We have become accustomed to living in a world where services are app-based, always on, and immediate. Driven by patient-demand, the last few years have seen an exponential increase in the capacity and capability of new health-related technologies. People, software and machines are consuming data faster, and in more locations, than ever before. And with the pharmaceutical market projected to more than double to $1.3 trillion by 2021, this data explosion is creating new pressures and opportunities, leading to a need for businesses in the sector to aggregate data in new, scalable ways that allow for real-time analysis.

By combining vast amounts of data with machine learning, we can improve patient outcomes. Be it Google developing algorithms to identify cancerous tumours on mammograms, or cloud assisted medical collaboration leading to new drugs or treatments, examples of this digitisation are already prevalent across the sector.

Supporting new demands

Technologies such as the IoT, Big Data, and advanced analytics have turned traditional healthcare into ‘smart healthcare’, using mobile and electronic technology for better diagnosis of disease, improved treatment of patients, and enhanced quality of life. In fact, there are now over 165,000 million health apps in use, and along with AI and biosensors, they provide pharmaceutical companies with unprecedented access to vast amounts of patient data, enabling more advanced analysis, a better understanding of risks and consequences, and thus, precision medicine.

With more and more focus on positive and predictable patient outcomes, this data is invaluable as pharmaceutical firms work to drive medical breakthroughs, reduce drug costs and demonstrate value. Digitally enabled ‘beyond the pill’ solutions, which go beyond the development and administration of drugs, and include technologies to collect and analyse a patient’s condition, are becoming ever more necessary for the survival of both the patient and the firm.

This shift is not only dictating custom treatments, but generates the data that pharma companies need to demonstrate their drugs’ superior efficacy. Digital technologies will form the cornerstone of the industry’s transformation.

Going digital

The challenge is traditional IT infrastructures were not designed to support this ‘smart’ future. Legacy systems are preventing providers from delivering the targeted healthcare and pharmaceutical solutions patients require. They cannot support the more omnichannel, real time interactions between patients, doctors and medical records, and prescriptions, medicine ordering, manufacturing and delivery – resulting in poor patient experience.

To succeed, companies will need to address issues such as updating legacy infrastructure and guaranteeing data security, requiring levels of decentralisation, consumerisation and personalisation that can only be delivered by interconnection – the private exchange of data.

At Equinix, we recently published our second annual Global Interconnection Index (GXI Vol.2), measuring growth in interconnection bandwidth – the total capacity provisioned for businesses to privately and directly exchange data traffic. The report predicts a global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48%, with interconnection bandwidth set to increase to 8,200Tbps by 2021 – the equivalent of 33 zettabytes of data exchange a year and 10 times more than the projected capacity of the internet. Europe will contribute approximately 23% of interconnection bandwidth globally, with London accounting for more than 35% of that. With the European Medicines Agency relocating to Amsterdam this year, the continued relevance of London as an enabler of digital transformation and innovation in the healthcare space will come as a relief to many in the sector.

Chasing value and avoiding pitfalls

To capture digital value, industry players will need to support real-time interactions by more strategically interconnecting the workflows across people, things, locations, clouds and data. This set up will streamline information-sharing and allow real-time communication with patients, health care providers, government regulators and business partners. This can help move medicines more quickly through development and speed up expansion into new markets, saving money, increasing innovation and enhancing a company’s competitive position.

All of this must be reinforced with stringent data security, privacy and compliance. Digital transformation increases vulnerability points – especially when data is distributed across many different sources and consumers. Large-scale cybersecurity breaches are one of the most serious risks facing the world today, with the global cost of breaches set to reach $6 trillion by 2021. As reflected by the increase in interconnection bandwidth predicted by the GXI, this escalating security risk is threatening the internet as the preferred mode of data traffic exchange as businesses increasingly bypass it in favour of private, direct connections.

Opportunity knocks

The Index also supports the notion that healthcare and pharmaceutical practitioners are already embracing digital transformation to improve service capacity and delivery – predicting the healthcare and life sciences sector will have an annual interconnection bandwidth growth of 69%, setting it as the joint second-fastest growing sector in Europe, alongside securities and trading, and just behind wholesale and retail trade at 75%.

To take advantage of the incredible opportunities brought by new technologies, traditional IT models must be abandoned in favour of robust, yet agile, IT infrastructure based on interconnection and colocation. By utilising interconnection, health organisations of all kinds can incorporate new digital technologies, integrate health ecosystems and directly and securely connect an increasingly distributed global mix of employees, partners and customers. Ultimately, by increasingly turning to an interconnection oriented architecture, industry players can more easily meet the requirements of today’s patients. It is time to evolve and invest in forward-looking IT strategies that can deliver a seamless end-user experience.

Tim Carter is an expert in Health Innovation Technology at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix