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Voice Technology: A Disruptive Force in Healthcare

Posted on November 19, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Adam Sabloff, CEO of VirtualHealth.

Voice technology is a disruptive force across many industries, and healthcare is no exception. In sync with tools like Amazon Alexa and Echo, voice-user interfaces (VUI) have the potential to take care management to the next level, and the advantages extend far beyond simple conveniences for patients. 

The world of healthcare lives in siloes: patients, family members, doctors, care managers, and health aides, just to name a few. All are inputting valuable health information from disparate systems, devices, and other sources—resulting in a fragmented view of the patient’s health.

A growing number of healthcare innovators, myself included, believe that voice technology is one solution that can help bring all the pieces together.

I joked during a presentation at Amazon’s VOICE Summit, where I addressed the use of voice technology as a patient engagement tool, that I had received a late-night text from my sister-in-law that four flavors of Goldfish crackers – which she knows I love – were being recalled due to salmonella. Imagine if Alexa knew my ordering behavior, understood what I had in my pantry and alerted me immediately to the recall. Now imagine if Alexa also automatically sent me a box to return the bags in question or merely alerted me to throw out my Goldfish stash and arranged for my refund.

When you apply those “what ifs” to healthcare, they take on new, more significant meaning.

Transforming Care Delivery with Greater Insights

Driven by the massive popularity of Alexa and Google Home, VUI is transforming care delivery by empowering providers with greater insights like these and better engaging patients in behavior change that leads to overall better health and outcomes. Implementation of VUI can enhance process across a variety of use cases such as:

  • Prompting patients to schedule appointments and follow through with care plans
  • Reminding patients about medications
  • Guiding patients through procedure preparations
  • Standardizing care information provided before or after treatment.
  • Enable interaction to complete assessments

The sky is the limit when it comes to implementing VUI, but the immediate goal is identifying medium-risk individuals before they become high-risk. What if Jane just had knee surgery but lives in a 4th floor walk-up? Her care team knows that compliance with her discharge plan may prove difficult. Voice technology can be the intuitive, patient-friendly layer that allows data to flow into healthcare systems faster.

Aging at Home

One of the biggest topics being addressed these days is Medicare’s unprecedented push into the home—a shift driven by an aging population that is outgrowing the amount of available senior living beds.

By weaving VUI-based smart home products like Amazon Alexa and Google Home into the fabric of healthcare technology, we can provide a better quality of life to seniors while allowing them to age gracefully in the comfort of their own homes.

Last month,, an Amazon spokesperson told a reporter that the company frequently receives positive feedback from “aging-in-place” customers who use Alexa’s smart-home features as an alternative to going up and down stairs. Amazon’s Echo Show is another product that offers users Tap to Alexa, a screen interface that lets users who are deaf and hard of hearing tap common commands. Microsoft, for its part, recently launched an A.I. for an accessibility program to create inclusive, affordable technology.

While a number of aging in place-focused technologies like these are already available, more still are being explored. We are seeing seniors embrace today’s connected devices to stay safely independent. Everything from blood pressure and glucose monitors to motion sensors are making seniors’ homes safer and smarter. Furthermore, voice devices can serve as the central data hub for all the connected devices in a person’s home. 10 years from now, I anticipate that most seniors who live independently will do so in smart homes equipped with passive devices that continuously monitor vital signs and activities of daily living. I also foresee the use of other monitoring devices, such as food trackers that monitor inventories and replenish when needed.

Addressing Social Determinants

Social factors such as lower income, education level, or high-crime area have been shown to significantly affect health outcomes. Subsequently, social determinants can cause care gaps such as difficulties with transportation, proper nutrition, understanding educational materials on a specific condition, or lack of a support network to help ensure compliance.

According to Lyft, 3.6 million Americans have transportation issues that prevent them from getting to or from doctors’ appointments, and 25% of lower-income patients have missed or rescheduled their appointments due to lack of transportation.

