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Icon Group prescribes cloud, analytics and upgraded security to enhance patient experiences

Icon Group has a clear mission statement: to deliver the best cancer care possible, to as many people as possible, as close to home as possible.

Established in 2015 through the amalgamation of leading Australian healthcare businesses, today Icon Group is the largest dedicated cancer care provider, with a growing presence across Asia. The company operates more than 130 sites across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China.

Icon takes a holistic approach to cancer care, providing all aspects of cancer treatment including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and treatment of blood disorders. It also manufactures sterile drugs, provides pharmacy services, and undertakes clinical trials and research. It employs more than 3,000 people including healthcare professionals and centralised head office teams, as well as a team of 55 digitial technology professionals.

When Ben Swindale, General Manager of IT, joined Icon in 2017, it was a business priority to integrate and modernise the information systems that had been inherited during the mergers. The goal was to establish a streamlined, secure digital platform for the future, with the capacity to tackle intelligent analytics.

Taking a cloud-first approach wherever possible, Icon has deployed Microsoft Office 365 and  Dynamics 365, with most of its administrative systems and an increasing number of its clinical, dispensing and compounding systems running in the cloud. While some of the company’s legacy clinical systems currently run on premises, Swindale intends to move them to Microsoft Azure as soon as possible.

Icon has also deployed an array of Microsoft security technologies, including Azure Sentinel, Defender Advanced Threat Protection, Defender for Cloud Apps, Intune and other key components of the Microsoft Security E5 suite.

It’s a savvy move. According to the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s annual report for 2020–21, the health sector endured the second-highest number of cybersecurity incidents, both overall and for ransomware-related attacks.

Marc Reinhardt, Head of Cyber Security at Icon, has deployed a range of solutions to improve the Group’s security posture. He says the company has taken a platform-focused approach to security because of the benefits delivered through integration across the Microsoft stack.

“Most of what is within the E5 licence from a security toolset or services point of view has been implemented at some level, such as Defender for Endpoint, Defender for Server, Defender for Identity, Information Protection, Defender for Cloud Apps, and Conditional Access policies out of Azure Active Directory,” Reinhardt explains.

“This saw us double our Microsoft Secure Score in the last year.”

Icon has also deployed Azure Sentinel as its security information and event manager, with the support of Microsoft partner Data#3.

While much of the security work is invisible to end users, the requirement for many Icon staff to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the acceptance of added security measures such as multi-factor authentication, which is essential to allow secure, remote access to Icon’s core systems.

Collaboration has proved a key ally during the pandemic

Having already transitioned to Office 365 and Azure for many key applications, Swindale says Icon’s transition to remote work was relatively smooth. Collaboration and communication was maintained through Teams and other collaboration tools.

“The transition to remote working was made seamless through Microsoft’s tools,” he says. “Our Microsoft Teams usage went through the roof and allowed teams to continue to work efficiently and effectively, providing an easy-to-use platform and a space for people to connect.”

Most health professionals still needed to be on site to provide essential patient care, and Swindale acknowledges that although there were logistical challenges, Icon’s IT systems allowed centres to continue providing vital care.

“Our centralised IT team were always on hand and our established, integrated systems, included remote functions that allowed us to support teams throughout the pandemic and provide a robust, reliable and secure digital environment to keep operations running.”

Rapid uptake of telehealth and the use of video conference calls and emerging technology allowed the organisation to stay connected, particularly when previous operations required in-person travel.

Icon invested in RealWear’s hands-free wearable devices to provide remote training across its international network. This technology allowed clinicians to remotely deliver expert advice and guidance on how to set up and treat patients, and troubleshoot errors on medical equipment and machines. These RealWear headsets were used alongside the Microsoft tech suite, once again providing seamless integration.

“A team member might be based remotely in Brisbane, but they can easily see what’s going on in real time and guide a team member in China through clinical workflows,” says Swindale. “It’s this use of collaborative technology that has worked well for us.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Icon has also used Microsoft Power Apps to quickly stand up staff-facing applications used to manage wellness checks and symptom reporting.

“I definitely see us using more of these apps. It’s an efficient platform to deploy that doesn’t require in-depth coding skills, which is important an ever-changing environment,” says Swindale.

The next phase of Icon’s systems modernisation will see the Group make greater use of its data collection. Working with MOQdigital, it has scoped out plans for an Azure Data Lake. Adam Barnes, Head of Data and Analytics at Icon, is building an in-house analytics team and is using Microsoft tools to ingest data into the data lake.

Swindale explains the long-term vision is to bring all of Icon’s clinical and operational information into the data lake, where it can be analysed for patterns and trends. Icon is also keen to explore how machine learning and AI could identify patterns in treatments, treatment responses and patient outcomes that could inform future healthcare decisions.

With some cancer care data sets stretching back more than 20 years, there is a rich trove of analytics opportunities.

Icon’s modernised digital platform also creates opportunities to improve the patient experience and simplify the patient journey.

“Icon are early adopters and invest in innovations and treatment technology alongside our global industry partners, so AI is the next big area for us, says Swindale.

“We have plenty of data about patients, how we treat them, how they engage with us, what educational content they access, and how cancer impacts them. This data is collected throughout their treatment and we are looking to extend that post-treatment.

“Do they have a good outcome? Do they need further treatment? How can we improve the patient experience? Investing in the next digital solutions will be key to delivering exceptional patient care.”

The next phase of Icon’s transformation, which will enable the company to interrogate data and determine how treatments and care services affect patients, will also help the Group improve patient outcomes and meet its goal to deliver the best cancer care possible.