A Perth expo has showcased the technology innovations local and national companies are bringing to WA's health sector, but nothing like Mercy Virtual, a four-storey hospital in the US with 700 doctors and nurses and no patients.
Digital and virtual healthcare has the potential to significantly improve efficiencies in the overburdened sector.
When healthcare expert Brendan Lovelock is asked about the sector’s future, one striking example he raises is Mercy Virtual in St Louis, Missouri.
Opened in late 2015, Mercy Virtual is a four-storey hospital with more than 700 physicians, nurses and support staff but no patients inside the building.
Instead, it served about 750,000 patients last year using telehealth – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by medical experts who are miles or even continents away.
“It’s purely a virtualised care facility,” Mr Lovelock said.
“It supports about 30 intensive care units in the Mercy healthcare group.
“It has a customised telestroke unit, so specialised neurologists can quickly assess what type of stroke people have experienced.”
Mr Lovelock, who is the national health sector leader for global technology company Cisco, said telehealth at a simple level involved little more than video conferencing.
He cited Mercy Virtual as an example of the sophisticated services that can be delivered remotely, at a lower cost and with better patient outcomes.
“It’s linking together clinical information with process and people and being able to pull those together to create new models of care,” Mr Lovelock told Business News.
These possibilities are of keen interest to the state government’s sustainable health review, which is seeking to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of Western Australia’s healthcare system.
Submissions to the review raised technological initiatives such as patient navigation apps, health robotics, telehealth and virtual reality.
In response, an industry expo held last week featured 20 local and national businesses developing leading-edge digital technology for the health sector.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the expo provided hands-on insights into this emerging space.
“Digital health is one of the fastest growing industry sectors globally, particularly mobile and wireless health,” he said.
“We must move as the technology improves and we must be ready to try new approaches and ways to deliver healthcare.”
Local organisations featured at the expo included aged care provider Silver Chain, which is developing what it calls an enhanced medical mixed reality interface.
This will enable real-time interaction with medical professionals in a patient’s home, including doctors who can be projected as holograms via a 3D headset.
Silver Chain nurses visiting a client at home will have access to all client medical data through a virtual display, with the ability for a doctor to effectively see through the eyes of the nurse as the examination takes place.
Another local company at the expo was Chemo@home, which was a winner of a Business News Rising Stars award in recognition of its rapid growth.
Chemo@home is Australia’s leading provider of home-based infusion treatments for cancer and other chronic treatments.
Mr Lovelock, who was in Perth last week for the expo, said healthcare, like many other industries, had big opportunities from data analytics.
This arose from the increasing number of devices in the sector, ranging from simple consumer devices through to big diagnostic systems such as portable ultrasound and x-ray systems or mobile cardiac monitors.
“Hospitals have almost a tsunami of those devices coming in,” Mr Lovelock said.
In addition, there are devices that doctors use to gather and read information, from their iphones and ipads to specialist equipment.
“Hospitals are now faced with a situation where they have large numbers of devices within their operations, generating and consuming lots of data,” Mr Lovelock said.
“The opportunity is to drive more efficient processes from those devices and that data.
“How can you link those devices together with people in such a way that you can create better processes?
“That’s the big opportunity that sits within healthcare at the moment.”
With the increasing use of devices, Mr Lovelock said hospitals needed to ensure their network was not a choke point.
He gave the example of a children’s hospital in Los Angeles that had 5,000 devices on its network five years ago and now has 30,000 devices.
“They use a digital network architecture, which allows them to automate all the processes to bring all those devices on and off the network and manage them, and they say that’s a major transformation in the way they do their business,” Mr Lovelock said.