That’s where voice technology can help.

If John Smith needs to go to the doctor and Medicaid will pay for the appointment, John can say, “Alexa, I need to go to the doctor next week.” Alexa might respond, “Your doctor is available at 10 am on Tuesday. I’ll arrange for a Lyft to pick you up.”

It’s the same with nutritional needs. If John says, “I need meals,” Alexa might say, “You’re on a low sodium diet. Your choices for this shipment include asparagus or carrots.” By making solutions easier to reach, VUI can close the care gaps more efficiently and effectively than a care manager reaching out via email or phone.

To be sure, there are a lot of lofty ideas out there when it comes to VUI and healthcare, but it’s not practical to boil the ocean; instead, it’s important to hone in on those aspects of healthcare where it can have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.  By engaging patients in their homes – particularly those who make up the most high-risk, complex populations – VUI applications can keep patients out of the doctor’s office or hospital, while still providing strong outcomes.

About Adam Sabloff
Adam Sabloff, CEO and Founder of VirtualHealth, is a nationally recognized leader and executive in the healthcare industry. Adam’s impact in the field can be traced back to the mid-2000s, when he co-created the Ritz-Carlton Residences in Baltimore and discovered a significant gap leaving seniors and the chronically ill without access to essential care delivery and technology.

That insight, coupled with the loss of a loved one to a late-stage diagnosis, led Adam to develop VirtualHealth, the first comprehensive care management solution purpose-built for integrated value-based care. Designed for use by payers and providers, the platform aggregates and normalizes patient data from multiple sources effectively providing healthcare organizations with the tools to provide proactive, quality care.

Adam is a frequent speaker at healthcare and technology events, including the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Parks Associates’ Connected Health Summit, and the Amazon Voice Summit where he discusses topics including the need for advanced health IT solutions to achieve a true “whole-person” view of the patient.

Looking Back: Facebook in Healthcare

Posted on August 1, 2018 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I decided that I’d start regularly doing a series of blog posts called Looking Back. In this blog post series I’ll look back at some of my popular (and maybe some not so popular) blog posts I’ve written and see how it holds up today. Have things changed? Were we totally wrong? Did we forget those lessons? I’ve done this on occasion, but with over 12,000 blog posts I think I want to make this a regular feature. There’s a lot of value in looking back at old posts and remembering where we came from and how things have changed.

Today’s “Looking Back” post was published in October 2014 and was titled Facebook in Healthcare. I’ll wait here while you go and read the post.

Now that you’ve read the post…

It’s fascinating for us to think about Facebook in healthcare. Especially with what we now know about people using Facebook to influence elections and other nefarious things. It’s sad, because those same people could have used Facebook to do some good things for healthcare, but they didn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good Facebook healthcare groups that provide value for patients. There are, but they aren’t really stuff that Facebook has been working on as a specific product.

What’s crazy is that even back in 2014 when I wrote the previous post, I suggested that many people didn’t trust Facebook with our health info. Today that’s true times 10. That said there are still a lot of people that would have no problem sharing health info on Facebook as well. It’s amazing to think about the separation between the people who would still share pretty much anything on Facebook and those who don’t want to use Facebook for anything.

What’s surprising today is that the post didn’t even look at other big companies that are now becoming big players in healthcare. I mentioned Google which was just starting back into healthcare after the failure of Google Health. However, I don’t think even back then I would have been able to predict all of the healthcare things that Google is doing through Alphabet.

The other big company that wasn’t mentioned at all is Amazon. Back in 2014, I can’t even remember Amazon being mentioned in any healthcare conversations. That’s not true today where it seems like Amazon is mentioned in almost every healthcare conversation.

Looking at things as they are now, I think Amazon will be a big player in healthcare and will have a big impact on it. However, they’re going to do it in new ways. They’re going to create new opportunities and new gateways to healthcare and healthcare services. If we look back on this post 4 years from now I think we’ll have had no idea of the ways Amazon will impact healthcare. I think of all the big tech companies out there, Amazon will have a bigger impact on healthcare than others like Apple, Google, Samsung, etc.

