When performing research on cutting-edge IT infrastructure for healthcare, from time to time – or actually all the time – one needs to validate and show the value of new developments. Doing such a reality check is extremely important, but at the same time very challenging.
Here we present our perspective, as technical researchers that have the privilege of working inside an academic hospital. Ideally, we change the world through better healthcare due to our super cool technical IT development. In practice, it takes quite some effort to connect to reality, explain what we actually did, and show measurable improvements. This is even more so in the case of ASCLEPIOS, which improves cybersecurity, a topic that normally goes unnoticed until something goes wrong. Let’s spell out some of our experiences and lessons learned during the making of the stroke acute care demonstrator.
Challenge #1: Simulating almost everything
First of all, one should not get too close to the real IT healthcare infrastructure. This in practice means that anything we develop needs to be created on top of some simulation that reproduces as much as possible the conditions of the real thing. In our case, we had to simulate patient data, simulate patients and professionals as system users, organisations and employment relationships. We also had to simulate activity in the system, such as a patient arriving at the hospital with suspicion of stroke, or an employee trying to read some patient’s data. Quite some effort had to be invested in these simulations, but it goes without saying that they are still simulations that may leave open questions in the real case.
Challenge #2 – Engaging healthcare professionals
Another challenge is to engage healthcare professionals in a technical research project. They are the end-users who will interact with the software, so we need their involvement to better understand their needs and opinions along the whole path. But these are very busy people who rarely have time to spend on other tasks than saving lives. And the Covid-19 pandemic has not helped us at all during ASCLEPIOS: many appointments were cancelled because the health system went into ‘crisis mode’ – again and again. There is obvious interest in collaboration, but time is very scarce. This reality forced us to be efficient in interacting with the healthcare staff. For example, to better understand what would be necessary to control access to the data during acute care, we connected with junior staff or more accessible representatives of the stakeholders’ groups. With them, we iterated and improved the software, reaching a more mature implementation that was finally showcased and discussed with a few clinicians.
These tricks enabled us to overcome the limitations and collect some first feedback from the testing and evaluation of modern applications in actual healthcare environments. The results of this process will definitely inspire our future research regarding healthcare IT, while the design of the process itself provided us with the experience to address similar challenges in the future.
Featured Image provided by AMC, illustrating a demo session with one user and the application developed for the AMC demonstrator in the context of the ASCLEPIOS project showing on the screen.