In the framework of the Mobile World Congress 2018, TELUS organized an exclusive breakfast briefing in collaboration with STL Partners, on February 27th, 2018, to discuss the role of telcos in the healthcare sector and highlight TELUS's journey in this regard.
Internet of things (IoT), 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are some of the main trends that every international event, conference or exhibition is focusing on. Given the impact the word "digital" has had on the ICT industry, it is no secret that it is being integrated in every field and sector having a direct or indirect relation with technology. The health sector, for instance, is a proof to the transformational effect of technology.
In his introductory remarks, Andrew Collinson, Partner, STL Partners, shed light on TELUS's commitment toward healthcare. "It is not just about business, it's about making things happen and this is what distinguishes it", he said.
Collinson described the current ICT and telecommunications scene and the transformation happening at every level of it. "The telecoms industry is going through an interesting time", he stated when talking about the emergence of softwarization and how telcos are trying to change the way they operate, while taking into account the significance of regulations.
"Every telco is trying to undergo three phases: transformation, to become cheaper, faster or more efficient; costs reduction and divergence. Ten years ago, everyone wanted to do the same thing: build the fastest network. However, today, most of them don't know what to do. TELUS is the perfect example of a diverged telco and can lead the way in this context", Collinson added.
TELUS committed to healthcare and deployed technology to improve health outcomes by connecting doctors and other health practitioners with one another and with their patients. It seized the right opportunity at the right time, which some telcos have failed to do.
Amy Cameron, Senior Analyst, STL Partners took the stage next to explain the telecoms vertical opportunity and why some telcos failed to provide a comprehensive platform able to cater to the consumers' needs.
Nowadays, telecoms operator have to deal with different complicated technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, edge computing, NFV, etc. and have to leverage them to improve their operations and achieve a more efficient CAPEX. They will also help them to grow and offer new services to customers while enabling new business models.
"While telcos are thinking about these new technologies and how they can use them to transform their technologies, some of them have dabbled into different areas instead of focusing on a specific one and this hasn't yielded strong results for telecom operators who aspire to become telecom players", she said.
To further expand on this issue, Cameron gave the example of Amazon that started by selling books and then expanded its business gradually. "No telecom player has started with one horizontal platform for everything. Amazon is a great example. Becoming a horizontal platform doesn't happen overnight."
Amy stressed that the domain of expertise is where the value added is. The way that telecom operators use AI versus the way the healthcare industry uses it are very different. Algorithms are built to do specific things and their application differs between operators and healthcare.
So what are the scenarios for telcos in the future? According to her, telcos might focus on connectivity but that's a shrinking pool of revenues and they are unlikely to achieve significant growth if they choose that path.
"Telecoms operator have a wide reach through their physical network. They have a regulatory experience compared to global players. They have brand power. They operate in both the enterprise and consumer sides. TELUS has been able to bring healthcare to people who didn't have it before and has invested 1.6 billion dollars in the Canadian healthcare market. It has regulatory experience and it can improve the communication between physicians and patients which is very difficult."
To conclude her presentation, Amy Cameron assured that by focusing on one vertical, telcos can build credibility in one area and then extend it to the whole platform.
But why did TELUS choose healthcare? Fawad Shaikh, VP, Business Development at TELUS explained that TELUS has invested a lot in digital health in the past ten years and believes that health content is one of the most compelling content, that's why it chose to invest in it.
Shaikh based his explanation on a video showing TELUS CEO Darren Entwistle giving a speech on the importance of the healthcare sector and why did TELUS choose to invest in it.
"We're a company that defines the axiom of bridging time and distance. The core root of communication is bridging time and distance. Is that relevant to the healthcare domain? Of course." Entwistle said in the video.
TELUS owns the continuum of personal health records, electronic medical and health records and facilitates the movement of digital information to the patients and their care or disease prevention across its broadband network and smartphone and tablet devices. According to TELUS CEO, this has resulted in reducing emergency room visits by 50%.
"When the health system can't pay for itself or when you can deliver a better patient outcome, that's worth pursuing. Does our technology do that? Absolutely. We're making this investment in healthcare because there's a crisis that is going to impact the quality of life of all Canadians and we want to drive healthcare transformation for the good of our citizens", he concluded.
It is worth mentioning that the speech in the video projected during Fawad Shaikh's presentations was given 5 years ago.
Shaikh's presentation focused on numbers related to healthcare and TELUS's journey. A Study from the US Chamber of commerce states that the ICT industry is worth 1.4 trillion dollars whereas healthcare is worth 7 trillion dollars spent every year. According to him, total health spending on healthcare in Canada reached 240 billion dollars and about 70% it is publicly funded.
"We're at a pivotal time in light of digital transformation. Virtual technologies can bridge the gap between time and distance and make a difference", he concluded by highlighting how virtual technologies have contributed to the evolution of healthcare.
Amid technological evolution, protecting data is a top priority and that is what distinguishes TELUS. The solutions provided by the latter assure a secure connection between health systems and transfer of data between patients and practitioners because the issue of security is very delicate when it comes to healthcare. Patients' data is very confidential, thus their protection is crucial.
This being said, healthcare facilities should be aware of the fact that not all healthcare solutions can be efficient. Adopting the wrong solution can compromise patients' trust in the facility, especially if it is provided by an OTT which will most probably disregard the importance of protecting data.
Last but not least, TELUS CTO, Dr. Ibrahim Gedeon, gave an interesting keynote on the strategic technology disruption in health. Reflecting on TELUS's commitment to healthcare, he stressed on the importance of focusing on communication and people instead of the mere technological development.
"We wanted to change things around so the best thing to start with was records and we had to focus on people. As others look at the pressure of buying spectrum and technology and investing in SDN/NFV, we, at TELUS looked at how the technology transformation fixes the process. We have invested in all the elements of success; the key is to tie them in and work together", he said.
Dr. Gedeon was confident to say that even if the company was losing money because of its investment in healthcare, which is not the case, it would have done it anyway for the good of Canada and the wellbeing of its citizens.
Wrapping up his presentation, TELUS CTO convinced the attendees of the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Analytics in healthcare. In fact, thanks to these technologies, patients can avoid going to the doctor to only be informed about the results of a simple blood test for example.
TELUS offers numerous health solutions and technologies capable of addressing five key health issues: chronic disease management, medication errors and non-compliance, long wait times and poor access, lack of focus on prevention and patient self-management and the need for performance improvement.