What’s your take on these big companies impacting healthcare? Which ones do you think will be effective and in what ways? We’ll look back on this post in 4 years and see if we’re right.

Competition Heating Up For AI-Based Disease Management Players

Posted on May 21, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Working in collaboration with a company offering personal electrocardiograms to consumers, researchers with the Mayo Clinic have developed a technology that detects a dangerous heart arrhythmia. In so doing, the two are joining the race to improve disease management using AI technology, a contest which should pay the winner off handsomely.

At the recent Heart Rhythm Scientific Sessions conference, Mayo and vendor AliveCor shared research showing that by augmenting AI with deep neural networks, they can successfully identify patients with congenital Long QT Syndrome even if their ECG is normal. The results were accomplished by applying AI from lead one of a 12-lead ECG.

While Mayo needs no introduction, AliveCor might. While it started out selling a heart rhythm product available to consumers, AliveCor describes itself as an AI company. Its products include KardiaMobile and KardiaBand, which are designed to detect atrial fibrillation and normal sinus rhythms on the spot.

In their statement, the partners noted that as many as 50% of patients with genetically-confirmed LQTS have a normal QT interval on standard ECG. It’s important to recognize underlying LQTS, as such patients are at increased risk of arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. They also note that that the inherited form affects 160,000 people in the US and causes 3,000 to 4,000 sudden deaths in children and young adults every year. So obviously, if this technology works as promised, it could be a big deal.

Aside from its medical value, what’s interesting about this announcement is that Mayo and AliveCor’s efforts seem to be part of a growing trend. For example, the FDA recently approved a product known as IDx-DR, the first AI technology capable of independently detecting diabetic retinopathy. The software can make basic recommendations without any physician involvement, which sounds pretty neat.

Before approving the software, the FDA reviewed data from parent company IDx, which performed a clinical study of 900 patients with diabetes across 10 primary care sites. The software accurately identified the presence of diabetic retinopathy 87.4% of the time and correctly identified those without the disease 89.5% of the time. I imagine an experienced ophthalmologist could beat that performance, but even virtuosos can’t get much higher than 90%.

And I shouldn’t forget the 1,000-ton presence of Google, which according to analyst firm CBInsights is making big bets that the future of healthcare will be structured data and AI. Among other things, Google is focusing on disease detection, including projects targeting diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, among other conditions. (The research firm notes that Google has actually started a limited commercial rollout of its diabetes management program.)

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff fascinating. Still, the AI future is still fuzzy. Clearly, it may do some great things for healthcare, but even Google is still the experimental stage. Don’t worry, though. If you’re following AI developments in healthcare you’ll have something new to read every day.

The Future of Small Medical Practices

Posted on December 27, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of the questions I get most often relates to the future of small practices in healthcare. I’ve heard a lot of people make really great arguments for why small medical practices have an extremely challenging future in healthcare. We’ve all heard stories of large healthcare organizations eating up small medical practices left and right.

For the longest time, I’ve argued that this is all just part of a cycle of doctors selling to hospitals and then doctors hating life as an employed doctor and so they return to running their own practice. This cycle seems to be playing out and most doctors still hate being employees. However, there are a lot of other forces at play that makes it harder for doctors to go out and start their own independent medical practice again.

As I look at the biggest healthcare trends, none of them point to a brighter future for the small, independent medical practice. In fact, most of them make it even harder for small medical practices to survive.

For example, the shift to value based reimbursement is something that should be a great thing for small medical practices that have been known to provide the highest quality, personalized care. While this is true, must of value based reimbursement is as much about understanding and applying the data to a population in order to improve the overall health. How many small practices are going to be capable to do this type of data analysis?

