# Opportunity

Innovation Tackles the Virus

Digital innovations not only simplify the lives of doctors and patients but can protect them tooWith that aim, GE Healthcare—a manufacturer of medical systemswants to do away with waiting rooms.

A patient inside the GE Optima MR450, one of the most modern systems for magnetic resonance tomography. GE Healthcare is a leading medical technology provider.GE Healthcare

They were ahead of their time. A small group of IT spe­cial­ists, design­ers, stu­dents, and founders took three days out of their nor­mal rou­tines for an intense round of dis­cus­sions and pro­gram­ming, hard­ly both­er­ing to sleep. Togeth­er they came up with the idea for an app that could make many peo­ple safer dur­ing an epi­dem­ic. This app allows med­ical appoint­ments to be orga­nized so as to limit the time spent in wait­ing rooms—and thus the time that patients spend in close prox­im­i­ty to other peo­ple. The idea was tai­lor-made for the chal­lenges that arrived with the corona­virus. Yet it was devel­oped in Sep­tem­ber 2019, months before the virus appeared on the scene. 

The app was the brain­child of par­tic­i­pants in a hack­athon in Munich. Hun­dreds of tal­ent­ed young peo­ple gath­ered there to seek solu­tions to prob­lems posed by a num­ber of com­pa­nies. The task of doing away with wait­ing rooms came from GE Health­care. This sub­sidiary of the U.S.-based Gen­er­al Elec­tric cor­po­ra­tion has been plac­ing an ever-greater empha­sis on pro­mot­ing the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion in health­care, and the app is just one exam­ple of how that strat­e­gy can pay off in the pan­dem­ic. 

In a Nutshell

Marathon for Hackers

GE Healthcare’s development of digital innovations also makes use of innovations in the development methods themselves. These include hackathons, at which teams of individuals from a variety of disciplines develop solutions to specified challenges within limited periods of time. The idea for an app that would reduce the time spent in waiting rooms came from the TECHFEST hackathon in the fall of 2019, organized by Munich’s UnternehmerTUM center for innovation and start-upsHackathons are not only a good way to develop products, says Jan Beger, General Manager Digital at GE HealthcareThey also teach us how agile and self-organized teams can achieve results quickly and effectively. We apply the knowledge we gain from them to our own processes.

Telework for hospital physicians

With around 50,000 employ­ees at loca­tions in more than 160 coun­tries, GE Health­care devel­ops tech­ni­cal solu­tions and ser­vices for the health­care sec­tor. There is a huge demand for dig­i­tal inno­va­tions in this indus­try, says Jan Beger, Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Dig­i­tal at GE Health­careWe’re now in a posi­tion to offer a wide range of solu­tions. The Covid-19 cri­sis has shown that dig­i­tal solu­tions pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits to health­care sys­tems in an epi­dem­ic. That’s because many dig­i­tal inno­va­tions offer not only greater con­ve­nience and effi­cien­cy, but also help to pro­tect doc­tors and patientsbecause they can reduce the amount of phys­i­cal con­tact. 

We need to use this pandemic to accelerate the digital transformation in healthcare.

Jan Beger Jan Beger
General Manager Digital, GE Healthcare

Some solu­tions apply pri­mar­i­ly to med­ical per­son­nel, such as the abil­i­ty to exam­ine radi­o­log­i­cal results remote­ly. For exam­ple, CT scans can be trans­ferred dig­i­tal­ly from one med­ical depart­ment to anoth­eror from one hos­pi­tal to anoth­er. Doc­tors no longer have to hold a phys­i­cal copy of a scan or a com­pact disc with the data in their hands. The great thing about our solu­tion is that it’s com­pat­i­ble with near­ly all of the sys­tems used by hos­pi­tals, says Math­ias Goyen, Chief Med­ical Offi­cer at GE Health­care. If radi­ol­o­gists have a high-res­o­lu­tion screen at their home, they can eas­i­ly do their diag­nos­tic work there.” Tele­work for hos­pi­tal physi­cians. Some med­ical cen­ters have already been very suc­cess­ful at using such means to deal with the restric­tions regard­ing con­tact. 

Central access to all data

Anoth­er extreme­ly impor­tant issue dur­ing an epi­dem­ic is that of ICU capac­i­ties. Thus far, only the per­son­nel at the units them­selves have known how many beds are occu­pied and for how long. When doc­tors need a bed, they usu­al­ly call up the nurs­es’ sta­tion and ask, says Goyenwho is also a pro­fes­sor of diag­nos­tic radi­ol­o­gy at Ham­burg Uni­ver­si­ty. Even if hos­pi­tals make capac­i­ty data avail­able, key details are often miss­ing, such as whether beds are reserved for peo­ple sched­uled to arrive the next day, or whether patients have been dis­charged ear­li­er than orig­i­nal­ly planned.  

