Future-ready digital healthcare is essential to address the evolving health landscape, driven by advancements in technology and changing patient needs. It enables healthcare providers to deliver more efficient, accessible, and personalised care, leveraging tools like telemedicine, wearables, and data analytics to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. By embracing digital healthcare, you can bridge gaps in healthcare access, enhance data-driven decision-making, allow for better preparedness during times of crisis and enable the healthcare industry to remain adaptable to the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The construction of healthcare infrastructure, including its digital components, can be time-consuming and costly. Given the financial investment required, such assets are expected to last for many decades. The lifecycle of modern technologies is considerably shorter than physical infrastructure (such as roads and buildings). This leads to the question; how might you implement effective digital infrastructure in healthcare facilities today that can flex to the needs of the future?

Plan for digital infrastructure

To operate effectively and efficiently, modern healthcare must be designed and operated as an integrated "system of systems". This approach requires a holistic view of healthcare, accounting for the connections and dependencies of various systems.

For example, a patient-centric strategy must consider a wide range of aspects, such as patient journey mapping, personalised care plans, patient portals for access to medical records and communication channels with healthcare providers. To achieve this patient-centric strategy, you require efficient data sharing between health record systems, medical devices, telemedicine platforms, pharmacy management software, and other subsystems. And to achieve efficient data sharing, you need robust, secure and scalable digital infrastructure that is carefully planned, scoped and designed as an integral part of the overall healthcare infrastructure development.

Therefore, by recognising the need for conscious digital infrastructure early, you reduce the risk of introducing technology that is poorly integrated, insecure or unfit for purpose.

Select your digital technology

Selecting technology for a modern buildings digital infrastructure often presents a challenge. How do you balance the need for proven technologies that deliver today, with a need to support the digital needs of tomorrow? The solution is to select future-ready technologies – those that readily enable the growth in data quantity and speed, like a growing volume of patient information in a clinic, without the need for costly and time-consuming upgrades.

One potential strategy is to implement Passive Optical Networks (PONs). These are ideal for future healthcare infrastructure as they can deliver cost-effective, high-speed, reliable, and secure connectivity. PONs use fibre optic cables to transmit data, providing extremely fast speeds that can support bandwidth-intensive applications like telemedicine, remote diagnostics, and large-scale medical imaging.

PONs also offer unmatched scalability and bandwidth, which is crucial for supporting the increasing data demands of advanced healthcare technologies. They reduce the need for bulky and expensive copper cabling, making them a cost-effective and space-saving solution. Furthermore, their low-energy demands and reduced maintenance costs drive operational efficiency and savings, and their enhanced data security and privacy measures safeguards critical patient information.

In essence, PONs empower hospitals to adapt to future technologies while promoting sustainability and seamless patient care.

Avoid technology obsolescence

To mitigate the risk of technology obsolescence for healthcare digital infrastructure design, it’s crucial to focus on strategic planning and adaptability. Short life cycles and constant software upgrades can present significant change management issues.

One approach to help avoid this challenge, is to prioritise scalable and modular solutions that can easily accommodate future upgrades and innovations. Choosing open standards and interoperable systems help to assure compatibility with emerging technologies, reducing the risk of isolation or dependence on outdated platforms. Regularly updating key elements of the IT structure and reassessing the compatibility with updates to industry standards can also help identify and address potential obsolescence.

Align with the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa

In 2022, the “Digital Strategy for Aotearoa” was published. This strategy sets out a vision for "Aotearoa New Zealand’s people, communities, economy, and environment to flourish and prosper in the digital era". It highlights the need for fit-for-purpose and secure digital and data infrastructure, and the expectation that such infrastructure, contents and services meet the diverse needs of New Zealanders. By 2032, the strategy notes the need to build future-focussed and resilient communications infrastructure.

The implementation of future-ready digital infrastructure in healthcare, aligned with the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa, supports the delivery of efficient, accessible, and patient-centric healthcare services. With robust digital infrastructure, healthcare providers can make a difference in how they service New Zealanders and the overall patient experience. Plan early, select future-ready technologies, and focus on strategic planning and adaptability.

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About the Author
Bruce Neville

Senior Technical Director - Digital Consulting

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