Cloud computing for medical and diagnostics applications
Cloud computing underpins a significant number of web-services (like Netflix). Applications are built using a series of discrete services which are provided by the host (e.g. Amazon Web Services). These services can be configured and combined to form a coherent solution.
The primary advantage of cloud computing over traditional server-based applications is the ease with which applications can be scaled to meet changing levels of user traffic or application storage needs. In traditional ‘self-hosted’ network infrastructure, diagnostics companies manage the infrastructure themselves and can only increase the system capacity by purchasing more equipment at significant cost (servers, network adapters, databases etc.) By using a cloud platform, these companies can automate the provisioning of new resources to meet the demands of their users and quickly decommission resources when they are no longer needed. All of this can be achieved at a relatively low cost.
Many cloud platforms provide services designed specifically for medical and diagnostic applications. In some cases, they can even provide compliance documentation which can later be submitted to regulators and notified bodies. These services can be used to speed up the implementation of medical and diagnostic solutions in the cloud.
The key challenge of cloud computing for diagnostic organisations is around data interoperability between platforms. There is a wide range of communications standards when sharing data between devices and cloud services. More details in this blog further down.
Software systems and smartphone apps
The average person has more computing power in their pocket than the Apollo space missions of the 1960’s. A patient’s smartphone often contains a high-quality camera, provides an intuitive user interface, a reliable network interface and includes internal sensors (accelerometers, biometric sensors etc.) which can be easily utilised.
Using a patient’s smartphone to monitor their condition reduces the number of devices they need to manage. It also provides a single interface to engage with which collects data from external sensors in a simple way. Smartphone health apps can, if designed well, empower patients to manage their diagnosis and treatment.
Unfortunately, while smartphones have impressive capability, we’re still a long way from being able to use them to reliably produce diagnostic data without external devices, there’s just too much variability between devices.
Notwithstanding the variation between smartphones, we have the potential to use off-the-shelf computing and Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) to distribute diagnostic applications more broadly. SaMD gives us some opportunity to reduce the cost and complexity of traditional IVDs and update our data processing algorithms more easily and reliably when changes are identified.
Digital communications and the internet: a part of the digital diagnostic landscape
The internet itself is clearly not a diagnostic device, but it underpins almost all communications between devices and services. More patients, clinicians and operators expect that diagnostic devices will seamlessly connect to at least a local network and in many cases, wider health platforms via the internet.
We may not traditionally consider a point-of-care diagnostic or lab-based diagnostic instrument a ‘digital’ device. But when IVDs are integrated into the wider healthcare ecosystem (providing patient data to healthcare information systems and records platforms), they form a key constituent part of the overall digital diagnostics landscape.
Similar to cloud platforms, many diagnostic device manufacturers have identified that the integration of devices into networks with varying data format standards is a key challenge to address.
Diagnostic wearable devices
Wearables can collect data about a patient using small, reliable sensors to continuously monitor their condition in a user-friendly way. An example of a wearable device in a diagnostic context would be the continuous glucose monitors now available to diabetics. These are considered ‘digital’ solutions as they are integrated within a wider connected ecosystem.