Paul Brian Contino, Vice President of IT, The Guthrie Clinic
e Google, Uber, Skype, and Zelle – This has become the new vernacular of the digital transformation (DT) that has reshaped our consumer experience. From retail to transportation to banking, the impact of DT is all around us and only a click away on our smartphones. The momentum of DT is driving all industries to take a hard look at their use of technology as well as their business models with a prominent spotlight on the consumer.
As for healthcare, it has been a slow journey into the digital world. While medicine has seen incredible advances in diagnostics, treatments, and therapies, the practice of medicine needs an overhaul. It has taken over ten years to implement electronic medical records even with substantial government incentives. I’m often reminded of the work still to be done every time I see a clipboard or a fax machine in a doctor’s office.
Today we see healthcare costs continuing to rise, growing concerns about physician burnout, forecasted shortages of both nurses and physicians over the next decade, and rural hospitals closing at alarming rates. How can we blunt the impact of these factors? Technology innovation may be the answer.
Three technologies look to have a significant impact on healthcare – IoT (Internet of Things), AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning), and 5G. But I see the confluence of these technologies having the most significant opportunity to address some of the pressing issues we face.
IoT, AI/ML, 5G - How these technologies help
IoT (Internet of Things) has opened up a world of possibilities in healthcare. Sensors and medical wearables have advanced rapidly in the last few years and have hit a price point that makes them affordable for routine use by patients.
Combining health and wellness data with traditional clinical data gives us the ability to track the early onset of illness and develop the diagnostic indicators for identification and treatment
Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring allow health systems to extend their reach into new geographies and the homes of patients, increasing patient access and to allow lower cost interactions and diagnostic capabilities that previously required an office visit.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (AI/ML) is still evolving, but these tools can augment the capabilities of the clinician with better diagnostic and predictive tools. ML algorithms are already being used to customize oncology protocols, analyze medical images, and predict patient risk factors. As these tools advance, I can see AI taking on a more prominent role in medical diagnosis and treatment recommendations to the point where patients can interact with AI-powered apps for the management of a chronic disease or the diagnosis of an illness without having to see a doctor in person. With 45% of the U.S. population having at least one chronic condition, we can reduce costs if these conditions can be self-managed. AI systems combined with IoT would allow for continuous monitoring of a patient while providing clinical guidance and care recommendations tailored for that patient. Automatic alerts could be sent to their doctor or family member if there was a severe status change. Putting AI in the hands of patients would allow clinicians to focus less on routine medical management issues and address more complex cases and potentially more patients overall.
5G will provide the next generation of internet connectivity and is estimated to be about 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G networks. 5G technology will be critical to support the growing array of connected devices expected in the coming years. For remote patient monitoring to work at scale, we will need this technology to handle the data traffic and bandwidth requirements for medical IoT and wearable. 5G is also being positioned to provide rural America with much-needed bandwidth. This will be critical for rural and vital care hospitals that often do not have specialists on staff. It would enable real-time virtual consultations with other institutions and remote monitoring.
At the core of all this innovation is the creation of an invaluable digital asset – DATA. The importance of the aggregate data set in healthcare cannot be understated. For the first time in history, we will have medical, genetic, social, consumer health, and wellness data for millions of people. This creates new opportunities for research and discovery made possible by this data and may yield the most comprehensive view of human health and disease we have ever had. Combining health and wellness data with traditional clinical data gives us the ability to track the early onset of illness and develop the diagnostic indicators for identification and treatment. This data will reframe our perspectives on population health and precision medicine. Advancement of AI/ML algorithms will be enhanced by utilizing these extensive data sets for training and optimization.
Leading healthcare organizations are focusing their attention on the next generation digital experience for their clinicians and patients (or should I say, healthcare consumers). I expect the healthcare systems of tomorrow will look nothing like what we have today – and technology will be the differentiator.