Health City Cayman Islands, which accepts its first patients on March 10, aims to be at the forefront of a technology revolution in healthcare. Doctors, tech entrepreneurs and others in the emerging field of medical technology believe the industry is closing in on innovations that will help drive down costs and open up new healthcare opportunities to many more patients.
Dr. Devi Shetty, the Indian philanthropist and surgeon behind Health City Cayman Islands, has been dubbed the “Henry Ford of heart surgery” by The Wall Street Journal for the way his work mirrors the iconic car manufacturer in the pioneering use of technology, in this case in his hospitals in India.
The acclaimed cardiologist says these same procedures will now be implemented at Health City, which celebrated with a grand opening ceremony on Feb. 25.
Following the formal grand opening, an afternoon session at the Marriott resort focused heavily on the link between technology and medicine, and how advances in the former are being used to improve and drive forward the latter. Technology chiefs from around the world gathered in the hotel’s conference room, bringing together the “healthcare service of Bangalore and the technology of Silicon Valley” said Dr. Robert Pearl, executive director and CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States.
Evolution of medical technology
Technology has been weaving its way into the medical framework for centuries: the microscope in the late 16th century, the scaled clinical thermometer in the early 17th century, and the X-ray in the 19th century. It was not always a blindly accepted progression, as some doctors valued their clinical expertise over results spewed from machines, and others worried that technological advances dehumanized patient care.
However, in the era of such phenomena as the 3-D printing of hearing aids and prosthetic limbs, it is impossible to ignore the impact of technology on healthcare and the number of lives it saves or enhances, typically at a significant cost savings.
Samir Mitra, CEO of iKare Technologies, the Silicon Valley tech firm associated with Health City, acknowledges that some medical professionals may still be resistant to change, and says behavior needs to change in order to bring about efficiencies. He points out, however, that the aim of technology is not to oust the human element from the medical profession, but to assist by improving efficiency and decreasing patients’ length of stay. This, in turn, will increase patient turnover and decrease costs.
Francisco D’Souza, CEO of of U.S.-based multinational Cognizant, which was key to developing the technology for Health City, says the world is in the midst of a very important shift, driven by a new generation of technology.
“Netflix has completely changed how we watch movies; look at what iTunes did for music,” he says. “For the first time, we are seeing technology now also having a dramatic impact on healthcare.”
D’Souza noted, for example, the sophistication of sensors in consumer health goods, such as calorie and step-tracking accessories, as well as outpatient medical devices, such as insulin pumps, which can administer measured levels of insulin as needed.
“We are getting to a point where the digital world is intersecting with the physical world in ways they haven’t in the past,” he says, and this phenomenon is happening in healthcare inside and outside of the hospital environment.
Mitra says that while many changes are taking place in the healthcare realm, such as the Affordable Care Act that was recently rolled out in the United States, it is the technology being developed in the background that is the “Trojan Horse” of future healthcare standards, ushering in a new age of efficiency under its high-tech guise.
The often repeated mantra is that technological advances allow for higher quality and greater efficiency in healthcare, and at a lower cost. David Pryor, president and CEO of Ascension Clinical Holdings, says that while consumers may assume that high cost equals better healthcare, in reality the opposite is true. Lower costs mean less waste and less overhead. Technology, he says, is a major factor in both of these.
The challenge for Cognizant and iKare was to make the healthcare provided at Health City completely digital. A major aim is to help reduce human error.
To this end, they developed the iKare System, which assesses patients’ clinical data and recommends protocols when necessary. It also provides an easy way to update patient information.
The iKare System is the smart technology that will be accessed on iPads at each patient’s bed.
“In virtually all hospitals in the world today, the patient data in ICU is captured on paper. That is error-prone and does not lend itself to automation and intelligence,” says D’Souza. The iPad next to every patient’s bed, or in the hands of doctors doing their rounds, “will keep their history and vital statistics, but also create a single window into the patient’s information,” he says.
This system is in use in Dr. Shetty’s hospital in Bangalore, which reports “success in enabling the ICU and bettering patient outcomes.”
The system’s smart technology has the ability to use data entered – such as a patient’s symptoms and test results – to assess and then recommend clinical protocols. This, in turn, will help medical professionals with diagnosis and developing treatment plans.
Further, if a patient’s vital statistics fall out of an acceptable range, the smart system will alert medical staff and recommend steps to follow. It will be used first in cardiac care and then expanded to other specialities, Health City officials say.
The iKare System will also allow doctors in India to monitor patients in Cayman during the night shift when there will be fewer staff present.
The use of the tablets and the medical record apps they contain will make Health City an almost “paperless” facility. Health City officials say the facility will be the first hospital in the world to have iPads on every ICU bed, a private app store and direct ICU bed monitoring.
The app store will also offer patients access to Skype and games, additional avenues of comfort or entertainment for patients. As many of the patients will be from a disadvantaged population, Dr. Shetty addressed some of these innovations, saying that “while technology gives the rich what they already have but in a better format, it gives the poor what they could never dream of having.”
Preparation for technological changes
The implementation of this level of technology in Cayman will no doubt be accompanied by many indirect changes. D’Souza said Cayman is likely to be a testing ground for new healthcare technology because of the new hospital, and that the prospect of technological advancement on island will necessitate a change in some of the copyright, patent and intellectual property laws.
Premier Alden McLaughlin and Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton both referred to the comprehensive intellectual property reform and updating of trademark and copyright protection that the government is pursuing.
The premier said these laws need attention as some existing frameworks are a “hurdle” to technological advancements in Cayman.
Panton assured the technology developers that it is government’s intention to “enshrine legal powers to protect your works and [implement] legislation flexible enough to keep pace” with the industry.
A modern copyright protection framework is planned to be discussed by May, officials said, and talks are already in progress with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regard to membership to the Patent Cooperation Treaty, under which patents can be simultaneously applied for in 148 countries.