Your doctor is going digital: What the rise of medtech means for you

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Five years into the future, doctors will be empowered with a wide array of exponential technologies and will become the most efficient they have ever been. Physicians or artificial intelligence systems will have the ability to know your health status, perhaps even before you do, thanks to the combination of three important factors: artificial intelligence, electronic medical records/digital medicine and sensor technology.

mobilize-2013-essayEvery one of the aforementioned technologies has enough depth to merit an essay of its own, and their peak impact on healthcare will have varying time frames. On their own they have tremendous potential, but when united, the possibilities for medical breakthroughs are endless. This health care revolution is happening right in front of us and we as physicians, can either witness it as it takes place or become part of it.

Artificial intelligence eases information overload

To understand the tremendous potential of AI it is important to look back at its history and two major events. The first was in 1997 when IBM’s project Deep Blue defeated the chess champion Garry Kasparov, and the second was in 2011 when IBM’s Watson defeated Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in Jeopardy without a problem. These are meaningful because Watson, or AI, was mostly given unstructured data to prepare for such a task, yet with every question asked, Watson accessed the data in matter of milliseconds, answering correctly every time.

How does this apply to medicine? Well, most physicians can read, at most, 15 hours per month, the equivalent of two to three journals. Watson can read 4,000 articles in the same time, adding to it a 100 percent retention rate and then creating algorithms that aim to target particular clinical scenarios. Finally, it extracts precise and relevant data to elaborate the best possible management. If an algorithm doesn’t lead to a positive outcome it is discarded.

IBM's Watson Computer System Plays Jeopardy! in a Practice Round

Watson finished medical school in one week, and now it is being trained in different medical specialties, as to one day help healthcare providers offer patients the best possible care. As Mark Kris, Chief of Thoracic Oncology at New York’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said “It’s going to be the ultimate in personalized medicine, because it is going to be able to learn more facts about you than any one doctor or health-care system can, and can process them in a way that will ultimately be useful to your care.”

The role of digital medicine and electronic medical records

Electronic medical records have helped healthcare providers become more efficient by offering better patient care. Yet, this type of document organization, order placement, laboratory check-ups, digital imaging, and e-prescribing are only the surface of the true potential laying within EMRs.
medical record
The most important aspect of EMRs is the unstructured data that comes from the doctor-patient interaction. Patient histories, progress notes, procedure notes, discharge summaries, are all collated properly to seamlessly tell the story of the patient’s progress and how the decisions of the medical team played a role in this.

Imagine a 15-minute clinic visit, where physicians sometimes need to digest and absorb days or weeks of information in a matter of minutes — it can be overwhelming. Yet by taking advantage of AI where the unstructured and structured data can be broken down into information blocks that the learning algorithm considers to be of utmost importance to come to non-biased conclusion, it can allow the physician to decide between the different diagnoses and therapeutic interventions.

Analyzing medical records and mapping the information can also yield statistical summaries, helping doctors follow the tendencies of a cohort of patients and identify who did well and why, and who did not. This is of the utmost importance as this concept can help in cases where guidelines have not yet been set — where the AI and doctor has no algorithm. Analyzing data can help create specific algorithms to determine the best approach to a particular patient, and his very specific circumstances.

Sensors and wearable technology

The market has an ample array of sensors, and most of us already own one. Each one of us are capturing our own personal and specific data. Currently, sensors can give us blood pressure, number of respirations, calories burned, heart rate during rest and exercise, oxygen saturation, etc.

The Scanadu health monitoring device

The Scanadu health monitoring device

And thanks to computational biologists, we will soon be witnessing “biochemical” sensor startups. These new sensors will aim to obtain biochemical profiles, complete blood cell counts, cardiac enzymes, and other pertinent lab results from inside the body. The concept of tele-monitoring will change drastically and telemedicine will skyrocket in the coming years.

In addition what this means is that with the proper developed platform, incorporating all these data could alert patients, or signal alarms that would recommend them to visit their healthcare provider before the condition starts worsening. This brings pre-emptive and preventative to a different level.

Yet, if we take this even further, it starts getting more exciting when we consider incorporating this information into the digital medical records and having them analyzed by AI. If done properly, AI could identify very detailed and specific ailments and make proper recommendations as far as the patient’s lifestyle and even to their prescribed medications.

Creating a well-rounded and solid environment for these technologies to interact among themselves will provide the foundation for a platform that will further allow the integrations of emerging exponential technologies and greatly empower healthcare professionals to provide the best care possible.

These changes are on a global scale; they will not only modify how medicine is practiced in the United States, but how it’s practiced throughout the world. It is a medical revolution that will lead to the improvement in the quality of life of millions of people. There is nothing more exhilarating and visibly crucial for medicine, and it shall be achieved, through hard work and the proper use of medical technology.

Dr. Christian Assad-Kottner is the, co-founder of PRNIZE, founder of CPRGLASS, director of medical innovation and technology at ITESM/TECSALUD and Interventional Cardiology fellow at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. This essay is part of a series ahead of the GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco Oct. 16 and 17th.

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