How Digital Healthcare Ecosystems Drive Innovation and Collaboration

In the modern digital economy, working well with partners is one of the most important factors determining business success. Organisations must constantly master new technologies, build resilient digital supply chains and turn data into insights across their distributed operations. To do all these things, they must find the right partners and interconnect with them in the right places.

The 2023 Global Interconnection Index (GXI) study from Equinix provides insights about what this new ecosystem economy looks like. The GXI forecasts that interconnection bandwidth will grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35% globally, a clear sign that businesses are steadily increasing the amount of data they exchange with partner ecosystems. In fact, the GXI argues that when it comes to enabling digital transformation, your ecosystem is now your infrastructure.

Ecosystems provide the building blocks of digital healthcare

The growth of digital ecosystems is happening across all industries, but it may be helpful to consider an example of how partners in one particular sector are working together to deliver better results for end users. In the case of the healthcare industry, the end user is the patient, which means we’ll all depend on digital ecosystems to achieve better health outcomes at some point in our lives.

In Ireland, patients are already benefiting from digital healthcare in a variety of ways, as the sector continues to expand across the country. In 2022, Ibec’s Digital Health Working Group, which is working to improve understanding of how digital health is transforming healthcare and shaping policies, published its “Where Digital Healthcare Thrives” report. This report captured the nature of the nascent digital healthcare ecosystem in Ireland, mapping nearly 200 companies already delivering solutions in this area.

The scale and potential of this burgeoning sector is enormous, as advances in technology make them more cost effective and more viable. Across the wider spectrum of the industry, including biopharma and medtech, there are more than 700 companies operating in Ireland, employing 84,000 people directly, with exports in excess of €105 billion. The life sciences sector alone is expected to reach €730 billion by 2025, with the digital health segment estimated to grow at over 17% between 2021 and 2027 to €430 billion.

These healthcare ecosystems are also much more complex than some realise. For most of us, our primary interactions with the healthcare system are at the point of care—a hospital, clinic or physician’s office. However, as the graphic below shows, care providers depend on many different partners, including some we wouldn’t typically associate with the healthcare industry.

Representatives from academia (universities and research institutes), manufacturing (pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccines and vital drugs), financial services (health insurers and payment gateways), technology (software vendors, medtech startups and Internet of Medical Things companies) and the public sector (government regulators and oversight agencies) must all come together in pursuit of a common goal: providing better care for patients. To achieve that goal, they must all share data with one another in a secure and reliable manner.

For example, when a pharma company wants to manufacture a new drug, it may lean on universities and research institutes to supplement its in-house development capabilities. It will also work closely with government agencies to get the approvals needed to bring the drug to market safely. Then, it will partner with distributors to deliver the drug to distribution centres. These drug distributors will subsequently rely on their own ecosystem of supply chain partners to get the drug into retail pharmacies and hospitals. Once the drug is in market, the company will exchange feedback with hospitals and pharmacies to further optimise efficacy and safety.

Each of these partnerships requires open and ongoing data sharing. Without a common platform to make data exchange possible across the ecosystem, healthcare as we know it would break down.

Designing digital infrastructure for effective ecosystem partnerships

The ecosystem you interact with determines what digital infrastructure you need and where you need to deploy it. Technology vendors and service providers can help provide the cloud and network maturity needed to support advanced applications and make the most of your ecosystem partnerships.

Digital healthcare leaders are deploying infrastructure both in digital core locations—close to high concentrations of service providers—and digital edge locations—close to high concentrations of end users. In fact, the GXI found healthcare companies are interconnecting with an average of 23 partners in core metros and 13 partners in edge metros.

Healthcare companies are deploying in both core and edge locations because they need to address data gravity—the phenomenon where large data sets tend to draw in applications and workloads. Going back to our previous example, most pharma manufacturers have deployed Internet of Things (IoT) devices in their production facilities. This means they’re gathering large volumes of data from many distributed sites.

Ireland is unique in that it has several key ecosystem advantages. It is a small and well-networked country, with a world-class network of innovation centres focusing on the multidisciplined aspects of digital health, from medical research to cybersecurity and data science.

Instead of pushing data back and forth between edge and core locations—which would significantly increase costs and latency—healthcare organisations are increasingly deploying infrastructure at the edge. An IT architecture that includes both core and edge infrastructure—with private, dedicated interconnection capabilities between them—is known as an Interconnection Oriented Architecture®, as shown below.

Distributed digital infrastructure helps applications tap into data closer to the source, thus enabling latency-sensitive use cases such as real-time data analytics and predictive maintenance. In addition, it supports seamless delivery of the applications that internal stakeholders rely on daily, including ERP systems. Finally, deploying at the edge enables a cloud-adjacent architecture, where you can tap into cloud-based services from different vendors on demand while keeping costs and latency low.

Equinix and euNetworks partner to enable healthcare data sharing 

By partnering with more than 2,000 network service providers (NSPs) around the world, Equinix can help expand access to digital ecosystems and data sharing to locations far away from core metros, where digital infrastructure would typically be difficult to find.

As the graphic below shows, Equinix and euNetworks help our joint customers take advantage of our respective solutions while also interconnecting with one another on an interoperable data-sharing platform. Universities and research parks in remote parts of the country will now be able to fully participate in digital ecosystems, thus unlocking new collaboration and co-innovation opportunities.

Platform Equinix is the ideal place to form industry ecosystems

Equinix offers a global data centre platform to help healthcare organisations deploy across core and edge locations, thus overcoming data gravity and getting closer to patients, stakeholders and partners. Our partner ecosystem also includes 3,000+ cloud and IT service providers, so you’ll always be able to find the right partner for the job in the right location. Equinix Fabric®, our software-defined interconnection solution, makes it easy to connect to those partners on demand.

Ireland’s digital healthcare ecosystem would benefit from technology such as this, to maintain a  competitive global position. Equinix offers digital services that can help you deploy new digital infrastructure quickly and flexibly, while making the shift from CAPEX to OPEX spend. Network Edge offers virtual network functions from top providers like Cisco and Fortinet, which can help you modernise your networks quickly despite global hardware shortages. Equinix Metal® can give you the dedicated compute and storage capacity you need, right where you need it, in a matter of minutes.

To learn more about how digital ecosystems are redefining healthcare and other industries, and how leading companies are adapting their digital infrastructure and using interconnection to thrive in this new reality, read the Global Interconnection Index report here.

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