for the patient as quickly as possible. Connecting and being able to share data is what powers discovery of new drugs and therapies. The more information you have, the more you can work with it.


The Need for External Connectivity

The next challenge is to improve connectivity from the hospital to external medical entities, like the GP’s office, specialists or other in-country health facilities. Electronic health records make this possible and speed patient care.

But sharing healthcare data over country boundaries is more problematic, especially in Europe where every country is on its own digital path. The EU has a committee to look at the future of hospitals. A key goal is to make patient data more accessible both for patients and doctors. Over the last few years, there’s been a push to get everyone on the same level but varying attitudes on sharing data are slowing down the effort. Healthcare digitalisation is more advanced in Denmark, Sweden and the UK. But Germany, Switzerland and Austria, for instance, are lagging, mostly due to more conservative systems. But COVID has added urgency to this effort so even in these countries, the movement to improve connectivity is accelerating.


The Impact on Talent Acquisition

Historically medical device companies drew talent from clinicians who chose to switch careers, moving out of the clinical setting and into industry. These healthcare professionals understand the hospital environment and its needs. But with the increase in digitalisation, medical device companies and healthcare systems alike are searching for individuals with technical knowledge, whether it’s to develop software or maintain on-premises systems. And as many employers know, candidates with those skillsets are in high demand. A key skill is cybersecurity, for instance, because healthcare data needs stringent oversight. But because there’s so much happening in this area right now, it’s also an exciting moment for individuals who want to use their talents in a growing and valuable field.

Sometimes, in all this talk of technology, the end goal is obscured. These changes are not just for the sake of change – the world is not being taken over by robots at the expense of human interaction. These changes are to improve patient outcomes and make the work lives of healthcare professionals easier and more rewarding. And, in the last two years, we’ve all seen the results of a healthcare system under extreme stress. If we can improve healthcare delivery with better technology – within the hospital, within systems and beyond country boundaries – the end result will benefit everyone.


Check out part one in our series: Digital Transformation and the Rise of AI in the European Healthcare Industry

Photo Credit: Canva

By Lea Seitz, Business Development Associate, Planet Pharma EU

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