Healthcare IT: Where did it come from and where is it going?

I recently finished reading Dan Brown’s latest book, Origin.  Without playing spoiler for those that haven’t read it, Brown weaves an interesting tale about “where did we come from,” and “where are we going?”  Suffice it to say, the question of humankind’s origin, what’s potentially next on the evolutionary chain, and the impact of computers make for an interesting read.

As I reflect on Brown’s premise, it reminds me of trends in healthcare IT!  We have come from virtually no automation and reliance on humans, to perhaps a crossroads where computational power is playing an increasing role in healthcare.  The question is … will computers ever overtake humans in terms of healthcare? 

There has recently been a lot written and publicized on artificial intelligence and cognitive machine learning.  Consider the definition of cognitive machine learning:

Cognitive computing refers to the technology platform that is based on scientific disciplines of signal processing and artificial intelligence. These platforms encompass automated reasoning, machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing.

So, the question is – how invasive a roll will computers play going forward?  Focusing for a moment on the clinical side, cognitive computing will likely play a greater roll in diagnostic and therapeutic care.  Will it ever get to the point of replacing the physician?  Probably not entirely, but cognitive computing can relieve the physician (and support staff) of many mundane tasks. 

For example, consider the possibility of cognitive computing assisting with the diagnosis, relying on an extensive knowledge base of information, and then conveying results back to the patient.  With ever-improving speech applications, it is not out of the realm of possibility for computers to have an interactive conversation with the patient and explain a diagnostic exam.  In Origin, a computer personality known as “Winston” personifies a human in terms of interaction.  With a vast knowledge database, computers could effectively remind patients of medications, as well as field inquiries for further assessment, and queue them up to the physician.

As stated above, there are many clinical functions such as the patient exam that may never be taken over by machines (I could suggest a few invasive procedures that I would prefer to have handled by a human!).  But certainly, analysis of acquired data and samples is increasingly handled by machines.

On the non-clinical side, ARRA/Meaningful Use has fostered greater application of machines via greater use of EHR’s for reporting.  There will likely be more tasks on both the payor and provider side that will be assumed by machines.  Cognitive computing may enable faster authorizations, as well as speedier payment based on a broader knowledge base and higher network bandwidth. 

Healthcare will follow many other industries in the computer revolution.  Consider, for example, the investment GE is making in software engineering, including its “Predix” cloud network.  The goal is to greatly improve industrial processes via cloud-based applications.  Similarly, the Internet of Things (IOT) is an explosive field of connectivity that will also find its way into healthcare.

The challenge facing developers and providers will be where best to focus investment in these developments.  This will make for an exciting decade in healthcare IT, and yet, I doubt in my lifetime CP3O will be managing my healthcare!  What are your thoughts on this brave new world?  I’d encourage all to read Origins as it raises an interesting perspective on where all humankind is going!