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Digital health intelligence finds the patient

By Bipin Thomas
From the November 2017 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

In previous columns, I introduced the role of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in digital health.

Digital disruption is the new normal in health care. Digital health is breaking down traditional hospital walls, and it’s not just the developed world leading this disruption. The health care model for billions of people in the developing world has always been different. Lacking the massive and complicated hospital infrastructure of other regions, medical care in many parts of the world travels to the patient in the form of a visit from a local doctor or a stop at a rural clinic.

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This “last mile of care” – where the digital health finds the patient, not the other way around – is made possible as medical innovation across the globe becomes increasingly mobile, digital, personal and accessible. Digital health solutions are becoming more connected, affordable and convenient for both the patient and caregiver. A Journal of Hospital Librarianship study found that 85 percent of health care providers were already using smartphones or tablets in their daily work.

Digital health, in other words, is here.

Data from remote monitoring devices, such as smart scales and blood pressure cuffs, are being transmitted to doctors around the world to improve patient outcomes. In remote areas across Latin America, cloud technology allows doctors to share ultrasound images with their patients and distant colleagues with the simple click of a button. Similarly, pocket-sized ultrasound technology is helping midwives in Africa determine if expectant mothers can deliver babies safely, or need to go to the nearest hospital.

Big data, analytics and artificial intelligence enable health care to be more personalized and precise, a fact with which patients appear increasingly comfortable. Virtual assistants on our phones or kitchen counters are dispensing medical advice from WebMD, and a recent global PwC survey across 12 countries showed that nearly 40 percent of people trusted AI and robotics to administer a heart rhythm test and then make clinical recommendations. That hypothetical is already becoming a reality. A new algorithm server is helping medical professionals read patients’ ECGs remotely and AI is helping doctors diagnose lung cancer in China.

In emergency rooms and operating rooms across the world, machines are generating millions of data points, but only a small fraction are harvested and saved in hospitals’ electronic medical record systems. Gathering, analyzing and acting on this deluge of data is the next step. Clinicians can now use cloud-based, algorithm-powered apps to pull hundreds of data points directly from anesthesia machines with every patient breath. These apps unlock actionable insights that can help clinicians with clinical, operational and economic improvements.
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