The 10 leading causes of death, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included cancer, respiratory disease and stroke. However, new health data initiatives promise to provide early interventions and better care, which could significantly reduce the impact of these killers. What follows is a list of the top 10 causes of death in America and a look at some of the technologies being deployed to help save Americans’ lives.

1. Condition: Heart disease
Deaths: 633,842 Americans
Health data initiative: A new technique developed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for conducting cardiac magnetic resonance imaging tests is offering a potential solution for solving a major problem associated with using conventional methods to perform MRI scans—how to get a still image when a beating heart and blood flow can blur the picture.

The West Contra Costa Healthcare District no longer operates any hospital facilities.
The West Contra Costa Healthcare District no longer operates any hospital facilities.

Instead of having patients undergoing cardiac MRI hold their breath while images are being taken, the technique—called MR multitasking—makes a video. The process improves patient comfort, shortens testing time, and has the potential to increase diagnostic accuracy and reliability.

Investigators at Cedars-Sinai investigators published the results of their study using the technique in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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2. Condition: Cancer
Deaths: 595,930 Americans
Health data initiative: National Institutes of Health-funded researchers have developed an atlas that provides the scientific community with a comprehensive, in-depth and interconnected understanding of how, where and why tumors arise in humans.

The Pan-Cancer Atlas is based on a detailed genomic analysis of molecular and clinical data from more than 11,000 tumors, representing 33 different cancer types. NIH officials contend that the database will serve as an essential resource for precision medicine, enabling physicians to select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease.

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3. Condition: Chronic lower respiratory diseases
Deaths: 155,041 Americans
Health data initiative: The University of Rochester Medical Center has partnered with the Rochester City School District to ensure that students with asthma receive the appropriate medication therapy through a telemedicine approach that enables visits from the children’s primary care providers to aid in-school nurses.

“We know that asthma is a significant problem particularly for kids living in the city in terms of causing ongoing symptoms, missed school days and emergency visits,” says Jill Halterman, MD, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at URMC. “We also know that a lot of kids aren’t getting medications that might have prevented these symptoms.”

In a study, URMC and researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences enrolled 400 students between the ages of 3 and 10 in Rochester, N.Y., to measure the impact of a school-based intervention—including supervised asthma therapy and telemedicine visits—on urban children with asthma.

What they found in the randomized clinical trial was that children who received a combination of telemedicine support and school-based medication therapy were almost half as likely to need an emergency department or hospital visit for their asthma. With one in 10 children in the United States diagnosed with asthma, it is the most common chronic childhood disease.

Results of the study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, were published this week in JAMA Pediatrics.

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4. Condition: Accidents (unintentional injuries)
Deaths: 146,571 Americans
Health data initiative: Healthcare organizations increasingly are aiming to get patient information to clinicians and get treatment information to emergency personnel on the site of life-threatening incidents.

For example, an updated app is helping aid communication between emergency medical service personnel and hospitals to help in the handoff and treatment of patients being brought in for emergency services. Pulsara has expanded on an existing app, including the ability for EMS providers to alert emergency rooms from the field for any patient type.

For example, when medics transport a patient, they can transmit information about vital signs and chief complaints; upload a secure image of the ECG or a photo of the patient’s injury; and automatically notify the hospital of the ambulance’s location and estimated time of arrival to the hospital, based on GPS technology.

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5. Condition: Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
Deaths: 140,323 Americans
Health data initiative: A new visor-like device worn by patients can help providers and emergency medical personnel detect a stroke that requires comprehensive care within seconds and with greater than 90 percent accuracy.

The volumetric impedance phase shift spectroscopy (VIPS) device, made by neurotechnology vendor Cerebrotech Medical Systems, identifies patients having a stroke by sending low-energy radio waves through the brain that assess fluid volume differences (asymmetry) between the cerebral hemispheres—which are indicative of stroke.

The radio waves change frequency when passing through fluids and are reflected back through the brain, with small changes and asymmetries in electrical properties detected by the VIPS device.

Time is of the essence in diagnosing stroke patients and properly treating them, given that the chance of achieving a good outcome decreases by about 20 percent for each hour that passes before treatment.

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6. Condition: Alzheimer’s disease
Deaths: 110,561 Americans
Health data initiative: Neural Analytics is developing products and services to measure, diagnose and track brain health, currently focusing efforts on imaging and other technology to treat acute ischemic stroke, traumatic brain injury and dementia. Its tools combine data science with hardware to enable first responders and clinicians to assess and monitor brain health issues.

