Health Policy

Health Care and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us and is marked by cyber networks coming together with physical networks to create new autonomous systems.  Sensors will create more usable data and personalized products.  Eric Topol brings 4IR to health care in a recent essay (WSJ 6/6/17).

Topol offers a grim view of rising health care costs.  He goes beyond the current focus of insurance coverage and access by stating that real progress in containing costs and improving care will require transforming the practice of medicine itself – how we diagnose and treat patients and how patients interact with medical professionals.  He anchors his essay in a case of study of a patient who used his smartphone-connected wristband to monitor spikes in his blood pressure.  He continued to monitor atrial fibrillation episodes through a credit-card-size electrocardiogram senor attached to his smartphone.  Self-monitoring lead to enhanced communications with his physician; positive changes in his behavior; and over-all better health.

The data generated from sensor screening is personal and understandable in the context of an individual’s own health management activities.  It is not clouded by big data or population health norms, even those may fuel the overall analysis behind the sensor reports.  What is most important to me is that this type of information belongs to the patient.  The patient can now be an active part of his/her community of caregivers as a more knowledgeable participant in care management.  Medical and analytical jargon need not interfere with understanding or in the ability for one to adjust behaviors in light of regular sensor feedback.  The patient has gained control of his/her care through practical data and through a further understanding of how behaviors affect that data.

Topol believes that the 4IR in personal data will empower doctors as artificial intelligence matures into practical technologies.  The costs of diagnosis and treatment should drop significantly.  Yet, he states, medicine is hard to change, especially when reforms threaten establish modes of payment and the customary control of patients.

Jack Militello,

University of St. Thomas Center for Innovation in the Business of Health Care.

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