If you extrapolate this further, it’s hard to imagine a future healthcare system that’s not built on the back of data. If that’s the case, he who holds the data holds the power. It’s worth asking if even the hospitals and health systems will be large enough to have the data they need on their patients. Or will even the largest hospitals and health systems need to work with massive companies like Google and Amazon who are currently collecting data at rates that no hospital could even consider?

This is a scary and exciting future that is a topic for another post. However, from a small practice perspective, this could be a good thing. If large corporations like Google and Amazon have the data needed to improve healthcare, then it’s possible that those corporations will enable small practices to survive. It could level the playing field for small practices that are trying to compete with large health systems.

What’s certain is that every healthcare organization is going to have to move beyond just the EHR. Sure, the EHR will be a requirement for every medical practice, but I believe it will only be the start. For small and large medical practices to survive, they’re going to have to start exploring what other technology they can implement to provide a better patient experience. The good thing is that small practices can be nimble and implement new technology quickly and without as much bureaucracy. The hard part is that they have to do so with a smaller budget.

What do you think about the future of small medical practices? Will they survive? Should we be making efforts to make sure they survive?

Will 2018 Be The Year Of The Health IT/Non-Health-IT Merger?

Posted on December 1, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Within the last several days, the news broke that Amazon Web Services would probably be doing some sort of far-reaching cloud deal with Cerner. Given that AWS is a nearly $20 billion cloud organization, and Cerner one of the largest health IT players in the game, a lot could happen here.

My guess, not that it’s any leap of imaginative genius, is that if the currently-rumored deal between the two partners works, Amazon will make a serious bid to buy out Cerner as a whole. Given the massive profits potentially at stake in health IT, the idea of such an acquisition seems credible to me, at least if Cerner’s stockholders approve. After all, isn’t Amazon the company that just did a multibillion-dollar buyout of Whole Foods to fuel its growing (but still relatively small-scale) efforts in food retailing?

Not only is this particular deal interesting, I think it may portend some major structural changes in the health IT business as a whole. Specifically, I think we’re reaching a point where there will be a lot of pressure on companies with adequate cash and compatible goals to target HIT organizations, particularly if they need to scale up quickly and don’t have much internal knowledge on the subject.

And there’s no question that as healthcare settles into being a digital business, a range of digital businesses outside of healthcare will see that as an opportunity to step into such an important market. After all, how could they not want to be part of any organization that’s competing effectively in an industry that consumes a double-digit portion of the US GDP?

Over this period, many small internal workgroups outside healthcare will be transformed into scouting units seeking the next big digital healthcare deal. At the same time, these divisions will start forming quiet alliances strategic to their business, not only with giants like Cerner and Epic but also well-positioned startups in hot areas such as, say, blockchain security or supply chain management. (How could an ERP vendor not wonder how a healthcare supply chain management company running over blockchain could enhance their business?)

Then, of course, there are the more obvious moves which will bring a new critical mass of health IT customers, knowledge and talent to companies with a giant market presence already, such as Apple and Samsung.

Such M&A efforts won’t be optional. As Microsoft’s experience has proven in the past, and Amazon has apparently found more recently, you can’t just storm into the enterprise healthcare world and demand your cut, no matter how big a player you are. Getting there will take a well-finessed, mutually-fruitful agreement, if not an acquisition, even for a mega-company like Google/Alphabet.

Now, can I tell you which companies will be executing on such deals next year? I have a few theories, but no specific intelligence to share that you couldn’t pick up on your own by skimming industry headlines. But I do stand by my prediction that by the end of 2018, we’ll have seen a few spectacular deals between HIT vendors and digital companies outside the industry that will have a major influence for years to come.

Google, Stanford Pilot “Digital Scribe” As Human Alternative

Posted on November 29, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Without a doubt, doctors benefit from the face-to-face contact with patients restored to them by scribe use; also, patients seem to like that they can talk freely without waiting for doctors to catch up with their typing. Unfortunately, though, putting scribes in place to gather EMR information can be pricey.

