Embracing a new Era: Healthcare’s technological transformation

From AI integration to digital health, the New Year holds promise for incorporating advances that can make a difference for patients and clinicians alike.

This article is Part 5 in a series about the healthcare data explosion. View Part 1 here.

As the dad to a teenage girl, I can recognize that Taylor Swift is pretty much everywhere right now. The fact she was just mentioned in Health Data Management definitely attests to that.

Her fame truly skyrocketed and peaked this year – even though her debut album came out nearly two decades ago! The combo of her record-setting The Eras Tour, the box office success of The Eras Tour concert movie, the Midnights album, being named Time magazine’s 2023 “Person of the Year” – all of this has pushed her into a whole new level of stardom. Forget about Taylor Swift's different "eras" – we’re in the Taylor Swift Era right now.

And healthcare? We’re having a similar moment – with technology. Undoubtedly, innovation has long been present in healthcare, and many in the industry have devoted decades to introducing inventive tools and technologies. However, a significant shift occurred last year with the advent of ChatGPT, along with other generative AI tools. The overarching presence of Big Tech in healthcare further accelerated, influencing and propelling the pace of adoption.

For example, EHRs started taking off in the early 2000s. It was a step towards modernizing healthcare, but it also complicated the practice of medicine – introducing new documentation requirements, interoperability challenges, and (in some cases highlighted) disjointed access to information and data. But when you combine the EHR with new AI technology, data sharing tools and standards, and cloud-based data platforms, then you have the opportunity to solve these real problems. Just like Taylor Swift, it has been the convergence of all these things at once – and the attention (and opportunity) on technology in healthcare is peaking now. Healthcare is in its “technology era.”

In the last article of our series on the healthcare data explosion, we’re exploring the technology that’s creating these new data streams and achieving early wins, and we’re exploring what is actually going to stick around and have “era” status.

Ambient listening, video documentation

The integration of ambient listening techniques and video documentation in healthcare is poised to transform the patient care experience. By capturing audio and visual data during patient interactions, healthcare providers can reduce the burden placed on clinicians and gain valuable insights into patient needs, preferences and overall well-being.

This integration enhances patient engagement by creating a more efficient and personalized care environment. Additionally, it enables better documentation of patient encounters, facilitating accurate and comprehensive medical records, while working to reduce physician burnout by making documentation time more efficient.

The University of Michigan Health-West introduced ambient listening technology by integrating Nuance DAX with Epic to draft physicians’ notes, better capturing each person’s story, improving the exam room experience and saving physicians an average of 10 minutes per day.

On the video side, companies like Theator are using computer vision technology and next-generation AI to automatically capture and analyze surgical data in real time, providing real-time surgical decision support to improve patient outcomes. The convergence of these technologies with already deployed systems, such as the EHR or other decision-support tools, fundamentally transforms the way physicians can provide care.

Generative AI

Beyond ambient listening and video documentation, Generative AI holds immense potential for transforming healthcare. While it felt like half the headlines of the past year were dominated by Taylor Swift, the other half asked questions like, "Can ChatGPT be my doctor?" And the curiosity definitely peaked when reports suggested that GPT-4 could effortlessly pass the U.S. medical licensing exam.

Looking beyond the explored use case of how generative AI enhances clinical documentation and improves physician responses, numerous other applications are emerging in healthcare. McKinsey reports that generative AI serves as a significant tool to unlock a portion of the reported unrealized $1 trillion improvement potential within the industry.

Choosing one example to highlight is difficult because the implications impact everyone in the field. A few include:

  • • Expediting the prior authorization review process for payers.
  • • Enhancing diagnostic accuracy for physicians by training models on medical images, tests and patient data.
  • • Accelerating drug discovery and development for pharmaceutical companies.
  • • Generating vast amounts of synthetic medical data for the research community.
  • • Identifying expensive cohorts of patients to create pathways for enhanced care and outcomes at a reduced cost. 

The far-reaching impact of generative AI underscores its multifaceted role in revolutionizing healthcare practices.

Wearables and virtual health

The convergence of patient-generated data and wearables marks a pivotal shift toward a patient-centric and preventive healthcare model. Wearable devices play a crucial role in empowering individuals to actively manage their health by continuously monitoring key metrics, such as activities and vital signs. This real-time data not only fosters a sense of responsibility among patients but also enables healthcare providers to deliver timely interventions and personalized care plans – all while maintaining (and, in most cases, improving) the quality of care.

As healthcare systems transition towards capitated models, the utilization of patient-generated data becomes necessary to promoting individual health, reducing the frequency of hospital visits and aligning with the broader vision of proactive and virtual healthcare experiences.

Some providers have embraced wearables for at-risk populations. UCHealth's Diabetes Home and Remote Care program, for example, identifies diabetic patients at high risk and remotely monitors their blood sugar control to preemptively address health issues. Through continuous touchpoints facilitated by wearables, they achieve better patient outcomes compared to traditional periodic check-ins.

The integration of wearables dovetails seamlessly with the broader landscape of virtual health, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Virtual care, emerging as a transformative force in healthcare delivery, is now an integral part of value-based care and remote patient monitoring.

Virtual visits and consultations provide accessible and cost-effective healthcare services while addressing the challenge of keeping patients out of physical facilities. This not only enables early intervention but also alleviates the burden on traditional healthcare infrastructure.

These two technologies converging creates a new, more integrated vision for how care can be delivered.

Patient payment platforms and transparency

In the perplexing challenge for patients of navigating and settling medical bills, strides have been made in the area of advanced financial technology, presenting a solution that enables healthcare organizations to refocus on their core operations while entrusting payment processing to seasoned fintech experts, all while bolstering patient satisfaction.

New ventures like Payground enable patients to pay their medical bills through a single app – just by snapping a picture of it with a smartphone. This eliminates the need for acquiring logins across various portals or engaging in phone calls with different groups, utilizing image recognition and machine learning.

Similarly, companies like Cedar, partnering with Waystar to use its cloud-based technology, are broadening their portfolio beyond core financial engagement products to prioritize patient engagement, including innovative pre-visit price transparency tools. Enhancing the accessibility of these products not only reinforces the commitment to price transparency but also fosters broader adoption. While the evidence supporting price transparency and the regulations implemented in 2019 is still limited, initial research suggests promising trends in price decreases.

Making care more economical for patients is one of the greatest hurdles in our industry.  Using technology and data platforms to decrease costs is a necessity.

Healthcare’s era-defying shift

Taylor Swift is known for entering a new “era” every couple of years, which includes navigating through different genres of music including country, pop and folk. At what point does she transcend the notion of a specific genre altogether? Throw out the labels – given the year she had, some would argue that she’s at an inflection point right now, transcending beyond a single genre.

Like Taylor, healthcare is at a similar inflection point. The original theme for this article series was to look at the explosion of data in healthcare, exploring how the industry can leverage it, whether by reimagining EHR use, tackling our data silo problem or getting a grip on interoperability.

The promise of change enabled by technology will not be limited to a “Data Era” or “AI Era” or “Interoperability Era.” Transforming care delivery is best pursued by integrating these technologies while solving fundamental gaps such as user adoption and self-service. Let’s transcend our thinking. Healthcare is undoubtedly in its “Technology Era” – but just like Taylor Swift, it’s not going out of style anytime soon.

Sriram Devarakonda is chief technology officer for Cardamom Health.

his article is Part 5 in a series about the healthcare data explosion. View Part 1 here.