How technology is disrupting the delivery of care and empowering patients
While visiting an uncle, I noticed a plate with two metal squares attached to the back of his phone. It turned out to be an FDA-approved mobile EKG that utilizes artificial intelligence primarily to monitor heart rhythm and identify atrial fibrillation (AFib). In one study, this device diagnosed four times as many patients for AFib as did physicians. Patients place two fingers on each of the electrode pads for thirty seconds while the device records the EKG and communicates with a mobile app that integrates with other measures of heart health. It stores the readings (HIPAA compliant), and patients are able to share the recordings with their providers immediately, irrespective of proximity. I tried it out for a few days, with more of a focus on its ability to integrate into my life and provide preventative care rather than an in-depth clinical quality analysis of it—my friends in medical school tend to have mixed feelings. Regardless, the pace of technological innovation within healthcare will inevitably produce higher quality devices. The most notable part of my experience with this device that was smaller than a credit card was the feeling of empowerment it gave me. I could see my results, control who I shared it with and track it over time. Although I learned that I [most likely] do not have AFib, those who experience it can be simultaneously empowered and relieved by having the ability to identify it from anywhere within thirty seconds. What better outcome of a digital transformation in healthcare?
Healthcare Modeled as a System
My approach to addressing a complex problem is modeling it as a system to show the interconnectedness and dependencies. Healthcare is arguably one of the most convoluted. Every system is defined by an objective and healthcare’s is…can you guess? Reimbursements? Minimizing costs? Award-winning facilities? It is and should always be the patient. Yet my time in healthcare has continuously proven that patients are often not the focus. Decades of traditional thought has isolated healthcare from its true purpose. But technology is disrupting our care delivery models by bringing patients closer to their care. It is simplifying the system. From artificial intelligence and big data to wearables and disease research, healthcare is undergoing a significant digital transformation, and if healthcare does not integrate with technology, technology will consume healthcare (for the better, depending on who you ask).
Recently I learned about another individual who was using a mobile EKG. One day, he felt uneasiness in his chest and called his physician, whose flight was about to take off. He instructed his patient to run a scan on his device and send the results. Midair at 35K feet, the physician interpreted the results, notified the patient that he would need to see another provider immediately and sent the EKG readings to the recommended provider. This is the power of technology bringing healthcare to the patient. Many devices and wearables are entering the market, maybe too many at first thought, but put that in perspective. How complex is the human body and how much can go wrong? It may be naïve to think that one device can identify all of our problems, but a small number of devices that interface with each other could be the answer to our continuum of care. We can already see the potential, with many wearables connecting to Apple Health or proprietary apps communicating with external devices. The data in aggregate becomes our health profile, which educates and empowers us to make informed decisions. The process is not quite seamless, but at the current rate we may just have comprehensive health profiles at our fingertips by iPhone XV.
Big Data and Artificial Intelligence
Wearables may identify our characteristics and collect our information in the form of big data, but the true power behind meaningful insight lies with artificial intelligence (AI). AI enables us to make faster, smarter decisions based on the vast amounts of data and algorithms. The graphic below is the compilation of multiple studies that compared providers to artificial intelligence in a variety of medical scenarios.
Source: IEEE Spectrum (link will lead to details of each study)
The trend evident in this graphic is the relative success of AI. In the autism diagnosis study, the AI built by researchers at the University of North Carolina used brain scans from almost 150 infants to predict whether the children would be diagnosed with autism. It identified infants with 81% accuracy. As a baseline, today’s questionnaires have 50% accuracy. In another study that analyzed a brain cancer patient’s genomes to predict a plan of care (based on medical literature, clinical trials, etc.), IBM’s Watson platform determined the plan of care in ten minutes, as compared to 160 hours for a team of medical experts. But Watson’s plan of care was not necessarily optimal. Two mutations were identified by both groups, but when those specific mutations were considered together, the medical experts, unlike Watson, determined that a particular drug trial would have been the best plan of care. AI in healthcare is not intended to compete with or replace providers. Rather, it is intended to assist and enable. AI can save providers critical time by synthesizing large amounts of data to support the decision-making process.
Research and Development
Globally, various groups are focusing on technology and groundbreaking research to solve the world’s toughest healthcare problems and tech companies are throwing their weight and funding behind them. Alphabet-backed (formerly Google) Calico is utilizing technology to understand and eventually increase lifespan. Amazon is reportedly operating a secret healthcare division known as 1492, and supposedly as part of the initiative, it has invested in Grail, a startup that aims to sequence human genomic data to “detect the earliest signs of cancer in the blood, while it is still treatable.” Most recently, Bill Gates invested $50M into the Dementia Discovery Fund, a private fund that supports startups exploring and pursuing innovative approaches to treating dementia. The digital transformation that is occurring has the potential to make incurable diseases a challenge of the past, slow down ageing and redefine chronic illness.
The digital transformation of healthcare is taking place in every dimension, from patient care and medical diagnosis to research and development. Although I emphasize technology as the key to this digital transformation, it must be noted that people throughout the healthcare system play critical roles. Whether it is a team of specialists jointly diagnosing with Watson or providers reaching patients in their own homes, potentially hundreds or thousands of miles away, via telemedicine, the combination of the right people and powerful, disruptive technology is extremely effective. Technology is a catalyst and not a crutch; in this age of rapid transformation, we must learn to leverage it but not blindly rely on it.
The healthcare system is complex, but the digital transformation it is undergoing is simplifying it and truly making it patient-centric. It is decentralizing the care and bringing it to the patient. It is empowering the patient to make decisions about his or her own health. It is attempting to completely alter the future of human life. Those of us in healthcare must acknowledge the digital transformation that is taking place and adapt with it, because our patients deserve a system that serves them. They deserve the highest quality of care at the lowest cost when they need it and where they need it. Today, we are one step closer to that mission.
Today’s blog was written by Sidhartha Sinha, Consultant at HPP.
Sidhartha (Sid) brings more than three years of operations and strategy experience from the energy and non-profit sectors. Prior to joining Vizient, Sid spent time with multiple non-profits, the state of Georgia, an energy consulting firm, and Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company. Sid’s areas of expertise and professional skills include data analytics, business intelligence, operations, and design. His experience includes operations analysis, supply chain analysis and implementation, healthcare systems design, ED assessment and design, perioperative services redesign, and business intelligence platforms deployment. Sid has worked in multiple capacities with a variety of teams internationally. While serving as a consultant for a major manufacturing company, Sid and his team created an optimization algorithm projected to save the company more than $7M over one year. At a former company, he designed a process improvement methodology to continuously realize savings. He has received multiple awards for his leadership and service within his communities. Sid received his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering with a concentration in Economic & Financial Systems from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, GA. At Georgia Tech, he led the largest operational and design initiative to reduce food insecurity among members of the community. He has lived in India, Egypt, France, and Dubai and has varying levels of analytical, writing, and listening proficiency in English, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, and multiple Indian dialects.