But what if human scribes could be replaced by digital versions, ones which interpreted the content of office visits using speech recognition and machine learning tools which automatically entered that data into an EHR system? Could this be done effectively, safely and affordably? (Side Note: John proposed something similar happening with what he called the Video EHR back in 2006.)

We don’t know the answer yet, but we may find out soon. Working with Google, a Stanford University doctor is piloting the use of digital scribes at the family medicine clinic where he works. Dr. Steven Lin is conducting a 9-month long study of the concept at the clinic, which will include all nine doctors currently working there.

Patients can choose whether to participate or not. If they do opt in, researchers plan to protect their privacy by removing their protected health information from any data used in the study.

To capture the visit information, doctors will wear a microphone and record the session. Once the session is recorded, team members plan to use machine learning algorithms to detect patterns in the recordings that can be used to complete progress notes automatically.

As one might imagine, the purpose of the pilot is to see what challenges doctors face in using digital scribes. Not surprisingly, Dr. Lin (and doubtless, Google as well), hope to develop a digital scribe tool that can be used widely if the test goes well.

While the information Stanford is sharing on the pilot is intriguing in and of itself, there are a few questions I’d hope to see project leaders answer in the future:

  • Will the use of digital scribes save money over the cost of human scribes? How much?
  • How much human technical involvement will be necessary to make this work? If the answer is “a lot” can this approach scale up to widespread use?
  • How will providers do quality control? After all, even the best voice recognition software isn’t perfect. Unless there’s some form of human content oversight, mis-translated words could end up in patient records indefinitely – and that could lead to major problems.

Don’t get me wrong: I think this is a super idea, and if this approach works it could conceivably change EHR information gathering for the better. I just think it’s important that we consider some of the tradeoffs that we’ll inevitably face if it takes off after the pilot has come and gone.

Mercy Shares De-Identified Data With Medtronic

Posted on October 20, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Medtronic has always performed controlled clinical trials to check out the safety and performance of its medical devices. But this time, it’s doing something more.

Dublin-based Medtronic has signed a data-sharing agreement with Mercy, the fifth largest Catholic health system in the U.S.  Under the terms of the agreement, the two are establishing a new data sharing and analysis network intended to help gather clinical evidence for medical device innovation, the company said.

Working with Mercy Technology Services, Medtronic will capture de-identified data from about 80,000 Mercy patients with heart failure. The device maker will use that data to explore real-world factors governing their response to Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy, a heart failure treatment option which helps some patients.

Medtronic believes that the de-identified patient data Mercy supplies could help improve device performance, according to Dr. Rick Kuntz, senior vice president of strategic scientific operations with Medtronic. “Having the ability to study patient care pathways and conditions before and after exposure to a medical device is crucial to understanding how those devices perform outside of controlled clinical trial setting,” said Kuntz in a prepared statement.

Mercy’s agreement with Medtronic is not unique. In fact, academic medical centers, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and increasingly, broad-based technology giants are getting into the health data sharing game.

For example, earlier this year Google announced that it was expanding its partnerships with three high-profile academic medical centers under which they work to better analyze clinical data. According to Healthcare IT News, the partners will examine how machine learning can be used in clinical settings to sift through EMR data and find ways to improve outcomes.

“Advanced machine learning is mature enough to start accurately predicting medical events – such as whether patients will be hospitalized, how long they will stay, and whether the health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure,” said Google Brain Team researcher Katherine Chou in a blog post.

As with Mercy, the academic medical centers are sharing de-identified data. Chou says that offers plenty of information. “Machine learning can discover patterns in de-identified medical records to predict what is likely to happen next, and thus, anticipate the needs of the patients before they arise,” she wrote.

It’s worth pointing out that “de-identification” refers to a group of techniques for patient data protection which, according to NIST, include suppression of personal identifiers, replacing personal identifiers with an average value for the entire group of data, reporting personal identifiers as being within a given range, exchanging personal identifiers other information and swapping data between records.

