Rebooting Ireland: Transforming Ireland’s Healthcare Sector – Jason Ward, Vice-President and Managing Director, Dell Technologies Ireland

Guest Blog, Rebooting Ireland, Technology | Tue 18 Aug | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Jason Ward, Vice-President and Managing Director, Dell Technologies Ireland

Jason Ward is Vice-President and Managing Director of Dell Technologies Ireland. Here he discusses using technology to transform Ireland’s healthcare sector.

Technology has proven to be a critical element of Ireland’s healthcare sector in recent months. As the COVID-19 virus threat spread, healthcare professionals faced the unprecedented challenge of meeting the needs of those infected while also, where possible, maintaining distancing guidelines in their interactions. There was also a need to continue to meet the healthcare needs of those with non-COVID related health challenges – often people requiring urgent or emergency care as well as those with ongoing long-term chronic illnesses.

What we have seen, and applauded, over the past five months is the bravery and commitment of those working across the healthcare system in Ireland – and indeed – in the world. These frontline workers never shied away from doing what was needed and we thank them for that. What has become apparent is that in many cases, access to the latest technology has helped them meet the challenge they had to face.

What we have seen, and applauded, over the past five months is the bravery and commitment of those working across the healthcare system in Ireland – and indeed – in the world.

Despite only 4% of Irish GPs having used the technology previously, telemedicine quickly became a core part of the response in primary care with doctors replacing face-to-face appointments with virtual clinics. Electronic prescriptions became an invaluable tool in helping to enforce social distancing while providing a convenient service for patients.

We’ve also witnessed how advanced computing continues to help researchers to gain better insights as part of the ongoing quest to better understand the virus, including the identification of prevention methods, treatment options and helping to determine where resources are needed most. Supercomputers from Dell Technologies have been put to work across the world to mitigate the spread of the virus and to help solve some of the real-world challenges it creates. In Ireland, a supercomputer provided by Dell Technologies will provide Ireland’s applied AI research centre, CeADAR, with the power to drive innovation in healthcare and beyond.

Turning point for digital transformation

But does the increasing use of technology within our hospitals and research facilities mark a turning point for digital transformation in healthcare or was it simply an emergency response to the crisis?

I firmly believe that we should take the learnings from this unprecedented time, apply them and build on them. Many of the practices introduced because of necessity are actually ones that could work on an ongoing basis. Virtual clinics have proved to be efficient and convenient for patient and doctor for example – why stop now?  The roll out of technology at all levels of the healthcare system has shown us all how digital health services can deliver care more effectively and empower patients with better outcomes.

Despite only 4% of Irish GPs having used the technology previously, telemedicine quickly became a core part of the response in primary care with doctors replacing face-to-face appointments with virtual clinics.

Ireland now has a unique opportunity to use ad hoc changes as a catalyst for long-term transformation. The Programme for Government reinforces the commitment to implement Sláintecare and would see greater investment in modern eHealth and ICT infrastructure. The introduction of new means of securely sharing patient information across the public health system something that has long been needed.

However, ongoing, rapid change won’t be achievable all at once nor will it occur without addressing some of the persistent obstacles that slowed the pace of reform over the past decade.

Overcoming persistent obstacles

While some progress has been made in moving to digital health records, the adoption of electronic medical records stands at just 3% in Europe. Accelerating the shift from paper to the Cloud would enable GPs and consultants at primary and acute care level in Ireland to instantly access patient history and make a more informed diagnosis.

In many instances, outdated infrastructure is working against the purpose they were implemented for and are hindering healthcare professionals in quickly sharing diagnostic imaging and lab results. Within one hospital alone, there can be several different systems for patient data creating interoperability issues and cracks within the system.

Ireland now has a unique opportunity to use ad hoc changes as a catalyst for long-term transformation.

Although initial investments in e-health under Project Ireland 2040 were steps in the right direction, the rate of adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning has not been as fast as it should be. We need to accelerate the deployment of technology across the system to help make a real difference for patients and staff.

However, the greatest obstacle to enduring transformation is neither the right technology nor strategy. It is culture and mindset. Digital transformation requires a change in culture that encourages new ways of thinking and working at all levels of the healthcare system and focuses on the outcomes that can be achieved for patients through technology.

Flexible working can mean that care becomes more person-focused, both for patients and our medical professionals. With the help of remote technology, the roll-out of a virtual 24-hour triage service can ensure patients have the always-on care while also being directed into the right stream of care.

Rebooting Ireland’s healthcare system

There is no time to delay. Ireland’s population is expected to increase by one million people by 2040 while the number of people aged 75-84 requiring care within our communities will jump by 76% by 2031. If we are to ensure that healthcare professionals are fully equipped to meet these growing demands, technology will need to play a greater role. We have to change how things are done rather than doing more of the same things.

Digital transformation, although not without its challenges, can be as simple as implementing technology that is already widely used such as health monitoring apps on phones or drawing insights from existing patient data from across the system. Just see how the adoption of the COVID tracker app has been adopted by the Irish public. As of this week, over 1.3m people have downloaded the app.

Digital transformation, although not without its challenges, can be as simple as implementing technology that is already widely used such as health monitoring apps on phones or drawing insights from existing patient data from across the system.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to change mindsets. Let’s not waste this opportunity and use COVID-19 as a catalyst to reboot Ireland’s healthcare system. In doing so, we can better sustain the well-being of a growing population while continually improving the outcomes for patients around the country.