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GUEST INSIGHT: Malaysian healthcare and the Internet of Everything

Mark Burby | Oct. 17, 2013
The technology industry is always defined by what is coming next. Today, the next big thing is not only looming but evolving every day and is already a part of our lives. It is the Internet of Everything, writes Cisco's Dr Mark Burby.

Cisco Executive - Mark Burby modified 

Photo - Dr Mark Burby, Director for Healthcare - Asia Pacific, Japan and China.


Dave Evans, Cisco's Chief Futurist, put it quite simply and elegantly by using a single raindrop as a metaphor for the Internet of Everything.

A raindrop lands on a sensor on a street-lamp in a down-town area. The weather forecast for the day was clear and sunny, so this unexpected change is spread through the connected system. A construction foreman is alerted of the weather change and how the network has shifted delivery times to ensure work is undertaken in a safe, undercover area. Local soccer teams are alerted that training might be cancelled. Traffic grids work together off previous examples of wet-weather traffic to optimise traffic flow.

When we talk about the Internet of Everything (IoE), we are talking about intelligent ways of connecting processes with data and living things, and how this can improve business decisions, healthcare, education and every aspect of our daily lives.

But let's put it in perspective and explore the idea in a specific context or something that affects everyone - healthcare in Malaysia.

The recent global Cisco Customer Experience Report on healthcare revealed that 74 percent of consumers were open to virtual doctor visit, and about four in 10 consumers indicated that they would be interested in receiving recommendations about doctors, hospitals, medication, etc., automatically through their computer or mobile devices.

Once we opt in to the Internet of everything, healthcare will rapidly become more and more predictive, rather than prescriptive. With systems analysing your genetic history, your family's history and the places you've been then the Internet of Everything will start to predict illnesses or alert you to increased risk.

The healthcare industry has taken huge steps in moving to electronic health records (EHR) particularly in Malaysia in the past decade. But what's next?

Advancing quality and efficiency of public healthcare

Today, the public healthcare sector in Malaysia attends to a large volume of patients and medical cases with greater complexities on a daily basis.

According to Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, in Malaysia, the shortage of nurses and doctors has been identified as a critical problem faced by public. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:200 while the Malaysian nurse-ratio is 1:599. At least 174,000 nurses need to be trained by 2020 to meet WHO's nurse-to-patient. However, 5000 nurses retire every year and only 1500 new nurses are hired yearly.

Malaysia's ageing population presents the Government with a real challenge which must be addressed today before it emerges into a crisis. According to some estimates, the population of people over 65 will double by 2025 to three million. IoE can help the public healthcare sector address the growing needs and costs associated with this challenge.

Research also indicates that patients at Malaysian public healthcare facilities wait for more than two hours from registration to getting the prescription slip, while the contact time with medical personnel is only 15 minutes on average. The long waiting time is attributed to heavy employee workload, management and supervision problems, and inadequate facilities, to name a few. 

Beyond the need to address resource issues, there is an opportunity for the Malaysian public healthcare sector to employ more efficient systems to manage patient information and health records, while allowing for improved diagnostic processes and accurate treatments.

By connecting people, process, data and things, the IoE has the potential in transforming the current healthcare industry in Malaysia, where hospitals and healthcare providers can embrace technology so that diagnosis and treatment is more predictive, than prescriptive.  It will allow systems to analyse a variety of historical data, from genetic, family to travel history, and thereafter predict illnesses or alert patient on increased risk.

The power of IoE will also support greater accuracy in diagnostic, emphasising on preventive care where individuals can monitor their health at home using a cohesive and compatible platform. Patients can also receive guidance and advice from their doctors without the need for physical appointments.

Imagine people who are suffering from a heart condition, sensors can be worn, like a bracelet or to their clothing to track and collect vital data. If any of this data is contrary to the patient's normal readings and existing medical history, their doctor on record would be alerted immediately. This information can be analysed against the context it was collected in, track against medication prescribed and activities they were participating in - providing healthcare professionals with contextually aware, immediate data to assess the patient's condition and risk factors.

Growing the private healthcare sector

Malaysia's Private Healthcare industry is rapidly establishing itself as a world-class leader. This industry can exploit IoE to extend its reach and services to customers that would typically be out of their catchment area, across the mainland and peninsular as well as other countries. IoE will not only help reach a greater market, but do so in a cost-effective and scalable way, by embracing other industry trends such as cloud and video.

Malaysia currently enjoys a rapidly growing health tourism industry with 671,000 medical tourists visiting the country, generating over RM584 million worth of revenue in 2012. The infusion of more seamless technology can be an added appeal to drive the industry further.

With the booming health tourism industry, IoE can be the driver that attracts medical tourists for comprehensive health screening, medical diagnostics while allowing continue their monitoring and also subsequent check-ups, back in their home countries. The connectivity enabled by connecting the unconnected will allow for a smooth transition as patients' medical records are transferred seamlessly to their local physicians and potential caregivers.

Making IoE for healthcare work

Before we can collect, collate and understand data drawn from the IoE, we need to get people to embrace it. To turn these visions into reality, the big first step is to bring the pieces together one step at a time. It is possible when a single bit of data talks to other data and results in changes to not only better healthcare but in the long term, a better world.

One connection does not mean anything. It is what this connection brings, how it can talk to other connections and how this mass of data is understood that really matters.

Such highly personalised model is what the 21st century citizens can expect from the new era of healthcare.

- Dr. Mark Burby is Cisco's Director for Healthcare - Asia Pacific, Japan and China.


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