It may someday become an issue when someone mixes up de-identification (which makes it quite difficult to define specific patients) and anonymization, a subcategory of de-identification whereby data can never be re-identified. Such confusion would, in short, be bad, as the difference between “de-identified” and “anonymized” matters.

In the meantime, though, de-identified data seems likely to help a wide variety of healthcare organizations do better work. As long as patient data stays private, much good can come of partnerships like the one underway at Mercy.

Amazon Attacking Health IT Opportunities

Posted on August 17, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Getting a footing in the health IT industry is more challenging than it looks. After all, even tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google haven’t managed to take over despite their evident interest in the field.

Apparently, that hasn’t daunted Amazon. The retail giant has pulled together a secret team dedicated to exploring new healthcare technology opportunities, according to a CNBC report. And unlike other companies attacking the space from outside, Amazon has a history of sliding its way into unexpected markets successfully.

According to CNBC the new team, which is named 1492, is working to find an easier way to extract data from EMRs as well as push data into them. In doing so, Amazon is going up against a very wide field of competitors ranging from small startups to the healthcare arms of giant tech vendors and consulting firms.

What distinguishes Amazon’s approach from its competitors is that the online retailer hopes to aggregate that data and make it available to consumers and their doctors, sources told CNBC. The story doesn’t say whether Amazon plans to sell this data, and I don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t here, but my bet is that if it can, Amazon will pitch the data to pharmaceutical companies. And where there’s a will there’s a way.

In addition to looking at data management opportunities, 1492 members are scouting out ways of repurposing Amazon’s existing technology for use in healthcare. As another article notes, some healthcare organizations have already begun experimenting with delivering routine medical information and even coaching surgeons on safety protocols using Amazon voice-based assistant Alexa.  The new group, for its part, will be looking for healthcare applications for existing Amazon products like the Echo and Dash Wand.

The 1492 group is also preparing to build a telemedicine platform. Your first thought might be that the industry doesn’t need another telemedicine platform, and generally speaking, you would probably be right.  But if Amazon can get its healthcare IT bona fides in order, and manages to attract enough doctors to its platform, it could be in a strong position to market those services to consumers.

Make no mistake: We should take Amazon’s health IT effort seriously. At first glance, healthcare may seem like an odd arena for a company best known for selling frying pans and socks and discount beauty supplies. But Amazon has expanded its focus many times over the years and has typically done better than people expected. It may do so this time as well.

By the way, the retailer is apparently still hiring people for the 1492 initiative. I doubt it’s easy to find the hiring manager in question, but if I were you I’d inquire. These jobs could pose some interesting challenges.

Google’s DeepMind Runs Afoul Of UK Regulators Over Patient Data Access

Posted on July 20, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Back in February, I recounted the tale of DeepMind, a standout AI startup acquired by Google a few years ago. In the story, I noted that DeepMind had announced that it would be working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals, to test out its healthcare app

DeepMind’s healthcare app, Streams, is designed to help providers kick out patient status updates to physicians and nurses working with them. Under the terms of the deal, which was to span five years, DeepMind was supposed to gain access to 1.6 million patient records managed by the hospitals.

Now, the agreement seems to have collapsed under regulatory scrutiny. The UK’s data protection watchdog has ruled that DeepMind’s deal with the Trust “failed to comply with data protection law,” according to a story in Business Insider. The watchdog, known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has spent a year investigating the deal, BI reports.

As it turns out, the agreement empowered the Trust hospitals to share the data without the patients’ prior knowledge, something that presumably wouldn’t fly in the U.S. either. This includes data, intended for use in developing the Streams’ app kidney monitoring technology, which includes info on whether people are HIV-positive, along with details of drug overdoses and abortions.

In its defense, DeepMind and the Royal Free Trust argued that patients had provided “implied consent” for such data sharing, given that the app was delivering “direct care” to patients using it. (Nice try. Got any other bridges you wanna sell?) Not surprisngly, that didn’t satisfy the ICO, which found several other shortcomings and how the data was handled as well.

