Unleashing The Power Of Digital: A Technologist’s View Of Data-Driven Innovation In Healthcare

Mala Anand

We see a paradigm shift happening with a new notion of a connected enterprise. A mass transformation is happening in the market with billions of increasingly connected information-gathering devices and business processes. This hyperconnectivity across people, data, process, and things creates a new intersection of business and technology. It’s kept me busy for over 20 years, promoting innovation and championing the impact digital technology can have on our lives.

And just look at what it’s done in those two decades. In education, for example, technology has simplified access to knowledge, and more than 25% of today’s college students are enrolled in an online course. In our relationships, technology helps us stay in touch with childhood friends, it lets us see what our kids are up to, and 90% of single adults have tried online dating. Ninety percent.

When you think of technology, think of what Uber has done to transportation and how videoconferencing has diminished the need for business travel.

The very way we work has been forever changed. Automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics have dramatically altered the labor market, driving a projected 30% increase in productivity over the next 10 years.

The point of all this: digital technology has had an undeniable impact on how we operate. How we live. It has made our everyday lives easier and, for the most part, better.

The City of Karlsruhe, Germany, for example, established a network of smart lampposts across town, collecting and monitoring traffic and emissions data. With this solution, the city can respond in real time to improve traffic flow and air quality.

A major telecommunications company in Japan started to measure drivers’ biomedical data as they move from place to place. The data was combined with GPS location information to provide a comprehensive safety analysis, reducing driver fatigue and detecting safety solutions as they’re needed.

Through such partnerships, combining business and technology, customers are using data to transform everything from pollution control to safety to quality of life.

But as we look at what is real and revolutionary change, let me ask you this: Are we seeing that same, transformational impact in healthcare?

So why can’t healthcare keep up?

Let’s take a look at where healthcare stands. Consider four statistics from the World Health Organization:

  • One in six deaths is caused by cancer
  • 422 million people have diabetes – and 50% are undiagnosed
  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, accounting for more than 17 million deaths in 2015
  • And chronic diseases like diabetes accounted for seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2014

Naturally, there is some digital innovation in healthcare – take the digitization of patient records through electronic health records, for example – but when you look at stats like those above, you know there’s room for improvement. SAP and Oxford Economics surveyed nearly 400 healthcare executives and found 70% feel that the latest technologies are essential to growth, competitive advantage, and customer experience. But while some healthcare organizations are piloting digital transformation initiatives, few have achieved full digital maturity.

The question is: why?

First, in the healthcare industry the economics rewards treatment, not prevention. As a result, we’ve seen investment and innovation in new therapies, drugs, and medical devices, but we have not seen equal investment in wellness. We’ve been fighting the fire instead of preventing it.

Second, innovation has focused on hardware, not software. So, we have sophisticated devices for diagnostics, but we still have an immature infrastructure to capture and manage the data they generate.

Finally, systems are disconnected and data is siloed. And in the context of a highly regulated industry, this limits collaboration.

Digital transformation in action

To illustrate the impact of these challenges, let’s take a look what’s happening in the field of cancer treatment.

When you have cancer, you hope your doctors are basing their recommendations on the best trial results combined with external data on how other patients like you have been treated. But in most cases, decision-making is far less data-driven. In fact, only five percent of cancer patients enroll in clinical trials. (And is that five percent truly representative of real-world patients?) As a result, doctors have to extrapolate study findings and rely on their own experience.

We can do better. And we are doing better.

Treating cancer with data

The journey to transforming cancer treatment with digital technologies started at the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg, Germany, which used technology to identify tumor markers from physicians’ notes. Now, while sitting with a patient, physicians can search both local case histories and tumor registries to identify groups of similar patients who have already been treated – helping both doctor and patient understand the outcomes of various therapies.

The American Society for Clinical Oncology developed CancerLinQ – a tool that integrates data from more than 100 clinics and 1 million patients – to help oncologists make better treatment decisions. It will create a network effect through large sets of clinical data.

Gustave Roussy, one of the world’s premier cancer research institutes and treatment centers, is accessing and exploring both clinical and genomic data from more than 300,000 patients. With the reach of this organization plus the others, the industry will keep extending those capabilities to a form broad network in Europe: the Cancer Core Network.

And we’re just getting started. What we’re seeing with this work is organizations rising above their individual institutions to deliver exponential value to patients around the world.

Cancer is just one example. There are many more diseases and patient-centric use cases that will benefit from high-performance technology.

How do we apply this to healthcare holistically?

The first thing we must do as an industry is break the status quo by committing to data-driven decision-making and respecting data as a first-class asset. From there:

  1. Establish a governance framework so that data is formally, consistently, and securely managed across the organization.
  1. Connect to all data, irrespective of source or format. This includes health-related data beyond the clinical environment.
  1. Democratize the data and make it available through the organization to foster a culture of data-driven decision-making.

Now, while data is the “what” that we must focus on, technology is the “how.” And you don’t need to replace your IT infrastructure to make it work. Instead, leverage and extend your current systems through cloud-based solutions. And as you bring new technologies, make sure they’re:

  • Open – systems that can be integrated with your current stack
  • Scalable – to accommodate for ever-increasing data and expanding datasets
  • Real-time – to maximize impact on patients

Finally, and this is the most important thing to remember: Put the patient at the center of your digitization journey.

As you look at developing new solutions, start from the patient and work backwards. Get input from all key constituents (e.g., nurses, physicians, family members) as you develop new solutions. Create positive, immersive patient experiences. And remember: Quality of care is as much a clinical outcome metric as the quality of patient experience.

Steve Jobs once said:

“The biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology.”

As I mentioned, I work at the intersection of business and technology, and I use this quote by Jobs because of his unique and powerful perspective.

Obviously, Jobs was a technology giant – an innovator regarded as one of the most creative and forward-thinking minds in technology. But he was also a man who battled cancer and who had a liver transplant.

What he’s telling us is that we need each other. The biggest innovations in healthcare will be born from collaboration – within organizations and across organizations, between providers, payers, researchers, and technology companies.

The challenge for us all is to embrace this concept of collaboration. To recognize that our work together is not just about transforming our industry, but about saving lives around the world.

We can do it if we do it if we come together at the intersection.

For another look at how technology is improving healthcare and saving lives, see Mapping A New Strategy To Fight Opioid Addiction.


Mala Anand

About Mala Anand

Mala Anand is President of SAP Leonardo & Analytics at SAP, leading the end-to-end business including go-to-market, product development and strategy. With her primary focus on product development, market acceleration and adoption in one of SAP’s core innovation areas, Mala develops and executes strategy across all markets and ensures operational excellence within the global GTM and product development teams. The core focus of the SAP Analytics business encompasses business intelligence with embedded predictive and machine learning innovations across large data sets. Formerly, Mala led the Data & Analytics | Automation Software Platforms business at Cisco Systems with a focus on innovative solutions to aggregate and analyze today’s hyper-distributed and real-time streaming data. With over 20 years of experience as a senior software executive, Mala places a deep focus on delivering innovative solutions to the market that help customers develop informed, timely insights to establish new modes of engaging their workforce and customers.