The adoption of electronic health records (EHR) during the past decade has reached critical mass. According to the latest data from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 96% of acute care hospitals in the United States are using EHR systems. The resulting deluge of patient data has created a treasure trove of information that will help diagnose diseases earlier and improve patient outcomes by finding optimal courses of treatment. Recent advances in big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning are on the verge of making all of that patient information even more useful. And although it may take years to come to fruition, blockchain is being explored as one possible solution to maintaining the privacy and security of all of this sensitive patient data. Some of the technologies driving health care innovation have yet to mature, but they are already bringing a data-driven, patient-focused future of medicine closer to reality.
Advanced EHR Platforms
The avalanche of patient data captured by EHRs is not only enabling doctors to better manage individual patient health; when taken together, all of that data can be analyzed to inform future diagnoses and treatment plans. Though the benefits are clear, EHR vendors are facing an interoperability crisis. A 2018 Deloitte survey found that when asked what they’d change about their current workplace, 62% of physicians cited making EHR systems more interoperable.
Apple is among the tech giants working to develop a digital health platform that gives both patients and physicians better control over EHRs. The new Apple Health Records program lets patients view and update their records from their iPhones. Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles are among 39 early adopters.
Major players in the tech industry are also collaborating to allow seamless sharing of information among their systems. In August , Amazon, Microsoft and others who are working on EHR platforms released a joint statement expressing their commitment to improving access to health care interoperability technologies.
I believe that advanced EHR platforms that can communicate important data across the digital borders that currently divide health care facilities can take enormous burden off of patients. These platforms can also ensure that providers have accurate, potentially lifesaving information about the people in their care.
AI And Automation
Many health-care facilities are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to provide doctors with clinical diagnoses, manage population health and determine the best courses of action for disease management. Now, we are beginning to see advances in deep learning that will lead to even more promising tools to increase quality of life and even save lives.
In April, the Food and Drug Administration approved an AI tool called IDx-DR that analyzes images of the back of a patient’s eye to scan for diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can lead to blindness. This is just the first government approval of an AI program to make diagnoses without a doctor’s interpretation. In the meantime, researchers are also working on software to analyze lab results and detect such diseases as cancer and lung disease .
Medical facilities are also beginning to use what’s known as robotic process automation bots to handle administrative work that is currently being done by humans. Though they are not true examples of AI, these bots can be programmed to perform time-consuming tasks, such as filing insurance claims and requesting primary care physician referrals with more accuracy and in a fraction of the time.
Best known for supporting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain is essentially a virtual ledger that facilitates secure, decentralized and transparent operations. Blockchain systems are incredibly difficult to hack because the system encrypts each transaction and verifies each user with public/private key cryptography.
One example of its current application in health care is Change Healthcare’s blockchain app , which they created to track the status of claims. Though blockchain is relatively new, I believe it will ultimately provide hospitals with more secure, productive and efficient ways of dealing with back-end administrative work so that providers can truly focus on treating their patients.
Tech companies are going full speed ahead on innovations that will allow consumers to take charge of their health and empower doctors to improve patient well-being substantially. If these companies are successful, I believe that patients will begin to see benefits at every stage of care. They’ll get more out of appointments with physicians, and their illnesses will be diagnosed and treated with more accuracy. Though blockchain’s full potential is yet to be determined, the technology could not only secure our most sensitive information but also make the health care system far easier to navigate.