Last Week in Health Tech: December 4, 2017.

Written by Drew Rushmer on Dec 11, 2017 11:36:13 AM

This week, our main focus is mental health, AI, and calls for innovation in areas where the current “state of the art” is, at best, low-tech. Plus, some interesting stuff around the human genome! Here’s the...

The Best of
Last Week in Health Tech

In an interrogative piece on the Healthcare Informatics website, the author posed the question of whether or not “technology can transform behavioral care.” The piece also included an interview with Don Mordecai, M.D., National Leader for Mental Health and Wellness for the Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente organization. The piece mostly focused on how “standalone” digital solutions that might work in other fields are not likely to work as well in the field of mental health; instead, digital tools need to be used as only part of an overall clinical treatment that often includes medication and least some kind of talk therapy. This is not to say that technology has no place in mental health, but rather its place is secondary to professionals in the field.

On the simpler side of things, there is an array of relatively low-tech devices like specially-tuned lamps and visors that put out light at a very specific wavelength in order to “trick” the brain into a rhythm and into feeling better. These lights are designed to help those with sleep disorders and/or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and have worked wonders for some. The article touches specifically on the efforts of large institutions like Kaiser Permanente, an “integrated hospital and health system with 20 thousand employed physicians serving 11.8 million members, with 4 million mental health visits per year” (less than half of the adults with mental illness actually sought help, so in truth, that number should be twice as large).

Perhaps technology has been slower in this sector of healthcare because it isn't visible, so to speak; mental illness has no rash nor fever, and can thus sometimes seem like less of a problem than it truly is. Often, it can be difficult to tell whether a friend or loved one is suffering from mental illness unless they come right out and say so, which, as mentioned just above, only happens in about half of adult cases. However, because of the drastic difference in patient outcomes when it comes to those who sought help versus those who did not, this is not an issue we can afford to treat as invisible, and it’s encouraging to see health systems treating mental health it as seriously as it deserves.

Aside from this relatively rare in-depth coverage of mental health, telemedicine and other varieties of remote assistance made some big splashes last week. First, there were the 6,600 or so people left without a doctor in British Columbia. Business Vancouver gave some great coverage on how they were able to use remote medical tools to get their basic healthcare needs met in a very remote region. Secondly, another article focuses on a more general case of community hospitals having trouble keeping up with the current state-of-the-art for health information systems (HIS). An article on the topic discusses how community (read: rural) hospitals have “limited access to the most current Health Information System applications”, a problem  which forces them to practice medicine using dated tools and information. Not unlike many consumer devices, enterprise-level devices like HIS’ only have a short lifespan during which they can be serviced and maintained for relatively cheap; once that lifespan ends, they require major upgrades or total replacement. The article includes how some community hospitals are addressing this issue by forming partnerships to use others' more up-to-date systems, as well as strategies for the evaluation of HIS themselves.

In what was perhaps the most long-awaited piece of news, we learned last week that the success of the Human Genome Project lies not only in its mapping of the human genome (though that certainly is an achievement unto itself), but rather in how we can actually use that information to better our health. According to HealthTech’s website, genomic medicine is poised to become much more widely available and much more useful due to the “technology advancements” that have “dramatically” reduced the cost of DNA sequencing in less than two decades. The article does a good job exploring which technologies afforded this advance, how genomic medicine is already improving healthcare, and what barriers we have yet to overcome.

In other areas, there was coverage around a topic that technology helped us discover, but will require human discipline to actually further. A piece on Modern Medicine’s website shone a light on how public health initiatives may be how we as a species can better our health across the board in the most impactful way. Nearly 70% of providers surveyed “believe poor eating habits are preventing better health for patients” and, again, nearly 70% believe “a barrier to better health is lack of exercise.” Scarier still, nearly 60% attributed poor health to patients delaying or skipping entirely a visit to the doctor. All of these findings speak to a current patient attitude that expects technology to take care of what they themselves can but, according to the numbers, do not seem willing to do in order to significantly better their own health.

The Rest of the Best

  • In more AI-related news, reported on opinions about AI in healthcare from various academics as well as the manager of IBMs competition to Deepmind, Watson. According to him, by the end of the year “over 20,000 patients [and] over 200 hospitals” will be using Watson’s AI to help oncologists with both detection and treatment.
  • Continuing the AI trend, featured a piece about why the consumer data boom is good for healthcare and AI. The argument comes down to the fact that the better any ML or AI dataset has to learn from, the “smarter” it will be, so the large dataset from things like wearables as well as the big data sets held by both corporations and nations alike will make ML and AI applications more accurate and, as much as the phrase can apply, more “open minded.”
  • According to an article on the HealthcareITNews site, the “underwhelming” results from both EHRs and wearable devices stem largely from issues with data flow and a lack of interoperability. So, too, will other technologies labor to bring us their full potential because of how, as the article puts it, “an unwieldy HIT ecosystem...especially related to digital medicine, has developed.” The piece argues that potential innovators should look to the drug and device industries as “examples to establish a successful ecosystem of innovation.”
  • Healthcare Informatics also published a piece that analyzed the results of a new survey and whose author’s goal is to identify the “Top Technology Priorities for Healthcare System Leaders in 2018.”
  • For a great interview from last week, look no further than the Huffington Post’s series, “Future Tech for Good,” in which they published an interview with Philips executive Liat Ben-Zur, who shared “examples of future healthcare tech now.”
  • Another compelling piece came last week from Ireland, in a interview with Bill Doherty, of Cook Medical. Though not quite an interview, there was a panel of representatives from many healthcare verticals that discussed “gene therapy, ‘homespitals,’ telemedicine and “non-addictive medicine.” The piece comes in the form of a video of the Axios360 panel.
  • From the HealthcareITNews’ website, the problem of finding a “unified approach to mobile care collaboration” was highlighted.
  • The University of Washington published a piece asking “Why..US health care is so expensive.”
  • Medical technology is behind when it comes to value-based care, according to one article on the Medical Design & Outsourcing’s website. The same site featured an article about a new startup, “BioSig,” and how they are using the “plug and play” model of computer peripherals as a business strategy in the development of the presurgical asset that is the BioSig product.
  • There was a fascinating video in which Harvard’s school of public health held a panel on “health data and privacy”. The video covers many of the issues we have discussed here, including which (if any) trade offs between privacy and better healthcare need to be made, as well as how we might go about using Machine Learning (ML) to mine data for meaningful insight.
  • Singapore expects its health costs to rise by “at least $3 billion,” due mostly to an aging populace and expensive advances in technology.
  • In the American Medical Association’s publication, “AMA Wire,” a senior staff writer ruminates on the many challenges still facing healthcare technology. In a positive spin, she also takes a look at some projects that promise a “new era.”


That's it for this week. Happy December!

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Drew Rushmer

Written by Drew Rushmer

Drew Rushmer is a writer reporting on IT and healthcare news. He is also a philosophy and literature nerd, which fuels his passion for writing on the web.

Topics: Health Tech

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