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Digital healthcare: how the Channel can embrace a new era

The healthcare industry is facing a data explosion. A recent IBM study, Healthcare’s Data Dilemma, states that medical data, which currently doubles every three years, will by 2020 be doing so every 73 days. For a healthcare sector that is already struggling to keep pace, this huge proliferation of data is cause for concern – and a source of remarkable opportunities.

Healthcare organisations are now quickly waking up to the vital role digital transformation will play in ensuring the long-term success of their operations. They are increasingly teaming up with partners to speed up the data analysis process, which is becoming business-critical in everything from diagnostics to developing new innovations, drugs and treatments. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular will be pivotal. Wearable consumer devices such as Fitbits, for example, are already transforming the relationship between doctors and patients by creating invaluable data that can be used for informed analysis and diagnosis.

Communication within the sector is also being disrupted. Healthcare apps such as Babylon’s ‘GP at Hand’ service allows patients to directly communicate with doctors through their smartphones, with doctors able to make an AI-supported diagnosis and, if need be, patients able to then talk to the doctor via a 24-hour live video uplink. This is a service that is seeing considerable uptake by NHS GPs across the country and has the potential to completely change the nature of diagnostic medicine and the doctor/patient relationship.

The question for Channel companies is what role they play in this new digitally-driven healthcare landscape, and how to make sure they remain relevant when both the technologies being used in healthcare and their routes to market are becoming increasingly complex, diverse and unpredictable.

Embracing a digital future

Industry experts have long been talking about technology’s potential to revolutionise healthcare, but we’re still seeing a relatively slow pace of change when it comes to hardware – stalled by heavy regulation, technical issues, outdated attitudes or all of the above.

The real advance in digital health is in greater connectivity between health companies and their supply chain thanks to technology, and the possibilities for innovation that this collaboration brings. We have seen healthcare organisations finally embracing the opportunities offered by the cloud – in doing so unlocking opportunities for partnerships and knowledge sharing that is driving innovation forward at a pace never before seen.

Hybrid, multi-cloud strategies have been invaluable for health companies, with on-premises private cloud used for core functions and patient data, while non-core services can be hosted via a third party public cloud.  This significantly reduces the risk of a breach of highly sensitive data, while still enabling healthcare organisations to enjoy the benefits of cloud deployment – primarily, the ability to privately exchange data with key parts of their supply chain. This interconnection is what’s driving innovation in the health sector, with companies now collaborating in a way that simply wasn’t happening before.

As is the case in other sectors, Channel companies serving the healthcare industry need to understand and embrace this trend, because it’s only going one way. They must demonstrate how they can help healthcare organisations take advantage of cloud-based services and drive towards greater interconnection with their partners and supply chain.

Going it alone

A few years ago we started to see some of the larger healthcare companies investing in becoming data centre operators themselves – primarily to take advantage of cloud-based systems and applications, but while maintaining direct control over their digital infrastructure. It was an understandable move, but it’s quickly proved itself not to be a cost-effective or scalable option, and the pendulum has swung back again.

More recently Equinix has seen a big influx of healthcare companies deploying with us so they can connect to cloud, channel partners and SaaS providers via the Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric (ECX Fabric). And it’s a trend that continues to accelerate, because as more healthcare companies and partners begin to interconnect via Equinix, the greater opportunities there are for others who follow in future. Indeed the interconnection between healthcare companies on Platform Equinix has proven pivotal in enabling a developing genomic analysis – a data intensive field that identifies, enables and measures features in DNA and is increasingly dependent on the cloud.

Secure and sustainable future

With GDPR recently coming into effect, healthcare organisations have come under increasing pressure to not only just protect their data but gain a clearer understanding of the nature of their digital footprint.

Data security is one of the core tenets of Platform Equinix and the reason why so many companies – in healthcare and across all sectors – are embracing interconnection as central to their digital strategy. It is also why it’s so essential that Channel players understand the demands of the Interconnected Era, and clearly define their role and offering to customers.

Channel businesses operating in the health sector need to work with partners that can connect them to broad ecosystems of vendors, cloud service providers and network service providers. No longer can they afford to turn down bids which include some element of cloud provision. The health sector is migrating to the cloud and there is no turning back – and the Channel must respond accordingly.

There’s no doubt that the channel partners which continue to focus solely on supplying the networks, hardware and software that support a traditional, highly-centralised, on-premise model of IT will struggle to stay in business. But those that enable healthcare companies to become truly interconnected organisations will not just survive but thrive. With the right partners around them, the future is bright for the Channel in this brave new world of digital healthcare.

Tim Carter is an expert in Health Innovation Technology at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix.