How AI and analytics are helping to cure at-risk individuals
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How AI and advanced analytics are helping to identify—and cure—at-risk individuals

Digital health is increasing access to medical care and preventing life-threatening dangers. It may be the Rx for ailing healthcare systems.

Imagine school administrators being able to get real-time data about the impact of mental health programming on student success and well-being. A company called Effective School Solutions (ESS) is working to provide just that capability. ESS provides school-based counseling services to students with mental health challenges, collecting information about students' academics and well-being. With a newly developed progress-monitoring application called Mindbeat Pulse, these analytical insights are accessible to school administrators to spot trouble and get students the care they need.

“There's a lot of information being captured by care providers, but traditionally it has not been actionable in real time," says Ken McLaren, a partner in the Data and AI Center of Excellence at Frazier Healthcare Partners, a healthcare investment firm. Frazier is helping ESS build analytical tools that help decision-makers act on mental health data, enabling clinicians and school-district administrators to intervene sooner and achieve better student outcomes. This is especially critical in schools with limited resources, where teachers are often too overwhelmed with their everyday obligations to monitor student health risks.

The ESS story is just one of many examples of digital health, where health-related data is helping level inequities in the US healthcare system. Digital health extends well beyond hospital walls, spanning a range of technologies, from fitness monitors that count users' steps to virtual doctors' visits and the delivery of prescription medications. The overall aim of each initiative, however, is the same: to prevent health-related problems before they pose an imminent threat instead of intervening once the damage has already been done.

Leveling the playing field

Social, economic, and lifestyle factors all influence a person's ability to receive effective, affordable care. And when people don't have access to healthcare, they tend to show up at hospitals when it's an emergency—not only endangering themselves but also further burdening the country's strained healthcare system.

Healthcare inequities stem from preexisting societal inequities. As Alex Kleinman, global segment leader, healthcare, at professional services firm Genpact, puts it, “there's often a lower density of healthcare providers in less-affluent areas, along with less access to fresh, healthy food and resources for exercise." Certain populations may also feel uncomfortable going to providers who aren't from their same ethnic background or don't speak their language.

What's more, clinical trials for new drugs tend to omit minority populations that may end up needing those drugs the most. This leaves many potential patients with healthcare literacy problems. For example, patients who don't understand their medications' instructions, like the dosage and how it interacts with other drugs, can wind up facing grave consequences.

“If medication adherence is not understood and then consequently not followed…that leads to higher pain for patients, higher costs downstream, and a more exacerbated healthcare system," says Scott Alister, Genpact's global healthcare data-tech-AI leader. “The pandemic also widened the wellness gap between rich and poor. And with crucial procedures and screenings delayed we're still feeling the consequences today."

Digital health to the rescue

Investments in digital healthcare, however, are growing in response to these problems. “There's a huge level of investment around data and analytics for healthcare," McLaren says, a strong indicator that the future of healthcare is migrating online.

Furthermore, a shortage of medical workers has encouraged the “use of digital health platforms and tools to rise to the top," Alister says. Health providers are looking for ways to manage patient load and paperwork to spot every potential health risk. Analytics and other digital tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can pick up the slack, helping to prevent both chronic and acute conditions.

Genpact, for example, is using such tools to build models and algorithms that optimize health workers' time with patients. Private Health Management, a provider of care management and health risk advisory services, is growing rapidly and needs to focus researchers' and clinicians' time on the tasks with the highest value to its clients' care experience and health outcomes. Together with Genpact, the company's developing a system to manage its digital workflows, creating seamless experiences for their employees and enabling greater collaboration when delivering care to clients. For Private Health Management, digital technology will allow each team member to be even more focused on patient care and do more of what they do best. “We're aggregating this data and creating capacity and utilization models so Private Health Management clients have the best support from integrated team of researchers, clinicians, and care coordinators," Kleinman says.

Of course, there will always be some people who simply won't go to the doctor. Genpact helps its clients use analytics and AI to target those who are most likely to change that behavior. How many times a person has logged into a certain healthcare app, for example, may determine whether they'll respond to messages from their physicians and schedule future appointments.

Future implications

All this investment pouring into digital health will result in a more robust data pool and, as Kleinman puts it, “Once you pull together the different patient records and digitize [them] in an anonymized fashion, suddenly, there are new businesses you can create." Some of these businesses may help to bolster a teetering healthcare system. Digitized patient information can help pharmaceutical companies identify patients who would be good for clinical trials. It can give specialized providers in areas ranging from orthopedics to radiology insights into the target demographics in their region. It can help insurance providers find the right physicians for their networks.

“We've spent the past 50 years patching a fractured healthcare system plagued by siloed information, misdirected incentives, and uncoordinated care," Kleinman says. “The rise of digital channels and new uses for the industry's existing data infrastructure can deliver the experience patients yearn for. They'll gain services that are accessible, predictable, personalized, and affordable while also eliminating the inequity currently embedded in healthcare systems around the world."

This article first appeared in Fast Company.

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