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The promise of AI in healthcare

Aug 31, 2022 - Reading time 4-6 minutes

When it comes to new forms of care delivery to create positive change, what role can new technology such as artificial intelligence play?

Matt Moran, Managing Director of Philips Australia and New Zealand, joins Peter Birch in an episode of Talking HealthTech podcast. Together they discuss the potential of predictive technologies to improve healthcare and health outcomes, and deep dive into insights from the 2022 Future Health Index Australian report.

Podcast transcript


It is becoming increasingly apparent that one of the most significant roles of technology in healthcare is achieving health equity - extending access to healthcare to more people worldwide. Access to quality healthcare should not be a privilege but a basic human right.


With more technology comes more data, of course - and how we use that data could really move the needle towards improving health equity- perhaps the insights from this data could be analysed to predict issues, and as a global society, we move towards more prevention than treatment.

But the many challenges in healthcare, like information silos, unreliable technology infrastructure, staff shortages, workforce digital capability etc., make it harder to implement in reality. What do Australian healthcare leaders need to do something meaningful with healthcare data at their disposal so as to drive the concept of data-driven healthcare from a mere pipeline dream into reality?

Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic


Australian healthcare was fairly resilient and got through the pandemic comparatively well despite the huge challenges like pressure on staff and facilities. One of the great realisations of the pandemic was the role technology can play may not be so profound as to cause any fears. A classic example of such a role is telehealth. There are now numerous telehealth consultants now in comparison to the pre-pandemic period.

It was realised that technology can be as simple as a plug-and-play system as it was typically used in the care of covid patients who did not need to physically visit a hospital with the risk of infecting healthy people. Hence, technology was critical in keeping contagious people away from infecting others. There are a lot of lessons on technology that have proven themselves and can be used to drive enhancements within the system to make it more sustainable and resilient long term.

Adopting Emerging Technology in Healthcare


There was a sense of urgency in adopting technologies in the wake of the pandemic. It would be a shame to lose that sense of urgency now. There are still many challenges in healthcare. Technology can be used to deliver care to lower cost locations like the home, which worked well during the pandemic and helped to address other healthcare challenges.

Technology: Improving Health Equity


Accessing healthcare through a telehealth consult is better than driving several hours just to get to a general practitioner. This is especially true for patients living in rural and remote locations. Philips conducts an annual study called The Future Health Index. The Future Health Index helps to understand the attitude toward healthcare and the challenges and readiness of the health system to continue to transform and evolve. It also helps to drive discussions and dialogue towards meaningful change.

It has been conducted annually for the past seven years, and the 2022 edition was only recently completed. The 2022 study revealed that healthcare leaders (heads of departments in hospitals and other healthcare facilities) consider access to healthcare and healthcare equality as a top priority. And another 40% believe that in the next three years, it will become more important. The recognition and enthusiasm to address these issues are present, and they are key to causing any change.

The Future Health Index Report: Issues Arising


Infrastructural challenges like internet speed are critical factors. For example, 28% of Australians live in rural areas, with 40% of them having poor quality internet speed unfit for a video consultation. So, there is a need to address the quality of infrastructure so as to increase access. Excellent outcomes can be achieved by patients not having to travel vast distances to access healthcare or by doctor’s intervention at the right time.

Three-quarters of surveyed health leaders believe that predictive analytics and predictive health technologies can increase healthcare equality. Essentially, data can be collected and consolidated in usable formats to create insights. For example, various datasets can be collected from people in rural and remote locations and then, over time, benchmarked with other datasets from unidentified or de-identified patients. This can be used to predict the healthcare needs of people and help to prevent waste, e.g. preventing the unnecessary use of doctors’ time on patients who do not need it.

With this technology, patients in remote locations may no longer need to drive long distances just to visit a doctor. Digital technology can be used to measure and predict what could go wrong with the patient in such a situation.

