"First, do no harm."
Every day, doctors try to uphold that famous dictum of the Hippocratic Oath. But what if there was a way for them to do their jobs better? What if hospitals, labs, and patients could all benefit from an improved approach to healthcare? The Industrial Internet offers the promise of better health, higher quality service, and state-of-the-art technologies to revolutionize medicine for the 21st century. Big data is at the heart of this revolution, and there are many interesting and unique ways it's shaping the new face of healthcare.
The Numbers Game
One of the big tasks doctors have is to assess risk. How likely are you to have a stroke? What is the chance you'll develop the same cancer your grandfather had? This kind of risk assessment is difficult because it's complex. Many factors contribute to whether or not a person will get a disease, and doctors have to weigh these factors correctly when recommending whether or not a patient should go on a certain medication, or make drastic changes to their lifestyle, or seek specialized treatment. For even the best doctors, knowing how to weigh risk factors can be a tricky area. But now, thanks to predictive analytics, their jobs are getting easier.
The Omnibus Risk Estimator is a calculator that factors in 9 different variables including age, systolic blood pressure, cholesterol, and smoking habits to assess the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years, and in a lifetime. It's a new quantitative approach to risk assessment issued by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. While the calculator itself is static (it takes fixed input values), it represents a paradigm shift in medicine, supplementing individual experience and intuition with data and quantitative analysis. This paradigm will expand greatly with real-time data gathered from smart medical devices. And the good news is that these devices are already on their way.
The promise of nanotechnology has been widely touted (for example, miniature devices potentially entering and living within a person's body) assessing health, reporting back via wireless communication, and perhaps even performing nanosurgery within a patient. While that technology is on its way, smart medical equipment doesn't need to wait for a nanotechnology revolution. Existing medical equipment is already getting smarter.
Patients who suffer from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) carry around inhalers for when a respiratory attack might occur. It's important for these patients to keep track of the circumstances of their attacks, in order to identify triggers and monitor how well they're improving with treatment. But patients often forget to update their attack journals. So Propeller Health came up with a simple solution - have the inhaler keep track for you. Their smart inhaler wields sensors and cellular connectivity to keep track of where, when, and how much a patient used the inhaler. This gives valuable diagnostic info for both the patient and the doctor and can make finding triggers easier. One implication of devices like the smart inhaler is that patients can have better visibility into their own habits and treatments. The other is that doctors, lab workers, and hospital staff can also have better visibility and communication with patients and each other.
From Remote Care to Hospital-Wide Collaboration
The real revolution of the Industrial Internet in medicine would be to free patients and physicians of the physical binds that restrict healthcare to individual doctors visits, hospital stays, and lab tests. Continuous health monitoring, remote care, and the ability to send data rapidly from test equipment and across the world for analysis are all possible thanks to the revolutions in smart machines, big data, and crucially, intelligent and scalable software solutions.
Imagine an emergency where a patient is experiencing stroke symptoms and has to rush to the hospital. As soon as the patient arrives, a team performs a CT scan and an EKG. Now, what if it were possible that instantly, emergency room doctors, specialists, and the patient's primary care physician (not located at the hospital) could instantly receive the scan results, along with complete patient history and previous imaging results and remotely collaborate on a treatment plan within minutes? GE's Centricity 360 is an Industrial Internet solution that enables rapid communication and collaboration on patient cases between unaffiliated doctors by enabling simple, intuitive, and reliable data exchange. Not only would more lives be saved thanks to immediate action, but the more visible a patient's case is, the better the chances are that they will receive the right treatment and potential problems will be caught before they grow.
And that extends from hospital patients to hospital operations too, where analytics could be applied to operations data to make processes more efficient. One already-successful example of this is hospitals using GE's AgilTrac real-time location system that tracks and makes sure hospital workers are washing their hands often enough.
Data is abundant in the healthcare industry. From the device to patient to imaging to hospital and beyond, the flow of information will dictate the effectiveness and improvement of healthcare in the 21st century. The Industrial Internet offers the chance to bridge long-existing gaps in communication and standards, to allow medicine to become a continuous process, and to enable new levels of collaboration between doctors, nurses, staff, and caregivers to do their jobs, service patients, and save lives better. In other words, "do no harm" is about to get a whole lot easier.