Medical errors are still considered among the top causes of death globally. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. The World Health Organization points out that medical errors and healthcare-related adverse events occur in 8 to 12 per cent of hospitalisations in Europe. There are numerous causes of medical errors, including the lack of communication and connectivity amongst healthcare organisations regarding patient care and medical records.

Healthcare systems and platforms are fragmented on both a national and international level, but technological innovations are bringing a ray of hope to the sector. By providing platforms that connect patient data and offer easier access to it, new technology is helping to develop strong ecosystems and ensure that patients get the best possible care.

Healthcare ecosystems and tech innovations — along with the ways patients can benefit from them — were some of the key topics discussed at the 6th Life Sciences Leader Forum (LSLF) in Basel, Switzerland, where noted speakers shared success stories about innovating and moving forward in digital healthcare.

Blockchain simplifies the medical information chain 

Collaboration is essential for digital transformation in all industries, and healthcare is no exception. Healthcare providers, medical practitioners and organisations must start working together to create a more productive healthcare ecosystem. And that collaboration sometimes means turning to small but creative innovators, such as blockchain start-ups. Although not often associated with healthcare, blockchain technology can simplify and improve some processes.

The start-up Medicalchain, co-founded by Mo Tayeb, is an example of how ecosystems can help advance patient care. After his mother’s stroke, Tayeb and his family sought a second opinion on medical treatment, which required the medical facilities and doctors to obtain her medical records — a lengthy and error-prone process. Tayeb began thinking about how the process of exchanging information in the medical world could be made simpler and safer. Following this idea, Medicalchain developed a telemedicine app based on blockchain technology that connects patients and physicians easily and enables secure exchange of personal patient information.

Data lake for the win

It is not only the various actors in the healthcare system who need to cooperate more closely to offer better care for patients. The walls within healthcare organisations also should be torn down, allowing teams to work together and merge data from different sources to provide patients with better services, products and results.

Luca Finelli, head of Predictive Analytics and Design, Drug Development, at Novartis, says his company is revolutionising the steps to develop new drugs by combining data from historical trials across functional areas in the company. To understand the trend, just think of what it takes to win a race in Formula One. The speed of the car, the driver’s skills and team tactics are no longer the only important elements. Evaluating the vast amount of pre-, during- and post-race data is now essential to a winning strategy.

This is exactly what Novartis is doing to develop new drugs and treatments. It is merging all of its data into a single pool, called the “data lake,” and then applying machine learning technology. Driven by the idea to develop and provide faster, more economical and smarter treatments for patients, the company is re-thinking and changing the way it works, e.g., how it designs and executes clinical trials, or how it plans its resources.

A digital healthcare ecosystem for the patient

The patient is the centre of the healthcare universe, which is why the University Hospital of Basel is currently building an entire digital ecosystem around patients. The hospital is putting major investments into digital tools such as electronic patient check-in, self-service medical history and electronic patient records.

Speaking at the LSLF, Werner Kübler, the hospital’s director, described a new web tool the hospital is developing that provides patients with information about their health status before and after a doctor’s visit. The data is collected according to a standardised procedure set by the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM). The patient can enter the data easily from home, and the hospital receives and updates it after the patient’s visit at the hospital.

In addition, the hospital is developing a pilot project on patients’ vital signs using smart digital devices. While hospital patients carry these smart devices, their vital signs are measured. The data is then transferred to a server at the hospital. In this way, the patient ecosystem and data pool are continuously growing and helping the medical staff easily gather patient data, enabling them to provide better care.