According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), digital health solutions can provide significant opportunities to accelerate the process of achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), related to health and well-being.

By Jim Holland, regional director for Africa at Lenovo

“The use and scale up of digital health solutions therefore can revolutionise how people worldwide achieve higher standards of health, and access services to promote and protect their health and well-being,” says the WHO.

As with every industry, access to critical information and real-time data analysis is increasingly important, but in the healthcare sector, rapid access to data can mean the difference between life and death.

Providing medical staff with medical records, prescription data, medical imaging etc, means that doctors and nurses have the insight and information to enable them to provide the right care to each patient, in real time. Throughout the pandemic, the medical sector has relied on fast and secure exchange of data to track outbreaks, plot infection trends, manage hospital admissions and find ICU beds, and now, efficiently administer vaccination programs.

The move toward electronic health records can facilitate countless advances in medical diagnostics and treatment. Previously, hospitals had varying information systems, unable to always share and transfer patient records. The introduction of electronic medical records (EMRs) allows for many systems to be connected which then means faster information transfer and more efficient care.

The role of telehealth in a post Covid-19 world

Post Covid-19, healthcare will need to pivot and adjust, perhaps even faster than any other industry. That is where telehealth comes in. The ability to access premium healthcare 24/7 without leaving home is perhaps more important post Covid than at any other time.

Telehealth refers to healthcare based on telecommunication technologies and there are many reasons for its popularity, especially in rural areas where access to hospitals and other health related services are lacking. With telehealth, patients can make and attend their appointment virtually.

Telehealth allows you to access care for minor medical issues from any location at any time via your computer or mobile device. Health issues can occur at any time, without warning: a sick child at 2am or a stomach upset while travelling.

That’s were Telehealth comes in, a quick video chat with a medical professional can put your mind at ease and even have a prescription issued if necessary. Like other aspects of digital healthcare, along with a stable internet connection, telemedicine relies on the healthcare provider having quick access to the patient’s medical records, further emphasising the importance of the right infrastructure for the future of health.

But access to health-related innovations like this depends largely on data and the challenge in rural communities is the provision thereof, so affordable data must become a priority for all stakeholders including those in charge of healthcare budgets.

Data management solutions for healthcare

The amount of patient health data in South Africa is increasing exponentially, which means the amount of legacy EMR data is also on the increase. On top of that, consider the extra data demands on health data when tracking outbreaks, vaccines, diagnosis, and treatment.

There’s a preference for on-premise data storage with regards to hospitals and health facilities in order to have more control over in-house data. However, both on-premise and cloud-based data centres can provide these facilities with highly available computing and storage platforms and Lenovo’s enterprise-grade storage solutions adapt to growing virtual environments, and ensure data is ready when you need it.

In fact, Lenovo is ranked number one in server reliability due to its low probability of downtime – which is of a great benefit to our healthcare sector as anytime could be critical for both a practitioner and their patient(s).

An active example of this type of technology can be seen from the Lenovo appliance and certified nodes which are specifically designed for deploying highly available hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) supporting Microsoft, VMware and Nutanix software. Lenovo’s software agnostic approach gives partners the bespoke tools they need to execute their services seamlessly. Certified nodes of this nature are imperative to us at Lenovo as this gives customers peace of mind when deploying these solutions as they are certified and tested on the platforms of their choice.

Furthermore, hyperconverged infrastructure solutions are also uniquely suited to provide virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) that supports the need for people to work remotely across many industries like that of healthcare.

This is especially important for the South African Healthcare industry as it has given surgeons a tool where they can bring trainee orthopaedic surgeons into the operating room ‘virtually’ to oversee surgeries whilst asking questions live. It allows senior surgeons to explain the surgery and the planning with real-time access to X-rays, CT scans, and MRI, amongst others.

Lenovo is therefore focused on ready-to-deploy HCI solutions in partnership with industry-leading hybrid cloud software providers, which enables customers to deploy and manage a full cloud and edge-to-cloud environments with simpler updates, easy scalability and a consumption-based delivery model.

Remotely living on the edge

As with everything, design of infrastructure is paramount. In the past, health providers looking for computing solutions at the edge of their networks are often bound to either the large, power-hungry equipment fit for a data centre or PC-based equipment unable to run applications at the level required.

Now, however, with Edge Computing, healthcare organisations can get access to the information they need, as well as perform data analysis closer to the devices where the data is collected in the first place, without the data needing to be transmitted back to a headquarters or data centre.

Increased security, easier access to live data, and transmission efficiency are the three main advantages of Edge Computing.

Ensuring that medical staff and administrators have access to data can be a major challenge. Every second counts in the healthcare sector and data must be available immediately, so the relevant action can be taken. For healthcare organisations, managing their critical data, whether in a data centre or the cloud, can cause concerns of reliability, bandwidth congestion and even high latency, not to mention the potential security and accessibility issues. For organisations that are working in remote areas, or from temporary facilities, such as Covid-19 testing centres, these challenges are increased considerably.

Facilities like these require compact design, low power usage and high performance. Security is of the utmost importance and, since Edge Servers are typically deployed outside of secure data centres, they include technology that encrypts the data stored on the device if it is tampered with, only enabling authorised users to access it. We might also be dealing with temporary site where connectivity is limited but an Edge Device would enable connection via 4 or 5G, limiting the need for onsite datacentres that require infrastructure, management and expertise. Everything on the site could be managed remotely, from deployment right through to vital data sharing.

Integrating data management and Artificial Intelligence into healthcare makes it easy to access live data and increases security. The application of digital health technologies such as Edge Computing in the South African healthcare context empowers health care providers, health professionals and patients alike, especially those with limited access to digital technologies, goods and services.