All of these have a lot to do with AI. The datasets are built, and then algorithms are used to predict the actual outcomes. Furthermore, more than 40% of healthcare professionals are beginning to invest in AI because of the benefits they see in it, like predicting patients’ outcomes, improving clinical diagnosis, and confidence in the diagnosis. It also has upsides in clinical settings and operational settings in terms of managing resources, bottlenecks in hospital flows, etc. A study from the Grattan institute says that the use of more resources can be optimised with the proper management of bottlenecks. AI and algorithms take away the guesswork from questions like who should go into an ICU, at what point should they be discharged from an ICU into step-down care, at what point should they be discharged and allowed to go home, etc. Instead of making judgments by mere observations, vital signs could be collected, and algorithms used to measure them against other datasets, which could produce insights to reach a more informed decision.

AI Augmenting Clinicians


Philips considers AI as a technology that needs to be adapted into the workflow to eliminate waste and enhance peoples’ impacts and jobs. It can help free up a health professional to spend more time on critical patients who actually need it. Essentially, it is about adapting AI into existing workflows rather than having it take over the clinician’s job.

Barriers to Implementing Health Tech Solutions


Major challenges include integration, interoperability and infrastructure. Three-quarters of Australian healthcare leaders from the Future Health Index Study revealed that silos within their organisations hinder their ability to utilise data. This is higher than the global average, where only about half of healthcare leaders identified silos as a hindrance. About a third of Australian healthcare leaders said infrastructure was not helping, particularly in rural and remote locations where the challenge of infrastructure is obvious. Interoperability, security, and privacy are also critical. It is still a challenge to have secured standard systems that can be worked on, and data can be exchanged in a secured and private way and benchmarked against large datasets to create a prediction of outcomes. Data privacy is important to drive trust and confidence in utilising technologies.

Staff and skill shortages are another barrier. The Future Health Index study some years ago focused on young healthcare professionals coming into the profession. It was expected that these younger generations of healthcare professionals will be more comfortable with data, but nearly half of them said that they are not confident that they can use digital data to inform their decisions.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said that they are overwhelmed by the amount of available data. They have so much data but cannot build the data into actionable insights. Being able to bring it all together and integrating all the diagnostic data to give insights is an absolutely critical element. Hence, it is important not to have so much data that overwhelms healthcare professionals but to have the data pulled together in a meaningful way that can be used to enhance patients’ care. The use of predictive technology can be used to help pull all that data together and serve it up as insightful information that can be used to impact patients’ care. This is an area where Matt sees opportunities for AI and predictive technologies to crunch the data together into actionable insights.

Nearly half of healthcare professionals say they need a data specialist to help them out. Since many healthcare professionals specialise in caring for patients, they may need others who can help them crunch the data. Though bringing in additional people may increase costs, it may also drive up productivity. If some inefficiencies in the healthcare system can be eliminated through the good use of data, then some of the increased costs can be offset through increased productivity and efficiency elsewhere.

Assistance Offered by Technology


There are some fantastic use cases out there.

For example, in Australia, there is a unit in Perth that is a 12-hour time difference from Atlanta. A night shift for an intensive care unit in a hospital in Atlanta can be covered in Perth. This basically eliminates the need for a night shift. The night shift is when typically things go wrong because people are sleeping and not necessarily at the top of their game. Effectively, data can be used to get information in real time, which can be used to predict deterioration.

The cameras and measurement systems can keep an eye on what is going on. So, instead of the intensivist doing the usual rounds of the ICU or general unit and checking every half hour, one can literally be sitting on the other side of the world watching the data coming in real-time and then prompt when an intervention may be required.

For Matt, the ability to watch a large number of patients in a more efficient way and then intervene when necessary is a fantastic example of technology enabling efficiency. Taking some night shifts away in some circumstances is good for healthcare professionals. It needs to be implemented well and integrated into the normal workflow, and it needs to enhance the way people work.

The Future of Philips in Australia


Philips is still transforming as a health technology company and will continue to bring fantastic innovations to the market. The key thing for Philips is uncovering information, trends and attitudes, driving discussions around health and coming up with meaningful next steps on how to improve healthcare. The future of healthcare is an integrated hybrid system that is not constrained by the four walls of a hospital. It is optimised to be as efficient as possible and focused on patients’ experiences and outcomes. Philips will continue to drive towards achieving all of these as they will prove useful for the sustainability of healthcare globally.

Talking HealthTech
features content and community for those wanting to learn and connect about technology in healthcare.

This episode was originally published here.

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