As reported by ITWeb, one of the country’s leading medical schemes, Metropolitan Health, is set to join forces with IBM in the coming months to use technology and big data to improve the capabilities and effectiveness of healthcare in South Africa.

CEO of Metropolitan Health, Dylan Garnett, said they want to be at the forefront of harnessing big data to change the way South Africans receive healthcare and how medical schemes administer it. “If used strategically, technology can assist in transforming the entire health ecosystem,” said Garnett. “We believe that the right technology applied in the right environment and with the right intent is a powerful tool.”

Metropolitan Health plans to collect and analyse large volumes of patient data and give that data context. “This will allow us to make smarter decisions and constantly adapt and improve our offerings, allowing us to reach far more South Africans.”

According to Garnett, the challenge is converting raw data into useful, contextual data to allow medical scheme administrators to have a “useful conversation” with their clients. This could mean selling them new products or simply offering them medical and related advice.

Patients’ records are typically made up of both structured and unstructured data, the latter typically being doctors’ notes. This is where cognitive processing – the process of taking complex data sets and information and using algorithms to derive knowledge and context from the data – can play an important role.

IBM’s Watson technology is one example of cognitive computing. Watson processes data and outputs meaningful information based on that data. In the future, computers will be able to sense, learn and predict the consequences of actions or deliver results based on historical and predictive data. This will not only provide better health care to patients, but also to provide more accurate risk assessments.

According to a recent IBM study, only 10% of a person’s future health can be predicted through health claims data — based on doctors’ notes, prescription information from pharmacies, etc. To predict what is going to happen in the future, or in some way influence a patient’s health risk positively, more information is needed.

According to the study, 40% of a patient’s future health risks are determined by their behavioural data, which is typically highly unstructured and includes such things as what someone eats and whether they exercise.

A person’s genetic profile is also a big determinant of risk. According to the IBM study, almost a third of a person’s future health risk predictability is in their genetic make-up, which is why family medical history is so important.

This data, which forms part of the data sets required for cognitive processing, will ultimately lead to better healthcare capabilities as the data is processed into workable, contextual information.

Garnett said the real benefits of Metropolitan’s partnership with IBM will only become clear after it makes an announcement in a couple of months’ time. It will be able to show “real deliverables and practical applications and toolsets based on cognitive processing and its capabilities,” said Garnett.

Metropolitan Health also intends to solve part of the unstructured data problem facing the public health sector by applying cognitive processing and converting that data into smart advice for patients.

Cognitive processing will provide better insights and advice for medical scheme clients and patients. Garnett believes technology can effectively improve treatment protocols and outcomes using the data that is collected on patients.

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