Neural Analytics’ Lucid Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound System (Lucid System) uses ultrasound to assess the brain’s blood vessels from outside the body. This analysis is non-invasive, can be performed in the physician’s office and helps the physician diagnose brain disorders. The system is FDA-cleared for the monitoring of blood flow velocities in the cerebral vasculature.

The Lucid System is a battery-operated tablet device designed to be transported easily throughout a medical facility; it can be used in a variety of clinical scenarios that require the rapid assessment of blood flow in the brain to expedite treatment, CEO Leo Petrossian, explains.

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7. Condition: Diabetes
Deaths: 79,535 Americans
Health data initiative: Remote monitoring via a mobile app and a diet very low in carbohydrates and high in fat has been shown to reverse Type 2 diabetes, according to one-year results from an ongoing five-year trial.

The study, funded by vendor Virta Health, assessed whether a remote care model with very low dietary carbohydrate intake and continuous supervision by a health coach and doctor via a mobile app could safely lower hemoglobin A1C, weight and reduce the need for medicines after one year in adults with Type 2 diabetes.

Of those receiving the intervention, 94 percent of patients on insulin decreased or eliminated their dosage by year’s end, while 60 percent of patients showed hemoglobin A1C levels below the diabetes threshold without medication or only metformin, which has indications outside of Type 2 diabetes. At the same time, a control group experienced no significant changes in A1C or diabetes medication use.

In addition, the study reported an average decrease of 1.3 percent in hemoglobin AIC and 12 percent weight loss for patients during the year.

“These results demonstrate that a novel metabolic and continuous remote care model can support adults with T2D to safely improve HbA1c, weight and other biomarkers while reducing diabetes medication use,” concludes the study, published last week in in Diabetes Therapy.

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8. Killer: Influenza and pneumonia
Deaths: 57,062 Americans
Health data initiative: Two mobile communications platform vendors have teamed up to expedite delivery of infectious disease alerts and other critical patient information to nurses and other clinicians via their smartphones.

PatientSafe Solutions offers a platform that supports secure messaging, voice calls, critical alerts, nurse calls, nursing documentation and a mobile application to improve clinical workflows. ILUM Health Solutions, a subsidiary of Merck Healthcare Services, has a platform to target at-risk patients to support interventions, track clinician performance, prescribing and outcomes, and enhance clinical communications within a workflow.

PatientSafe’s strength in delivering real-time clinical information to a care team’s phones will match with ILUM’s ability to rapidly extract and synthesize critical data from the pharmacy and lab, says Si Luo, president and CEO at PatientSafe.

“Our integration will enable hospitals to help improve adherence to established clinical pathways for antimicrobial stewardship and sepsis, leading to better infectious disease outcomes,” he adds.

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9. Condition: Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis
Deaths: 49,959 Americans
Health data initiative: Boston University School of Medicine has developed computer models based on artificial intelligence that significantly improve the analysis of routine kidney biopsy images.

BU researchers, who conducted a proof-of-principle study on kidney biopsy sections, contend that their AI-based models have both diagnostic and prognostic applications and could lead to the development of software for diagnosing kidney disease as well as predicting kidney survival.

In the study, images processed from renal biopsy samples were collected on 171 patients treated at the Boston Medical Center and were analyzed by convolutional neural networks (CNN) models and nephropathologists, who specialize in the analysis of kidney biopsy images.

“With respect to kidney disease, biopsy is one of the gold standard procedures,” says Vijaya Kolachalama, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Most of the clinical decisions today are made based on information that nephropathologists can see from the biopsy.”

However, in the study—published last week in the journal Kidney International Reports—CNN models outperformed human kidney analysis across six disease classification tasks. In particular, the AI-based model predicted the chronic kidney disease stage more accurately than the nephropathologists.

"When implemented in the clinical setting, our work will allow pathologists to see things early and obtain insights that were not previously available,” claims Kolachalama, who notes that the digitization of biopsies is not yet a common practice but is growing.

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10. Condition: Intentional self-harm (suicide)
Deaths: 44,193 Americans
Health data initiative: Information technology is being used to help identify individuals with the potential for suicide. For example, veterans constitute just 8.5 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 18 percent of all suicide deaths. Social, economic, and environmental factors determine 50 percent of overall health. Socioeconomic data—often called the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) —are needed to create a full health profile. When combined with medical data, the information can save lives.

Researchers are looking at programs in which SDOH data and analytics are being used to tease out previously unseen relationships between socioeconomic factors and health, believing that they offers opportunities to intervene and help prevent negative health outcomes, particularly for our nation’s veterans.

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