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Our daily lives have been transformed by smart technologies, except in healthcare. We can now order location-based transportation services, send and receive money, and download streaming content—all with the click of a button. Most of these new services are even personalized to meet our evolving preferences and demands. Many aspects of our lives have been made easier and more accessible by digitized services that leverage data to inform us and to improve and simplify our lives.
The airline industry, for instance, was transformed by leveraging sensors to unlock important data. In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, flying a plane required the continuous attention of a pilot, co-pilot and navigator in the cockpit to ensure the safety of its passengers. These three people were tasked with monitoring more than 600 gauges and dials. So it was virtually impossible for them to fully monitor and make sense of all the data. But with the advent and widespread use of onboard sensors, algorithmic based-autopilot, and the consolidation of dials into a single “glass cockpit” display, flight safety saw an exponential improvement. In 1959, there were 40 fatal accidents per one million aircraft departures in the US. Within 10 years this had improved to less than two in every million departures, falling to around 0.1 per million today.
When we think of a plane crash, one is one too many. However, patient crashes happen every day in hospitals, and much of clinicians’ valuable time is spent on managing these “crashes” after the fact.
The reality is that the practice of healthcare is not yet “smart.” Today, we practice a reactive model of care that’s based on episodic snapshots of patient information. Clinicians have limited access to data and the data they do have access to is not complete or in context.
In most hospital settings, few medical devices talk to each other, even when they are critical to patient care, like ventilators, pumps, drug infusers, and pulse rate monitors. This lack of connectivity and information-sharing can lead to alarm fatigue, desensitization, and clinical complacency. While many of these devices generate and analyze a staggering amount data, the majority isn’t captured or documented in medical records.
Take an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patient for example. Each one generates an average of 21.6 million points of data daily, but only around 0.1 percent of the medical device data is captured and charted in electronic medical records, according to Qualcomm Life research. That tiny amount of data is not good enough; it doesn’t account for the complete picture of a patient’s health and doesn’t enable clinicians to make informed interventions that are rooted in evidence. Furthermore, these instruments and monitors display their data independent of each other, making it difficult or impossible for clinicians to integrate information in real-time and establish a comprehensive understanding of the combined data.
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., responsible for more than 250,000 deaths per year, according to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins. Given this staggering statistic, it’s imperative that hospitals implement a data-driven, secure infrastructure across care settings to help clinicians use medical information more accurately and efficiently to make life or death decisions. With a continuous, near real-time feed of information, clinicians can dramatically improve care by having actionable, timely and informative data at their fingertips. This will help the healthcare industry move to a predictive and preventative model of care.
This new era of intelligent care is upon us. The coming systems will proactively address patient issues by combing through the millions of data sets that are generated hourly using clinically relevant, predictive algorithms. That will help drive informed, near real-time decision making. Errors will be reduced and outcomes can improve when we start using smarter, more intelligent technologies and leverage data.  (See this session at the recent Techonomy Health conference in New York.)
In healthcare, failure is not an option.  We need to catch up to other industries that have been transformed by sensor-generated digital data, and make care more intelligent across the care continuum.
Dr. James Mault is Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Qualcomm Life.