Philips connects the dots in healthcare IT at HIMSS

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright March 1, 2016
Healthcare IT is looking to get digitally connected and Philips is at this week's HIMSS show aiming to coax providers onto its platform with practical solutions

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Healthcare information managers who have gathered in Las Vegas this week for the annual HIMSS conference have a lot on their minds. Like many others, the healthcare sector is under pressure to modernize its IT to take advantage of digital innovation so that it can provide a better experience to patients and employees. At the same time, it has to recognize specific obligations with regard to data confidentiality, while grappling with a history of underinvestment in IT.

All of this makes a move to digitally connected healthcare quite a daunting leap. Vendors exhibiting such solutions at this week's event have to strike a careful balance. On one hand they have to paint an inspiring picture of the future of connected healthcare. At the same time they have to recognize the reality of where healthcare providers are today, and provide stepping stones that can help them on their way towards that future.

Philips is one of those vendors. At diginomica, we've been tracking the evolution of the company's HealthSuite digital platform, a cloud-based platform of services and resources for creating new capabilities and applications for connected health and wellness. A few days ago, I caught up with Dr ck Andrade, director of product management for the platform, to find out what's in store this week.

When I last spoke to Andrade in September, it was for the announcement of a prototype of a connected healthcare application for people with diabetes, the first to be built on the platform. Six months later, there's a lot more to talk about in terms of the capabilities the platform can support.

Continuous care

Philips is building the HealthSuite digital platform with a grand vision to provide joined-up healthcare that draws on data from disparate sources. Traditionally, healthcare has focused on fixing health when it's broken, but this episodic approach has meant practitioners are working with an incomplete picture of the individual's health records. Andrade says Philips is emphasizing a message of continuous care.

We're trying to connect each episode of a person's healthcare journey and be able to move away from those siloes of fragmented episodes — not just episodic care, but continual care throughout the health cycle.

At HIMSS, people will see the range of solutions that Philips can offer around this notion of connected care for continuous healthcare and put them all together.

That will include solutions serving needs such as population health management, hospital-to-home care, electronic care record (ECR) co-ordination, and personal healthcare, she says.

An important contribution the HealthSuite platform makes is in combining three different types of healthcare data — an individual's personal health records, the electronic medical records held by hospitals, and the data collected by medical devices as well as people's own fitness monitors and other personal devices. Last month, Philips extended its reach to third-party devices through an agreement with fast-growing startup Validic, which connects to digital health data from a wide range of clinical devices, sensors, and fitness equipment. Andrade says:

The big piece is around the types of data we're able to connect and the type of security and access management we're able to put around it.

What we're able to do is, we can combine all three types of data and create the longitudinal patient record.

Assembling solutions

Andrade uses the term longitudinal to convey a sense of stretching over an extended time period, rather than being limited to, for example, a specific stay in hospital. The device data brought by the Validic agreement adds another piece to what Andrade thinks of as "a big bag of generic Lego pieces" that make up the HealthSuite platform. It's then up to Philips or to third parties to assemble those pieces to create a new breed of connected digital healthcare solutions, she explains.

We've been offering health care organizations or independent hardware and software vendors a better homogenized platform with different options for data management — being able to store more, access it faster.

The platform has been evolving really rapidly. We're now able to start using that on Philips applications and start providing that to our customers. We're pretty darn close to connecting all the dots.

One recent addition has been the result of a collaboration with data storage vendor Hitachi Data Systems to provide a standard archive for medical imaging and other documents. This enables rapid access to stored images, addressing a specific pain point for healthcare institutions.

Another headache for healthcare IT managers is data recovery, and last week Philips announced a secure data recovery service that it has developed in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. The service uses Amazon's petabyte-scale data transport service, the AWS Import/Export Snowball, to transfer a hospital's entire data repository to the Philips HealthSuite platform in a matter of days.

It's by solving present-day problems like these that Philips is able to coax healthcare institutions onto the HealthSuite platform, with the potential to adopt more innovative capabilities later on. Andrade says:

One of the things we take for granted are, healthcare organizations are supposed to have all of the IT infrastructure in place. We want to shore up some of those limitations with the platform, so that it beefs up the capability of what they're able to do.

In the old days, IT in healthcare wasn't given the same attention. The HDS and AWS partnerships are part of helping healthcare organizations to move out of that impasse.

Today at HIMSS, Philips announced the formal opening of a HealthSuite Labs innovation center in Cambridge, MA, to foster development of population health management solutions. The company also announced the debut of CareCatalyst, a developer bundle of platform services and open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that can be used to develop collaborative care solutions that leverage the various data types aggregated in the HealthSuite digital platform.

My take

When I first heard about the Philips platform, it sounded like it would be several years before the project began to deliver useful outcomes at scale. But there seems to have been rapid progress already, with the new partnerships for image storage and data recovery giving health institutions concrete reasons for connecting to the platform today. There are interesting projects around telehealth under way too.

Clearly there's a lot of work that still needs doing to collect all the various data sources together from individual hospitals and other providers. But it's impressive how rapidly the advent of connected healthcare is already starting to produce results.

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