In a new series of articles, Allied Irish Bank (GB) examines the factors that will shape key sectors of British industry in 2017.


For our latest installment, we focus on the healthcare sector. As 2017 dawns, there are several challenges ahead for a sector which will continue to be defined by rapid advances in technology and a vast increase in electronic patient data.


Which factors do we think will shape British healthcare in 2017? From wearable technology to heightened security threats, read on to find out.


eHealth and mHealth


We’re all relatively familiar with everyday wearable technology such as fitness trackers and smart watches. However, advanced wearables are having an increasing influence on the future of the healthcare industry. With the vast array of new patient monitoring devices that are now coming on the market, healthcare professionals can collect high-quality data on patients’ vitals in real-time. This cuts down on the time needed to check them individually while also allowing the physician to be alerted in the event of a medical emergency.


These advances in patient monitoring and mobile health devices reflect a broader trend of placing more responsibility for primary care on the patient themselves. For example, in the case of diabetes sufferers, a glucose monitoring device and connected smartphone app can help patients to control their blood sugar levels in a more precise fashion.


Remote consultation is another area which is expected to expand rapidly in 2017. Indeed, some pharmaceutical professionals are already offering remote consultations with patients via video-call technology to provide education on the use of new medication from the comfort of the patient’s own home. As patients become increasingly comfortable with remote consultation and check-ups, the opportunities for healthcare professionals at the forefront of these advances are huge.


AIB (GB)'s Head of Healthcare, Marguerite Mulvey, believes technology has a vital role to play in the future of the sector. "It's encouraging to see how technological advancements can have a positive impact in terms of speeding up and improving patient diagnoses," she says. "This, together with the ability of pharmacists to engage in the diagnosis process, should see a reduction in waiting times in surgeries as doctors are freed up to focus on more urgent medical assessments."


Big Data


Alongside the advances in technology in healthcare comes a wealth of new data available to the industry. This obviously has immediate implications for individual patients, as we outlined previously. But the collection and analysis of this data will have wider consequences for the industry too. IBM are currently at the forefront of this data revolution. The tech giant has announced a string of partnerships with leading companies (including Apple and Siemens) to provide data for Watson Health, the company’s supercomputer program which uses machine learning to analyse vast amounts of unstructured information.


The more data that becomes available to Watson, the better it will be able to aid physicians in diagnosis. The program can comb through a patient’s own medical history, family history, current medications and the latest research papers to provide a series of hypotheses, a potential list of diagnoses and a level of confidence score. Of course, Watson’s conclusions will still need to be interpreted and put into practice by a medical professional, but its ability to aid physicians with speedy and accurate diagnosis is potentially revolutionary.


IT Security


Big data may be transforming the industry, but with all that new patient information will there be increased security risks? In its Data Breach Report 2017, Experian highlights electronic health records as one of the key targets for hackers in 2017, saying “The portable nature of this information and the number of different entities and end-points that need access to them mean the potential for them to touch a vulnerable computer system is high.”


Healthcare companies can be particularly vulnerable to the threat of ransomware, a form of malware which blocks access to a user’s files until a sum of money is paid. The US Justice Department estimated that the CryptoLocker ransomware defrauded its victims of £16 million in just six months. Ms. Mulvey agrees security will be a crucial challenge for the sector in the in the next year, “Security will be key given the very personal nature of people’s health and its attractiveness to potential hackers,” she notes.


So, what can you do to insulate yourself against cyber-attacks? Firstly, staff training is key. Make employees aware of the dangers of phishing emails (the most common source of a ransomware attack), ensure that proper backup procedures are always in place, and provide an emergency incident policy which employees can use to report suspected attacks to your IT team without delay.


How do you think Tech Will Affect Healthcare in 2017?


Healthcare is a sector that has always been defined by innovation, but in 2017 advances in technology will come to the forefront more than ever before.


The challenge for the British healthcare industry will now be to integrate these advances in a way which benefits patients while ensuring security and confidentiality remain a primary concern.  Ms. Mulvey adds, “Whilst technological developments are key to improving the healthcare system, it should still be recognised that these will always just act as an aid, as where people’s health is concerned we will always opt for the human approach.”


It promises to be an exciting year for forward-thinking healthcare professionals across Britain.


Which factors do you think will shape British healthcare in 2017? Let us know in the comments.


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