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December 11, 2015

Cognitive Tech Empowering Healthcare

Posted by Suman Sasmal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:08 AM

5 ways robots are delivering health care in Saskatchewan [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_eD1Bvmr_g]

It's 2018. Dr. Riley, a neurologist, receives a call from a clinic located about 300 miles away. The clinic has only a handful of general physicians. Until a year ago, whenever a specialist consultant was required, the clinic referred patients to hospitals in other cities - a journey not many could make. However, now, the clinic has state-of-the-art equipment allowing it to connect with specialists in neighbouring towns and cities, and access speciality healthcare expertise- especially for critical needs - remotely.

When the call arrives, Dr. Riley returns to his office, which is equipped to enable him to conference remotely with patients and physicians, receive patient history at the click of a button, engage with the patient to understand his/her condition and offer diagnosis and treatment and even perform interventions like remote robotic surgery when needed. Dr. Riley discovers that his patient, Edward, is a 20 year-old with severe persistent headache, neck stiffness, balance problems, and blurred vision. He looks at his medical history from the EHR and recommends a battery of diagnostics tests and a CT scan. Results of the diagnostics is a brain CT scan that needs to be analyzed by a qualified radiologist. In the absence of a radiologist, the doctor turns to a computer vision tool - a technology based on cognitive skill - to analyze the scan using pattern analysis. The vision tool provides a report revealing a brain lesion. This timely availability of radiology analysis enables Dr. Riley to clinically co-relate the history, symptoms and conclude that the condition is severe and needs an immediate surgery. Losing no time, Dr. Riley directs a robot surgeon at the clinic where Edward is, to perform brain surgery and treat the lesion.

This is an example of what healthcare professionals can achieve and offer patients with cognitive technologies. The field of cognitive care includes a number of perceptual or cognitive skills that until a few years ago, only humans possessed and were leveraged for tasks like planning, pattern analysis, decision-making, speech and handwriting recognition, reasoning, learning, and comprehending partial information.

Today, cognitive technologies have advanced significantly to foray into acquiring and using these human skills. Technology has made human intelligence definition accurate, allowing system developers to build self-learning machines to simulate a host of human activities involving skill and intelligence. Innovations in big data, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) have propelled advancements in cognitive technologies as well. Its application value in healthcare includes supporting and augmenting roles of physicians, nurses and technicians and improving care quality by expanding human capabilities. They imitate the human ability to recognize and understand language, learn and assimilate new information, generate hypotheses, and make decisions based on reasoning.

With these technologies, healthcare organizations can reduce expenses on tasks that through automation, enhance population health management, decrease fraud, and maintain efficiency even during crisis, with virtual assistants. Cognitive technologies offer crucial insights that help healthcare organizations function more effectively and efficiently. What are some of these cognitive technologies? Computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing and robotics are a few. Let's take a closer look at each of them. Computer vision, helps reconstruct, interpret and understand 3D visuals from 2D images. It analyzes data on scans and provides comprehensive reports especially about abnormalities like lesions and tumors. This helps healthcare providers offer a more targeted and accurate treatment plan - similar to Dr. Riley and Edward's case above.

Another skill, with which machines identify and infer information from complex patterns in large amounts of rich data, is called machine learning. Truly digital healthcare organizations can, on a daily basis collect and analyze data from various sources, including electronic medical records (EMRs) and sensor enabled wearables. Based on this, a patient status index - which indicates the order in which patients should be attended to - is communicated with physicians and nurses through connected handheld devices. This helps ensure critical patients get attended to first in order to prevent adverse events like heart attacks arising from not receiving medical attention on time.

With natural language processing, physician documentation can be leveraged more effectively to understand aspects like patient healthcare needs, reimbursement eligibility and healthcare outcomes. This skill also extracts, analyzes and maps data to classification codes like ICD-10. When combined with the latest EMRs, it gives physicians the flexibility to document and share patient data with other healthcare providers with whom they collaborate. Another skill, robotics, has big application value in healthcare - three such are in performing surgeries, offering remote care and providing additional assistive services.

Edward's example showed us how robotics can help with the first two. The third, assistive services, is an area, where if robotics is applied thoughtfully, can perform tasks not mandating human interaction. Let's look at an example: Most healthcare organizations are looking for ways to avoid patient readmission and revisits. Virtual assistant robots can help here. They can ask these patients a set of questions, gather data and interpret it, without requiring physicians or nurses to engage with patients. This data could reveal the factors leading to patient readmissions and revisits, and indicate the avoidable ones at the organizational level. This way, with insights generated by cognitive technologies, healthcare organizations can enhance the quality of care they provide.

The need for IT is deeply entrenched in modern healthcare industry's DNA. It's here to stay. Is this dependence comforting or worrying? Where do you think healthcare is headed to next, with IT? These are some of the questions worth pondering over.

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