Staff in the Command Centre at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust use live data to optimise patient flow in real-time at several hospitals in Bradford and communities across Yorkshire. GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare’s Com­mand Cen­ter sys­tem eval­u­ates all of this infor­ma­tion auto­mat­i­cal­ly. It’s sim­i­lar to the com­mand cen­ter for a NASA mis­sion, and it’s an opti­mal way to con­trol patient flows,” says Goyen. Imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the out­break of the pan­dem­ic in Ger­many, GE Health­care adapt­ed a ver­sion of the soft­ware for the Covid-19 sit­u­a­tion. With­in two weeks, it was com­pat­i­ble with vir­tu­al­ly all hos­pi­tal inter­faces. Not only that—it could be installed entire­ly remote­ly, so there was no need for com­put­er tech­ni­cians to actu­al­ly enter the facil­i­ties. In just four weeks, more than 150 clients world­wide were using the sys­tem. It not only helps treat patients more prompt­ly, but also pro­tects nurs­es and doctors—and there­by the patients as well. A cru­cial part of keep­ing a health­care sys­tem in good shape is mak­ing sure that its per­son­nel remain healthy, observes Goyen. 

Patients are becoming ever more sophisticated. This is a key focus of product development.

Prof. Dr. med. Mathias Goyen Prof. Dr. med. Mathias Goyen
Chief Medical Officer, GE Healthcare

Corona drives developments

GE Health­care is also devel­op­ing ever more dig­i­tal solu­tions that pri­or­i­tize direct ben­e­fits for patients. “Patients have far too rarely been viewed as cus­tomers with the asso­ci­at­ed needs. Health­care has been lag­ging behind other sec­tors in this regard, says GoyenDig­i­tal­iza­tion offers prime oppor­tu­ni­ty to change this in a lot of areas. For exam­ple, patients are cur­rent­ly hand­ed a num­ber of dense­ly writ­ten doc­u­ments in prepa­ra­tion for com­plex treat­ments. But chat­bots could take on the job of pro­vid­ing detailed infor­ma­tion about the pro­ce­dures. These dig­i­tal assis­tants could also remind patients about dietary restric­tions before cer­tain appoint­ments. Goyen sees shift in the atti­tudes of physi­cians as well. The physi­cian-patient rela­tion­ship is chang­ing, he notesPatients are becom­ing more sophis­ti­cat­ed. They’re using rat­ing por­tals, for exam­ple, to gath­er pre­cise infor­ma­tion and choose exact­ly the right physi­cians for their needs. Hos­pi­tals and med­ical offices should make use of this oppor­tu­ni­ty to become more cus­tomer-ori­ent­ed and there­by acquire a com­pet­i­tive edge. We make prod­ucts for doc­tors, but ulti­mate­ly these prod­ucts should always serve the patients.  

That is the case with the wait­ing room app con­ceived at the hackathon in Munich. It is intend­ed to allow patients to send data to med­ical offices before their appoint­ments, or to be noti­fied in real time of delays. The app could com­ple­ment a prod­uct that GE Health­care has already devel­oped: its Smart Sched­ul­ing app. This sys­tem con­sid­ers mul­ti­ple fac­tors that influ­ence whether patients will keep their appoint­ments, such as: How far does the patient live from the doctor’s office? What weath­er con­di­tions are fore­cast for the day? Has the patient can­celed appoint­ments at par­tic­u­lar times of the day before? An algo­rithm gen­er­ates dates and times that match the patient’s pref­er­ences. This improves doc­tors’ abil­i­ties to plan—and also helps ensure that wait­ing rooms are less crowd­ed. The app is expect­ed to be used for the first time at doc­tors’ offices this sum­mer. Sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed wait­ing rooms then will not only help patients feel more relaxed, but also pro­tect their health. 

If the pan­dem­ic had bro­ken out two years ear­li­er, the sit­u­a­tion would have been much more chal­leng­ing, says BegerThe past sev­er­al weeks have shown that there are a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to be had from dig­i­tal­iz­ing health­care. That gives me hope for the future.” The corona­virus, he says, is help­ing to accel­er­ate these devel­op­ments. 

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