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Innovation In Healthcare: Key To Superior Patient Experience And Safety

Published on - June 2017
Author - Milan Rao, President and CEO, GE Healthcare,
India & South Asia

There is one major difference between healthcare and every other kind of service that people use. Unlike a family holiday, or a visit to the local cinema, almost nobody visits a healthcare facility out of choice. They invariably do so because they are forced to do so. Hence, healthcare providers the world over are duty bound to ensure that the health systems and procedures cause as little discomfort and distress as possible, pose as little hazard to patients as possible, and at the same time deliver superior clinical outcomes.

Advances in medical technology over the years have kept these points core to their purpose. Global initiatives to reduce the radiation dose (ALARA: As Low As Reasonably Achievable), development of wide bore and silent MRI technology, CT angiography as an alternative to conventional angiography and the increased use of digital tools and technologies to make machines smarter and better – all these are examples of evolution in patient experience and safety. In addition, the elements of product design, aesthetics and patient comfort are also being given much consideration across modern healthcare facilities – not the least because the patient whose mind is at peace and not agitated by doubts and fears often recovers faster and better than one who is fearful and anxious. Numerous scientific papers in medical journals offer convincing proof of this idea. Thus, the design element also plays an active role in therapeutics.

Here are a few instances of how innovation is driving a positive change in the healthcare domain:

Innovations to improve access to quality care

It is well known that healthcare infrastructure in India is heavily underpenetrated and access to advanced technology like CT is a rarity, especially in tier 2 markets and beyond. This adds to the burden of treatment due to costs associated with travel, stay etc. Also mortality rates due to conditions like trauma and stroke are very high and a large section of the population remain untreated or receive treatment that is too little, too late.

This is where an innovation that is an outcome of deep understanding of the market and customer needs like the Revolution ACTs - the first ‘Made in India’ CT - is pertinent. Designed and developed in consultation with several hundred healthcare providers, Revolution ACT’s occupies less space in the hospital, consumes 47% less power, has 28% lower scanning time and radiation dose cut down by 36%.

Similarly, let’s look at critical care in India. Over 5 million patients require ICU care but only 70,000 ICU beds are available, with less than 15% ICUs receiving dedicated intensivist care. A study by Leapfrog Group shows that when intensivist manage or monitor ICU patients, the patients’ chances of survival increases by 30%.

Technology innovation like Tele-ICU is fast emerging as a reliable and cost-effective solution to connect ICUs in remote hospitals to those in metro centers. It enables them to provide a similar level of advanced consultation, care and monitoring to their critically ill patients without having to physically transfer them to a super-specialty hospital. This reduces risk of clinical deterioration, translates into economic benefits and far better experiences for patients.

Access to quality care should not be restricted to the hospital setting, but also outside of it or in a post hospitalization scenario. The healthcare ‘Internet of Things’ uses sensors, apps, and remote monitoring to provide continuous clinical information. Ambulatory monitoring devices and cloud based solutions are enabling doctors to access the information they need to care for patients from their home or surroundings they are comfortable in.

Digital innovation is driving quantum improvement in delivering better clinical outcomes and customer experience

Today digital innovations are driving inclusive growth and development across different facets of life. Be it how you travel, shop, eat, watch or pay, the digital age is disrupting the way we interact with people, systems and the environment. And so is the case with healthcare.

The World Health Organization reports that more people die from cardiovascular disease than from any other cause. Every second counts. Doctors need to assess damage as quickly as possible to administer the right treatment, speed-up recovery and reduce healthcare costs. ViosWorks, GE’s new, proprietary software for MRI examination enables the cardiologists to examine a diseased heart almost in real time. Instead of the 45 minutes needed for a conventional MRI, ViosWorks can help scan faster, visualize better and make results available almost immediately, rather than make the clinician wait for hours for the images to be processed. A real-time, 4D movie of the heart makes it convenient for both patient and healthcare providers, while superior images enable vastly improved clinical outcomes.

Machine learning is helping interpret diseases better and faster resulting in better outcomes, reduced costs and better patient experience. There is simply no way humans can turn the huge volume of clinical data coming from our systems into useful information. That is why, at the University of California, San Francisco, clinicians are working in partnership with GE to develop a library of deep learning algorithms to revolutionize the speed at which scans are interpreted and patients receive care. The collaboration is initially focused on high-volume, high-impact imaging to create algorithms that reliably distinguish between what is considered a normal result and what requires follow-up.

