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The Cognitive Age In The Health Industry. Challenges And Opportunities

The health industry is going through a total transformation: from the administrative and regulatory perspective to the medical, cultural and formative aspects. Along with this, technology advances in gigantic leaps and introduces new perspectives to evade the health challenges that afflict society; however, at the same time it reveals innovative solutions, it also generates new variables that force to rethink the current operating models.

Fabio Scopeta
2016-08-11

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Fabio Scopeta,
Leader of IBM Watson Health for Latin America

According to the study A Booster Shot for Health and Wellness (2015) from the Institute for Business Value, a document dedicated to understand the transformations that affect the health industry, there are six disruptive forces that currently impact the sector. Broadly speaking, refers to new digital systems, empowered customers, demanding regulations, increases in the social cost of the services, shortages of prepared professionals, and high prices for the development of new treatments.

On the role of technology, it is important to review the duality of the solutions. On one hand, the incorporation of digital systems offers a better monitoring of information, which in turn results in the generation of new knowledge to increase the quality of services; but on the other hand, and here is the great challenge, it is necessary an economic investment, as well as changes in management, preparation, culture and way of work of the health professionals.

On the incorporation of digital systems, the phenomenon is materialized in the digitization of interactions between patients and hospitals, medical records, research reports, and even the telematics obtained from monitoring systems for hospitalized patients. For this reason, the universe of health data grows rapidly, but it is estimated that more than 80% of these data is useless if it is processed with conventional computer systems.

According to figures from the book Big Data (2014) by Bernard Marr, each day are generated more than 2,5 quintillions of data, but 80% of that is not structured. Traditional computer tools can store this type of data —ranging from comments on social networks to images of an MRI obtained inside a hospital— but is necessary a new generation of systems to perform analytical processes that may derive valuable and actionable information.

In this aspect, a new wave of technological developments which incorporates algorithms of machine learning, deep reasoning, and natural language processing, among others, gives beginning to what is known as the era of cognitive computing. These devices pose a new paradigm, since they manage to capture, analyse and understand unstructured data. In the field of health, a machine of this kind can help a doctor processing countless researches to find useful insights, at high speed, to choose the ideal treatment for a particular patient.

A platform of professional information of analysis and, especially, a change in the organizational culture are the main challenges that must overcome an organization that looks for a digital transformation. The system serves little purpose if the medical body does not have the discipline of feeding it. And the same applies if the digital training campaigns do not allow the experts to be able to take advantage of the tools.

Another interesting aspect that should be checked is the change that the digital connectivity, and especially the Internet access, has achieved in the patients’ expectations. The modern user looks for customized and economic treatments, although it might seem they are a question of two antithetic concepts. Indeed: we tend to think that customized is expensive as massive is economical, but we find it inconceivable to formulate a scenario in which it is possible to produce custom bulk services, and the solution is an apparent paradox.

If a service provider has less operating costs, he can reduce the price of his offer, isn’t it? However, according to data from the OECD, the avoidable costs, caused by medical errors, reach 500.000 million of dollars each year. This figure could be substantially reduced if health professionals would have within reach more and better information.

Cognitive technology provides computational capabilities to offer digested knowledge to assist in decision making —rather, as discussed above, it applies to doctors who choose treatment—; for this reason, even if there is a high cost of implementation, before discarding a technology investment of this nature it should be balanced if the reduction in economic losses caused by errors and an increase in the quality of services justify the disbursement.

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