By Dr. Allison Suttle
The medical profession is in the midst of a revolution in how we provide care. Thanks to rapid growth in the development of sensors, digital storage, electronic medical records (EMRs), mobile devices and other technologies, we can capture and analyze massive amounts of health data. This will allow us to move out of the business of reacting to illness and maladies and into the business of preventing disease and keeping people well. The challenge and the goal is to deliver the right amount of care to the right patient at the right time.
Part of this means delivering care where the patient is, rather than waiting for them to come to us. This connected care can upend the status quo in the healthcare sector and empower the patient while allowing us to better treat them. Major breakthroughs and insights are emerging daily from all areas of medicine, but one case example of how data and technologies will shape the future of medicine is found in potential new approaches to treating patients with asthma.
Imagine a nurse who checks patient data in the morning. The datasets and algorithm reveal that of the 1,000 asthmatic patients that the doctor and team care for, 5 are likely to have an asthma attack in the next 24 hours that will require admission to the Emergency Room. The ability to precisely identify risk based on patient data gives healthcare providers a head-start on looming medical issues. Rather than wait for those patients to have asthma attacks and show up in the ER, the healthcare team can reach out to each patient who will likely have an attack, checking their condition and offering preventative recommendations.
The data used for this hypothetical assessment is not just in one’s medical history. It can also take into account information from non-medical industries, such as data from the National Weather Service showing whether ragweed (an asthma trigger) is increasing in a patient’s area. It also pulls data from connected medical devices. An asthma inhaler, for example, can be equipped to record uses on a mobile device. That data is in turn fed into the patient’s EMR, giving healthcare teams exact, real-time data (rather a patient guess at frequency) of inhaler use. These and many other data sources paint a more detailed picture of the risks patients face—and how we can address them. Using up-to the minute data, rather than historic data, allows healthcare to become predictive and preventive, rather than reactive.
With EMRs, registries and other datasets, healthcare professionals can close gaps in care, which provide benefits far beyond the individual patient. Data-driven healthcare can yield a healthier population, decreasing the burden of chronic disease. In this data-driven future, we anticipate medical needs, leading to fewer hospital and doctor’s office visits and lower overall cost of care. At the same time, new, innovative technologies and systems will invigorate the healthcare field, fueling opportunity and job creation for the many professions in the healthcare sector, while also inspiring further research and innovations.
Yet, even as data and technology are becoming ever-more essential in 21st century medicine, healthcare will always be intensely human and personal. At the end of the day, the relationship between the patient and their health providers will always be at the core of healthcare. Data and technology are tools that empower doctors and patients alike to improve the human condition.
Dr. Allison Suttle is Chief Medical Officer, Sanford Health
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or their affiliates.