While the ICO has concluded that the DeepMind/Royal Free Trust deal was illegal, it doesn’t plan to sanction either party, despite having the power to hand out fines of up to £500,000, BI said. But DeepMind, which set up his own independent review panel to oversee its data sharing agreements, privacy and security measures and product roadmaps last year, is taking a closer look at this deal. Way to self-police, guys! (Or maybe not.)

Not to be provincial, but what worries me about this is less the politics of UK patient protection laws, and bore the potential for Google subsidiaries to engage in other questionable data sharing activities. DeepMind has always said that they do not share patient data with its corporate parent, but while this might be true now, Google could do incalculable harm to patient privacy if they don’t maintain this firewall.

Hey, just consider that even for an entity the size of Google, healthcare data is an incredibly valuable asset. Reportedly, even street-level data thieves pay 10x for healthcare data as they do for, say, credit card numbers. It’s hard to even imagine what an entity the size of Google could do with such data if crunched in incredibly advanced ways. Let’s just say I don’t want to find out.

Unfortunately, as far as I know U.S. law hasn’t caught up with the idea of crime-by-analytics, which could be an issue even if an entity has legal possession of healthcare data. But I hope it does soon. The amount of harm this kind of data manipulation could do is immense.

The Healthcare AI Future, From Google’s DeepMind

Posted on February 22, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While much of its promise is still emerging, it’s hard to argue that AI has arrived in the health IT world. As I’ve written in a previous article, AI can already be used to mine EMR data in a sophisticated way, at least if you understand its limitations. It also seems poised to help providers predict the incidence and progress of diseases like congestive heart failure. And of course, there are scores of companies working on other AI-based healthcare projects. It’s all heady stuff.

Given AI’s potential, I was excited – though not surprised – to see that world-spanning Google has a dog in this fight. Google, which acquired British AI firm DeepMind Technologies a few years ago, is working on its own AI-based healthcare solutions. And while there’s no assurance that DeepMind knows things that its competitors don’t, its status as part of the world’s biggest data collector certainly comes with some advantages.

According to the New Scientist, DeepMind has begun working with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees three hospitals. DeepMind has announced a five-year agreement with the trust, in which it will give it access to patient data. The Google-owned tech firm is using that data to develop and roll out its healthcare app, which is called Streams.

Streams is designed to help providers kick out alerts about a patient’s condition to the cellphone used by the doctor or nurse working with them, in the form of a news notification. At the outset, Streams will be used to find patients at risk of kidney problems, but over the term of the five-year agreement, the developers are likely to add other functions to the app, such as patient care coordination and detection of blood poisoning.

Streams will deliver its news to iPhones via push notifications, reminders or alerts. At present, given its focus on acute kidney injury, it will focus on processing information from key metrics like blood tests, patient observations and histories, then shoot a notice about any anomalies it finds to a clinician.

This is all part of an ongoing success story for DeepMind, which made quite a splash in 2016. For example, last year its AlphaGo program actually beat the world champion at Go, a 2,500-year-old strategy game invented in China which is still played today. DeepMind also achieved what it terms “the world’s most life-like speech synthesis” by creating raw waveforms. And that’s just a couple of examples of its prowess.

Oh, and did I mention – in an achievement that puts it in the “super-smart kid you love to hate” category – that DeepMind has seen three papers appear in prestigious journal Nature in less than two years? It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from the brilliant minds at Google, which can afford the world’s biggest talents. But it’s still a bit intimidating.

In any event, if you haven’t heard of the company yet (and I admit I hadn’t) I’m confident you will soon. While the DeepMind team isn’t the only group of geniuses working on AI in healthcare, it can’t help but benefit immensely from being part of Google, which has not only unimaginable data sources but world-beating computing power at hand. If it can be done, they’re going to do it.