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Jan 02, 2019

Unlocking data to improve global health

Estimated reading time: 6-8 minutes

 

Today you can send money to your friends using apps like PayPal or Venmo, make payments by swiping your phone, and access your bank account, anytime, anywhere whether in Haarlem or Harlem. Transactions flow freely and securely, in real-time across the globe. In the last few decades the financial industry has been investing substantially to deploy a secure and truly global information infrastructure.

 

The world’s expenditure on healthcare will be around $8.7 trillion by 2020. It is becoming increasingly an information-driven industry, but infrastructure investments have been largely in brick and mortar. It is time to consider how we can best address the need for secure health data frameworks, similar to those used in financial services. This will require a major step up in interoperability: ensuring that systems, applications and devices can securely exchange data in a standardized way for better diagnosis and treatment. Sharing information across organizations, geographic boundaries and between clinicians, labs, hospitals, pharmacies and patients, regardless of where the information entered the system, would have a profound impact. A Health Data Infrastructure will improve care coordination, quality and efficiency. It will allow the successful deployment of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will ultimately transform the industry.

It is mind-boggling that in an industry where people are making life-saving decisions every day, they may not have access to critical information.

Breaking down barriers

I’ve previously written about the silo-ed nature of medical information and how that impacts everyone from patients to healthcare practitioners. I first experienced the lack of connectivity and information sharing in healthcare when I was living in the U.S. My daughter was diagnosed with Type I. The burden to collect all the information and sharing it with various caregivers was on us. I know this experience is not unique and anyone who has been a patient can relate. My daughter, who now lives in the Netherlands, puts it as follows: “I am the data aggregator and care coordinator”. It is mind-boggling that in an industry where people are making life-saving decisions every day, they may not have access to critical information. Since I saw the impact of this issue up close, I’ve become a staunch advocate for breaking down barriers so that we can move to an open, connected health system.

 

We launched Philips HealthSuite a few years ago to create the open, cloud-based infrastructure for health solutions, establishing a trusted network to securely share health data. For example, Alcon, the eyecare division of Novartis, is using Philips HealthSuite to connect multiple diagnostic and surgical devices and data sources to improve cataract surgery for surgeons and patients. Integrating equipment, EMR systems and technologies will simplify procedures while making them more precise, and ensure they are consistent, efficient, and produce better patient outcomes.

Medicine is a complex adaptive system: it is made up of many interconnected, multilayered parts, and it is meant to evolve with time and changing conditions.

Most of today’s IT systems are based on static data and fixed workflow models with cumbersome user interfaces. As Atul Gawande observed: “Medicine is a complex adaptive system: it is made up of many interconnected, multilayered parts, and it is meant to evolve with time and changing conditions. Software is not. It is complex, but it does not adapt. That is the heart of the problem for its users, us humans.” But the industry is evolving. We are working on what we call “adaptive intelligence”; systems that understand user preferences and workstyle, as well as clinical context to truly augment professionals. An example is Illumeo, AI-enabled software which learns how radiologists work, automatically quantifying and comparing studies, as well as filtering electronic medical records for relevant data leading to quicker diagnosis. The same approach is applied to emergency care, the ICU and home care. Building those types of solutions to full impact requires an open approach and a robust health data infrastructure.

Creating a trusted network of data

However, there are hurdles to overcome. Creating a trusted network of data requires proper governance and accepted standards for end-to-end security, encryption, identity and consent management and data exchange. Healthcare has many standards, like DICOM, HL7 and the more state-of-the-art FHIR, that need to be upheld. Devices and systems need to provide open access to data through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). We expect both industry players and regulatory bodies to address this with urgency in the coming years. If this doesn’t become a reality, then it’s likely providers will find that working in the digital era will be increasingly difficult. Without a concerted move towards interoperability, there will be limited scope for better patient outcomes and lower cost.

 

Successfully deploying AI at scale requires interoperable health IT systems. The quality of AI is only as good as the quality of the data that you feed into it, so ensuring it is semantically interoperable and handled with the right privacy and security regulation is essential. Fortunately AI can also help make information interoperable through natural language processing. Today, part of the difficulty in healthcare is that more than 75% of all information is unstructured, often in reports and comments written by doctors. A system that can interpret written text, quantify images and securely share information would give clinicians a longitudinal, full picture of their patient’s health to make the best possible diagnosis and treatment decisions.

 

Over the past several years, I’ve seen exciting emerging technologies that enable new models, which reflect the dynamic, emerging nature of healthcare. The success of these technologies depends on our ability to effectively aggregate, normalize and analyze data across health systems, apps, wearables and medical devices. We envision a future in which we can access and interpret longitudinal health data at any time, from anywhere. Healthcare professionals will get relevant, contextualized information. They will converse naturally with systems and be freed up to focus more on delivering truly personal care. Patients will get more control over their health. The increased access and continuity of care, supported by dynamic systems and open data, will transform health for billions of patients across the globe. We need the infrastructure to get there.

 

There are many reasons for optimism. Innovation in healthcare is happening all around the globe, from the US and Netherlands to China and India. We all feel the increasing pressure to improve health outcomes and access to care. If interoperability and a robust health data infrastructure come to fruition in the coming years, then the experience of patients and providers will be radically different than it is today.

If interoperability and health data infrastructure come to fruition in the coming years, then the experience of patients and providers will be radically different than it is today.

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Jeroen Tas

Jeroen Tas

Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer

Jeroen Tas is Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer of Royal Philips. Jeroen is an experienced global executive and entrepreneur with a track record of leading innovation in the healthcare, information technology and financial services industries. Leading the company’s global Innovation & Strategy organization, he’s responsible for creating a pipeline of innovative business propositions that address emerging customer needs and enable a high-growth, profitable health continuum strategy.

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