The last few years have seen dramatic changes in healthcare technology, models, delivery, and regulation. Everything from regional and network consolidation, to cloud computing and AI, are creating an environment of unprecedented change and opportunity. We can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for the world of healthcare and imaging.
AI-Powered Tools to Increase Efficiency
It seems like a minute can’t go by without hearing of another AI tool that could help physicians make clinical decisions faster. New tools have been shown to accurately identify lung nodules and breast tumors much faster than the human eye. However, many tools still need training; they rely on feedback from the physician on whether they are correct or not. The hope is that over time the training of the algorithm will produce a far more accurate real-time decision. However, training takes increased time for the user of the product. Additionally, there may be a disconnect between the creators of the application and the end-users whether they be physicians, nurses, technologists, etc. Will users be willing to devote the necessary time to AI tool improvements? This remains to be seen in 2020.
Cloud Breaks Down Data Silos
Once imaging has been freed from departmental silos, CDs, and complex VPN networks, the utilization of data for academic research, AI, machine learning initiatives, and improved interoperability becomes a reality. Leading vendors like Ambra Health, are developing open cloud networks to break down these barriers. The Ambra Gateway Directory provides facilities with the increased interoperability needed to make sure that imaging is always available.
The Gateway Directory allows users with the appropriate role permissions to search a list of public gateways within Ambra using the facility name or location. When the user locates a gateway that they’d like to connect with, they can click a button in the Directory to initiate the configuration process. The requested facility must expressly approve the connection request via email before Ambra will configure any connections. Once approval is received, the Ambra team will work with both parties to get the connection live in as short as one day.
Ensuring Patient Consent and Understanding of Data Usage
We know that patient consent is important when it comes to any procedure, treatment, and overall care. However, the concept of patient consent is evolving considerably in today’s era of big data. HIPAA works to protect patient data from illegal usage and makes clear that patients own their healthcare data. Things get complicated once that same data has been completely anonymized as it is often then free for hospitals to use and sometimes even sell.
As Adam Tanner, a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, shares in his book, Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records, many patients don’t realize that their data is being sold. This may mean that facilities will need to overhaul traditional consent forms and explain to patients in jargon-free language how their data could potentially be used. As hospital and radiology practice mergers continue to occur, facilities must also update patients on the applicable policies of new institutions. Patients should be offered access to a patient portal where they can act as the owners of their medical data and images and use them as they please, including seeking second opinions.
Educational Societies Push Towards Interoperability
Vendors don’t always like to share but that may change with major groups pushing towards increased interoperability. The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), Carequality, and the Sequoia Project have developed an Imaging Data Exchange Implementation Guide Supplement to improve the technical standards that support the exchange of medical images. The goal of the project is to eliminate CDs, which frequently cause serious care delays. Imaging on CDs can take days to arrive and in the worst-case scenarios, cause a patient to have repeat imaging. Ambra Health, Life Image, and Philips Healthcare are three early vendors that have adapted to the Carequality Imaging Data Exchange Implementation program. We hope that in 2020 vendors will work together to improve overall patient care and share imaging data more freely.
Increased Data Diversity in Clinical Trials
Using existing and diverse data can save clinical trials the costs, time, and negative patient outcomes associated with traditional randomized trials.
The popular asthma inhaler, albuterol, is one of the most cited examples of how a lack of diverse data can negatively impact populations. For years, physicians had noticed that albuterol was much more effective in children of European or Mexican descent rather than African American or Puerto Rican descent. Researchers at USCF found that 95 percent of previous studies had focused on people of European descent. A new study with wider genetic variation was able to pinpoint the genetic markers that are more prevalent in people of African ancestry that caused less effective treatment. Today, physicians can use this information to prescribe the right inhaler type.
This data can be collected from a wide variety of sources ranging from electronic health records, billing data, surveys, and even mobile applications. Previously, the ability to collect and organize huge amounts of data was impossible, but today, machine learning and artificial intelligence tools make it possible.
Radiologists Step Out of Dark Room With Social Media
It should be no surprise that physicians need to take a serious interest in social media. Millennials aren’t quite so young anymore; they are becoming homeowners, leaders in the workplace, parents, and more. More than any generation before them, millennials search for recommendations regarding physicians and facilities online. An outdated website, lack of reviews, and difficulty accessing critical information could be a major turn-off.
Radiology as a field seems to be recognizing the importance of social media, too. In a recent piece in The Journal of the American College of Radiology, AdventHealth Orlando radiologist Darel Heitkamp, MD, and colleagues concluded that “As the tools available to radiology educators continue to evolve with technology, it seems prudent for today’s program directors to consider the advantages of maintaining a professional Twitter account.”
Imaging Improves Overall Patient Care but Greater Access is Needed
Medical imaging has been strongly linked to a greater life expectancy, reduced cancer risk, and overall improved quality of life. Yet, medical imaging exams are often still shared on CDs which can be lost, broken, or incompatible with a system upon upload. This is particularly critical with screening tests such as mammography that are dependent on looking at the imaging history of the patient. A patient who has moved states and does not have access to prior imaging often loses the ability to have priors reviewed. At best, if anything in the imaging is of concern, the prior images are able to be mailed on CD within a few days to the new physician. However, these are still a few days of additional worry and concern for a patient. And at worst, the patient may face further imaging or unnecessary biopsies if priors can’t be accessed.
Facilities Launch New Revenue Enhancing Programs Like Second Opinion
Leading medical facilities with strong sub-specialty groups are interested in enabling medical second opinion programs and expert care globally. Patients are increasingly directing their own care when faced with a complex or interventional diagnosis. They are seeking out providers with strong reputations for excellence, regardless of their location. For healthcare providers, this means investing in your brand and online presence to optimize direct patient traffic and offering value-added services such as second opinion.
What trends do you think 2020 has in store for imaging?