Innovation for patient safety: Get the Dose right

The numerous recent advances in imaging have delivered enormous benefits to the patients. However, exposure to radiation is a necessary hazard without which most imaging would be impossible. Hence, there is a need to control and minimize these health risks due to radiation.

The guiding principle of radiation dose reduction is minimizing dose to the patient while ensuring the necessary diagnostic quality of the images. The challenge is in finding the right balance between the two. Global leaders in diagnostic imaging and a host of scientific agencies and academia are constantly innovating to arrive at this right balance. At GE, we have invested years of research into image reconstruction technologies to build algorithms that have reduced dose significantly while delivering high-quality images. Technologies like ASiR (Adaptive Statistical Iterative Reconstruction), Veo - the world’s first Model-Based Iterative Reconstruction (MBIR) product and OptiDose dose reduction technologies have today helped us deliver an industry leading Detector Quantum Efficiency (amount of X-ray getting converted into an image) of ~80%. It is a classic case of innovation driving better outcome and safety.

Innovations in patient comfort for better outcomes

MRI scans are among the most advanced tools available to image a host of medical conditions and assist clinicians in their diagnosis. However, excessive acoustic noise, the duration they have to spend in the machine, and being confined in the small space of conventional MRI scanners which can make them feel claustrophobic during the scan are some of the biggest concerns for patients, especially the elderly and children. A conventional MRI scanner produces noise of about 110 decibels, rivaling noise from an aircraft engine or heavy traffic on our roads. Also, one needs to spend anywhere between 15 – 90 minutes in a narrow bore depending on the type of scan. This can cause patient discomfort and distress. This is where innovations in new technologies from GE, including Silent Scan - which helps reduce noise levels to as low as three decibels above ambient noise level (74 dBA) and MAGiC - that helps reduce scanning time by as much as 67% help to overcome these challenges. A wider 70-cm wide bore MRI also makes the patient feel more comfortable and relaxed, thereby reducing scan anxiety considerably.

On the other hand, mammography continues to generate considerable anxiety among women. One major area of discomfort is automatic breast compression by the mammography system. To address this concern, GE introduced the first self-compression tool where a patient is given a remote control to adjust the amount of pressure based on what she feels right. In a recent study, it was found that women actually increased compression strength using the self-compression feature than what was applied by the system and at the same time, 83% of the patients were extremely satisfied with the exam.

Turning medical scans into adventures: Children always pose a greater challenge to healthcare providers. They get scared or anxious easily, refuse to cooperate, often lose patience with lengthy procedures and their tolerance for discomfort, noise, etc. is almost always lower than that of adults. As a result, clinicians may need to perform additional scans resulting in additional doses, or use sedation to get young patients to successfully complete a scan procedure. The solution is to turn imaging departments into miniature theme parks and presenting the actual scan procedure as an adventure! We have used the children’s imagination to our advantage. The idea was to transform a frightening medical test into a voyage on a spaceship, a visit to a pirate island, or other such adventure. Imaging departments became elaborate sets. Technicians became amateur actors while children were given starring roles and even toys at the end the scan. This meant they stayed calm and motionless through the procedure, following instructions perfectly. Part of the process is also preparing kids for the scan, such as giving them coloring books tied to the theme on the day before the test.

Personalized medicine is innovation of the highest order

We have all heard of tragic stories of people losing their fight against cancer and many rare diseases which still don’t have a cure. However, continuous advancement in science is giving us hope that solutions may be around the corner. Cell therapy - in which immune cells are removed from a patient and reprogrammed specifically to identify and destroy the cancer in the body from which they were taken - is part ongoing research and part reality. If this rapidly growing field of personalized medicine continues its current transformation, the long sought after cure for cancer may not be one cure at all – it might be a different cell therapy cure for each patient in need. At GE Healthcare, we are working to build a start-to-finish solution for cell therapy that helps hospitals to efficiently and rapidly manufacture these treatments and deliver them to patients.

Innovation has to be a continuous process, the foundation of which is regular consultations with patients, doctors, hospital staff and people involved with the numerous facets of healthcare. Innovations are constantly redefining clinical outcomes, improving patient safety and bettering patient experience overall. They have resulted in more convenient, more effective, and less expensive treatments for today’s time-stressed and increasingly empowered healthcare consumers. For us at GE Healthcare, it is all about improving lives of patients in those moments that really matter for them.

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