Future of healthcare grounded in data, but details fuzzy

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Data will drive healthcare transformation, but experts in both the tech and health industries are still exploring pathways.

The collection and integration of patient data will play a key role in transforming the healthcare industry throughout the United States and across the globe, but exactly how that will transpire is still very much up for debate.

Experts in the healthcare and technology fields discussed the future of patient care at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, and a reoccurring theme was how hospitals and emerging technology companies are going to use data to improve outcomes and transform the industry. During a panel discussion about the “hospital of the future,” executives with telemedicine and healthcare technology companies argued that the healthcare industry is moving out of the acute care hospital and into homes and clinics, and wide range of data sources are coming together to help inform treatment plans.

In the hour-long discussion (see the video below), experts touched on some of the advancements that are beginning to transform the healthcare industry, and some of the barriers that still exist when it comes to data sharing.

Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital said her hospital used to deliver 10,000 babies each year, but now delivers just 6,000, many of which require critical care. The rest are delivered at community hospitals.

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But when Nabel said patient care still thrives on emotional and personal interactions with physicians, Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO of Omada Health countered that our interpretation of that emotional source is going to shift thanks to improved data sharing.

“You’re going to grow incredible trust with a brand and a system and all the associated people will be able to know you in the context of that brand that makes them feel part of your team,” he said, adding that the real-time influx of data allows for constant adjustments to treatment plans.

But experts struggled to explain how to put data into a patient’s hands and how to achieve interoperability between various health systems, although most agreed that individuals, rather than institutions, should own their health data. Others noted that without standardized terminology it will be difficult to shift the healthcare industry from its current siloed approach.  

Data was a central theme in another discussion between Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon and executive director of Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Gawande, who is perhaps best known for using data to create surgical checklists, noted that although physicians often view data as a limitation of their autonomy, the future of medicine relies on physicians that can creatively manipulate data to improve patient care.

In the 30-minute conversation (see the video below), Gawande and Collins discussed the impact of data and how healthcare can use it to create better practices. 

“A data-driven healthcare future is going to be about recognizing that it’s both clinicians and patients who are the customer, and they both need scientific design of innovations and testing to confirm that we’re creating value and real improvement in people’s lives,” Gawande said

Collins said “sometime this spring” the federal government’s “All of Us” campaign, formally the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, plans to enlist more than 1 million people to participate in a program that will combine data from EHRs, genome sequencing, wearable sensors and personal questionnaires to better understand the factors that contribute to health outcomes. Collins has previously said that privacy is a priority for the massive initiative. 

“That’s the kind of evidence base I believe could be really powerful,” Collins said.