What This Health Care Revolution Means for You
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because some of the biggest technology changes are happening in the world of health care.
By Neil Parmar
OZY and Predix from GE — the cloud-based development platform built for industry — have partnered to bring you an inside look at the future of digital industries, where people, data and productivity meet.
Like many wide-eyed wannabe doctors who began medical school in the 1980s, Dr. Tim Sielaff spent years consulting with patients while an influx of computers triggered sudden changes in certain industries. But where was the rapid-fire, tech-driven revolution that was supposed to transform the health care sector? Not that long ago, surgeries were more invasive, complications occurred more regularly and patients spent more money, often only to see fewer positive outcomes.
That’s all started to change recently — thanks to a new wave of big data access, better patient analytics and increasingly sophisticated medical tech. At Allina Health, a not-for-profit health care system based in Minneapolis and where Dr. Sielaff is now chief medical officer, patients have benefited from these changes and are less likely to undergo unnecessary procedures or experience complications. They also don’t need to return as often, and their recovery time has been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, budget-sweating bean counters in accounting have saved $100 million in the past 12 months alone. “It’s a fantastic time to be in medicine,” Dr. Sielaff says.
Data historically held by the government … “is now increasingly, openly available in machine-readable form.”
Aneesh Chopra, cofounder of Hunch Analytics and former chief technology officer of the U.S. government
Indeed, more health care systems around the world are expected to digitally dig through troves of information and plug them into the cloud to help identify patients who are at a higher risk of preventable readmission, to cut the likelihood of repeat visits and to better allocate resources. After spending trillions of wasted dollars — around 30 cents of every buck spent on health care in the U.S. in 2012 was in some way unnecessary, the Institute of Medicine says — more hospitals, medical centers and the like are beefing up their data-crunching analytic superpowers.
For patients, these changes will likely usher in an elevated phase of care with fewer misdiagnoses and major procedures. At Allina Health, teams of doctors have cut the number of times they’ve had to duplicate surgical procedures for certain breast cancer patients. They’ve also improved outcomes in people who’ve had spinal surgeries and reduced the risk of bleeding among patients who’ve needed nonsurgical procedures such as percutaneous coronary intervention. “There are 100 other examples,” Dr. Sielaff says. But Allina is hardly alone. About 40 percent of health care providers are going on a spending spree with their cloud-services budgets, which are expected to more than double by 2020, from $3.7 billion last year to $9.5 billion. Over at IDC Health Insights, Cynthia Burghard, the research director of Accountable Care IT Strategies, says hospitals, medical facilities and doctors’ offices can no longer afford to ignore the benefits these new information sources and technologies can provide.
Benefits are expected to trickle down to a wider array of people as research figures and patient data become more readily available in real time to physicians, who are in turn getting smarter with all of this info sometimes accessible in the palm of their hands. Thanks, iPhone! Plus, data historically held by the government — including figures from Medicare claims, surveys and public health officials — “is now increasingly, openly available in machine-readable form,” says Aneesh Chopra, the cofounder of Hunch Analytics. He was previously appointed by President Barack Obama as the U.S.’s first chief technology officer. “Researchers not only can read reports on the data, but applications can incorporate such data into new products and services.”
What might this next phase look like? Picture a broader use of “smart” wearable devices such as a fitness tracker or watch that tracks your heart rate and steps taken, as well as thermometers that can track the spread of viruses or even wheelchair cushions that tell health care professionals when a patient is at risk of pressure sores. Because of the advent of these new technologies, “more information that might not have historically been part of a ‘medical record’ are increasingly digital and available for use,” Chopra says. Wearable technology, coupled with big data analytics, has the potential to become a better predictor of problems by tracking people’s health and perhaps pinging doctors when certain conditions arise or abnormalities appear — identifying patients in need of care sooner than ever before.
Of course, serious challenges remain. After all, if government agencies can’t prevent their data from leaking or getting hacked, then local health care facilities, which are typically responsible for handling digital patient records, don’t stand much of a chance unless they properly boost their security. Data that gets picked up by health care pros also needs to get a lot less messy so your doc can actually see what the heck is going on inside you, or patients like you with similar conditions. “It’s a massive amount of data coming from very different source systems, so the data is structured differently,” says Dan Burton, CEO of Health Catalyst, a medical data and analytics platform.
But as more physicians are able to access disparate data about their patients — from anywhere, at any time — they’ll be able to more quickly and accurately make a diagnosis. The “transformation” is already underway for patients, Burton says, and more people are expected to see higher quality care that results in fewer complications and repeat visits as well as (hopefully) lower medical bills for all.
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- Neil Parmar