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Calling Dr. Algorithm

Richard Adler | Oct. 15, 2014
Technology is poised to make big changes in the delivery of healthcare.

Over the past few years, IBM and its medical partners have been giving Watson a medical education that includes access to more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, more than 2 million pages from medical journals and the ability to search 1.5 million patient records. Initial medical uses include a research project with Sutter Health and Geisinger Health Systems (with $2 million in funding from the National Institutes for Health) to identify early signs of heart disease, and an effort by WellPoint and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to improve decisions about cancer care using big data analytics. According to WellPoint's chief medical officer, Samuel Nussbaum, Watson has the potential to improve the rate of making optimal decisions about cancer treatment from the current rate of 50% to at least 90%.

Other approaches to making healthcare more intelligent and more reliable are also being explored. For example, collaboration at Stanford University between the Clinical Excellence Research Center and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is developing an AI-Assisted Care system to visually monitor activities in locations like hospital intensive-care units to ensure that all critical workflow protocols are being followed properly.

Getting policy right
The combination of broadband connectivity, smart devices and intelligent healthcare applications holds enormous potential to transform the way that healthcare services are provided to everyone. To accelerate this transformation, policymakers will need to appreciate the disruptive impact that the convergence of the healthcare and communications will have on the future of healthcare delivery and take steps to ensure that our nation's healthcare and communications laws are modernized to reflect this new paradigm.Assuming that the right policies are in place, these technologies that seem avant garde today are likely to become parts of mainstream healthcare sooner than we imagine. mHealth applications will become standard treatment for virtually all at-risk patients. While services such as SOC are currently focused on hospitals (partly because of reimbursement policies), telemedicine services will move steadily to other places, including homes. Already, the Veterans Administration is using a relatively simple technology to monitor the health status of some 100,000 sick, frail or disabled veterans at home on a daily basis. Eventually, telemedicine will deliver medical care whenever and wherever it is needed.

And someday in the not too distant future, as we begin to realize the full benefits of new technology, the idea that doctors had to make critical diagnoses and treat patients on their own without intelligent assistance may seem as old-fashioned and even as barbaric as healthcare in the time when no antibiotics were available for treating infections and surgeries were conducted without anesthesia.


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