HEALTHCARE | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Unified monitoring software to shape the future of healthcare

It will provide hospitals with a more solid IT infrastructure.

COVID-19 runs rampant across the globe, and hospitals have become the battleground in the fight against it. These medical facilities’ digital infrastructure play a crucial role, by allowing them to function in coordinated, structured ways.

However, digital silos hinder this smooth coordination. Since silos create disparate systems within a supposedly organised system, efficient delivery of healthcare services to those who urgently need them is compromised.

In an interview with Paessler’s APAC regional director Tee Haw Pang for Healthcare Asia, he explains why hospitals’ IT departments should adopt a unified monitoring approach.

HCA: Please give us a brief, broad explanation of what unified monitoring software is.

Pang: IT Professionals use unified monitoring software to monitor the status of a computer network, giving them a comprehensive overview of a system's hardware and software operational status. Hardware includes servers, databases, and computers whilst software encompasses web applications like Domain Name System, a directory of names that match with IP addresses; Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, a network management protocol which automates the process of configuring devices on IP networks; and internet connection status, all in real time.

Should a component fail to perform up to expectation, or has malfunctioned, the user will be notified by the software via email, SMS, or the pre-installed application to take action.

HCA: What advantages does this system offer for hospitals? Why would adapting this system be essential for the hospital's IT infrastructure

Hospitals’ IT environment is made up of an ecosystem of hardware, software, protocols, and are interconnected with one another through a central integration engine. 

The operational status of the integration engine is monitored by a RESTful (Representational state transfer) application programming interface, which allows hospitals’ IT staff to keep track of available disk space, memory usage, CPU usage, and traffic. Integrated medical systems also operate on Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) used for storing and transmitting digital medical images, whilst HL7 is a set of international standards for the transfer of clinical and administrative data between software applications used by various healthcare providers.

Hospitals’ IT infrastructure is utilised by an extensive workforce working on rotating shifts. With more people and procedures involved, the challenge for the IT department will be in troubleshooting the system, if and when there are outages or disruptions.

This is where a unified central monitoring system that monitors both standard IT and medical equipment is beneficial for hospitals, making it easier to spot the problem within the system and to solve it quickly, with minimal disruptions. Also, the software needs to make monitoring easier for hospitals.

HCA: Please get into detail about how unified monitoring software works in reducing digital silos. How would this benefit hospitals in Singapore?

Hospitals in Singapore and around the world have increasingly become reliant on technology for their daily functions. In Singapore, everything from patient registration and information collation, to the storage and retrieval of medical data and images are now digitalised.

Whilst digitalisation has benefits, it’s not without consequences. The highly digitised IT infrastructure of Singapore's hospitals is often fragmented and complex due to silos, which prevents hospitals from functioning at peak efficiency. This leads to less efficient, or even inaccurate, delivery of medical care, which could potentially lead to severe consequences for patients.

Adopting a unified monitoring software allows for hospitals’ IT team to have a comprehensive overview of the disparate IT infrastructure that makes up the digital backbone of a hospital’s network, and also the software and communications protocol commonly used in the medical industry like DICOM and HL7. It helps them have a holistic overview of the digital backbone of buildings in multiple locations, serving as a bridge. It also allows for the monitoring of protocols like HL7 and DICOM to be standardised, leading to better overall efficiency and performance, and save costs by preventing downtime.

HCA: As per your observation, what kind of IT systems/infrastructures do Singaporean hospitals utilise? Are these outdated? If so, what are the disadvantages of these IT systems?

I'm afraid we have to decline comment on this. This is classified information pertaining to the hospital's internal IT infrastructure, which we are not privy to.

HCA: What challenges do you think hospitals will face as they adapt unified monitoring software? What can they do to overcome these?

Some of the initial challenges might be the learning curve in familiarising a new IT system, which will be easier to navigate after the initial period. The team user experience can also be another challenge, as one person's experience in dealing with the software is different from another person.

Hospitals can facilitate the process of adopting a unified monitoring system by ensuring staff are trained and proficient in the whole process. The IT administration must also ensure that the user experience is seamless and that everyone has access to assistance in handling the system.

HCA:What role does unified software monitoring play for Singaporean hospitals during these unprecedented times? What about in a post-COVID-19 environment?

Software that can help mitigate and minimise the complexity of our work and our lives will bring benefits to the overall organisational structure. This is what unified software monitoring seeks to do: minimise the digital silos and enable staff in hospitals in Singapore or anywhere to focus on taking care of patients and saving lives.

In a post-COVID-19 environment, hospitals will continue to undertake stringent measures to ensure operational efficiency is maintained, and safety of patients, both on a physical and digital level, is maintained.

We already see new disruption in the healthcare sector with the rise of telehealth. People with ailments would rather have access to a doctor via a mobile app, get a prescription, and to have their medicine delivered. This ultimately reduces the load on hospitals, with fewer walk-in patients. Such initiatives, however, need unified monitoring software to ensure everything works well at an optimum level, including the maintenance of security.

HCA: What new IT initiatives have you seen implemented around hospitals in Singapore?

In the wake of the pandemic, we have seen the government in Singapore step up digitalisation efforts across all sectors, including healthcare. As hospitals transition from physical to virtual care, we see an increase in the usage of telemedicine applications such as MyDoc and Whitecoat, which facilitate online medical consultation and prescribe medicines for delivery. Such new tech-enabled initiatives effectively reduce the strain on hospitals.

Remote monitoring or virtual care where patients are monitored and provided advice via video conferencing facilities also reduce the need for patients to visit hospitals.

Such innovative initiatives need a robust monitoring system in place to ensure the system runs without any glitches. Moving forward, we foresee more tech-enabled initiatives that will be put in place to facilitate a seamless experience for patients.

HCA: What post-COVID-19 IT initiatives should be implemented in hospitals?

Hospitals are managing the pandemic well in the sense that they have ensured proper contact tracing efforts are in place to track down patients and leads.

The pandemic has shown us the importance of ensuring that the system can meet the demands of a digitalised future where fewer patients visit hospitals and instead seek immediate medical care via an app. More needs to be done on this front to encourage people to adapt to these technologies as well as to familiarise themselves with these tech-enabled apps.

IT departments in hospitals must also be equipped to deal with the demands of such tech-enabled apps; be prepared to navigate the system and manage the challenges that come along with such technology.

The system must be able to deal with remote care solutions, too. All of these require familiarisation with new digital tools and technology that will no doubt enhance the healthcare sector in a digitally integrated landscape.

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