Features, South Africa

Digital Innovation is Changing the Face of Medicine

The CEO of Discovery Health talks about technologies and innovations that are leading the digital revolution and changing the face of medicine.

Discovery Health - EHN

The global explosion of digital healthcare innovation will within the next few years reduce doctors’ workloads and overall healthcare costs five-fold, speed up diagnoses by the same margin and totally reinvent the way medicine is practiced, saving billions of rands. This is according to CEO of Discovery Health, Dr Jonathan Broomberg, who goes on to talk about technologies and innovations that are leading the digital revolution and changing the face of medicine.

Connected health

Modern technologies such as wearables, personalised medicine and virtual doctor consultations are transforming traditional care settings, empowering patients to take greater responsibility for their health and enabling doctors and caregivers to intervene almost instantly.

Sensors and wearables are already decreasing preventable hospital admissions, predicting health scares and enabling interventions when warning signs appear. For example, sensors installed in an elderly person’s bed or front door can enable a connected caregiver to monitor anything unusual.

Smart patches could in the near future replace painful insulin injections and revolutionise how people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.

Dr Al will see you now

Machine learning is already improving diagnostics, predicting outcomes and paving the way for personalised medicine. The ability of algorithms to crunch ‘a tsunami of streamed data’ collected from wearables, and other connected devices, into accurate diagnoses within seconds are supporting doctors to personalise and speed-up treatment.

These data-rich innovations, led by non-healthcare companies like Google and Amazon, could enable clinicians to discover patterns and causes of diseases, plus predict longevity, in ways we have no idea about today.

Discovery will soon incorporate HealthTap – an artificial intelligence (AI) platform, into the Discovery HealthID, a tool that enables the sharing of patient data between doctors and funders. HealthTap uses AI to translate patient symptoms into personalised, doctor-recommended diagnoses.

The algorithm was trained by a network of more than 105,000 doctors across 141 specialities and incorporated five billion healthcare questions.

The virtual consultation could then be taken to a doctor for assessment, in most cases speeding up final diagnosis and shortening consultations.

In the near future, algorithms will diagnose skin cancer from a single photograph in 15 seconds with the same accuracy as a certified dermatologist using a smartphone app, instead of the usual 15-minute face-to-face consultation.

Personalised medicine

Genomics are creating a new era for medicine and changing how doctors use a patient’s unique genomic sequencing to tailor make treatment instead of treating patients with standardised medicine. Currently if a patient has diabetes doctors prescribe insulin — as they do for all patients with diabetes. Advances in personalised medicine are already disrupting cancer treatment where, for instance, doctors are targeting specific proteins that appear on the breast cancer cells. In the future, doctors will increasingly analyse DNA to tailor therapy to, for example, patients’ individual tumours.

Discovery is also focusing on genome sequencing through a global partnership with genome pioneer, Craig Venter, to incorporate to sequence the DNA of Discovery Health Medical Scheme members. Members will send their saliva samples for analysis in order to quantify their genetic susceptibility to a wide range of diseases. Not yet approved locally, this technology will enable members to adjust their lifestyles accordingly or take early preventative measures to reduce their risk.

Tapping into patient data

Discovery Health is using its own Vitality member data (300,000 active members) to predict a patients’ probability of developing new chronic conditions or progressing to a worse disease stage, while financially incentivising doctors to consult for longer – and improve their own lifestyles. Active Vitality members were shown to have an 11% lower mortality risk, while those who did five workouts per week had a 35% lower risk of death, according to the data.

In addition, Discovery has also incorporated its existing assets and tools to launch the Smart Plan, a health plan available through the Discovery app. The platform provides patients with a network of GPs, specialists and hospitals with a proven track record. The claims cost within these networks had come down by 28%. A patient ratings tool also allowed members to rate the healthcare services they received and was already resulting in some hospital scores improving, especially where they fed data back to their staff.

To date, 2,000 doctors use HealthID, and pathology and radiology reports have been incorporated into the platform. In the future, we hope to include doctor’s clinical notes and hospital records. Capturing the full patient record is the next step in “bringing the industry together” to streamline efficient and integrated care.

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