Healthcare is a key growth area for tech companies – here's what's changing fast

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Doctors are using AI to speak with patients, diagnose illnesses and follow up with preventative care; and it’s helping to save lives and even save billions of dollars.

At Microsoft’s recent Future Now conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr Simon Kos delighted an audience with a future vision for the technological potential in healthcare.

Move over surgical robots and drug-dispensing vending machines, Kos sees health’s precision medicine, and personalisation of care as the new frontier encompassing physical, mental and social aspects that ultimately determine our health and wellness.

It’s a future that has much more lasting impact to the way we deliver medical care.

Many of the examples that Kos gave at this conference were about enhancing the way clinicians approach the delivery of care, rather than focusing on replacing the many complex tasks they perform. The future is about leveraging vast amounts of health data and turning it into usable insights that augment and optimise the delivery of care. At the same time the goal is to free up clinicians’ time to do the things that we as human carers are really good at.

“We’re going to have wholesale shifting to new models where we use artificial intelligence to supplement the human side of delivering medicine. We’re going to see it in diagnostics first, but it will eventually pervade all areas,” Kos said.

These are the key areas he identified:

1. Precision medicine

Precision medicine relies on genomics to provide doctors with information around treatment and prevention.

Anyone who has ever suffered from an ongoing illness, whether physical or mental, will know the pain of constant testing, shifting treatment plans and the risk of proceeding down an unfamiliar treatment path.

“We can determine what the right treatment plan is for you as an individual rather than patients like you, and that means a higher likelihood of getting the right treatment the first time,” said Kos.

It can take hundreds, sometimes thousands, of unique algorithms to analyse the billions of data points from patients’ genetic profiles.

2. Mental health care

“In the US, if you have a mental illness or a substance use disorder, there’s a whole lot of stigma attached to it and the way they traditionally managed that problem is with an episodic model of care, which frankly, produces pretty poor outcomes,” Kos said.

A tech-enabled model of care leverages data to predict best practice measures and also uses telepsychiatry to connect with people on a more regular basis.

“Instead of using a highly qualified psychiatrist to see someone every six weeks, you would use a behavioural psychologist or a nurse to reach out several times a week and it changes the whole engagement dynamic,” Kos said.

Patients in this model develop far stronger, more trusting connections with their medical health provider.

3. Personalisation and prevention

Personalisation is what we all crave from the data that we give away freely, and sometimes not so freely.

“People want a personal health record that’s fed actively with information from qualified feeder systems and they want some sort of artificial intelligence (or agent) to use that data, and mine it for insights, and feed it to them in snackable, actionable ways,” Kos said.

People need the layer of AI to be the interface between us and the data about themselves, their lives and their health. They need to be able to use AI to help implement changes, improve their immediate health and make healthier choices for the future.

Prevention is one of the key areas for health because ignoring health problems can end up costing 2-3 times more, particularly with mental health and chronic diseases.

“The pace of innovation is accelerating at the moment and at a rate that is unprecedented,” Kos said.

“I think in the next five years, we’re going to see some radical change as these new models of care, enabled by technology are proven locally and internationally.”

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