This year’s Washington Technology Showcase is healthcare technology themed. And that makes a lot of sense. Of all of the industries and markets seeing significant technology adoption and innovation, few are being disrupted as extensively and changed as fundamentally by new technology as the healthcare industry.
Although it may surprise some that a community that seemed to cling to paper charts for as long as possible before embracing electronic health records is jumping into new technologies so aggressively, it’s true. And much of the innovation that’s driving this evolution in healthcare is happening right here, in the National Capital region.
To learn more about the advancements happening in healthcare, and why health IT is exploding today, we sat down with Dr. Farrokh Alemi from George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services. Dr. Alemi was trained as an operations researcher and industrial engineer and has worked in both academia and the healthcare industry. He has more than 105 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as Health Services Research, Medical Care, and Palliative Medicine.
During our discussion, we talked about the changes that Dr. Alemi is seeing in the healthcare industry, the technologies he thinks will impact healthcare the most and the rise of personalized medicine. Here is what he had to say:
Corporate Growth, Capital Style (CGCS): Many people say that the healthcare industry has been reticent to embrace new technologies until recently. Do you agree with that sentiment? If, so, why have they been hesitant to go all in on embracing new innovations and solutions in the past?
Dr. Farrokh Alemi: Successful adoption of new technologies requires not only new technological innovations but also new care processes. The problem has been that, in healthcare, it is more difficult to change care processes.
Let me give an example. It has been difficult to set up exchanges and get data integrated across platforms. The technological solutions exist, but the agreement between vendors, providers of care, and patients have been lacking. This is evidenced by the fact that hackers have accessed the data by ignoring the needed agreements.
To move forward we need to innovative new care processes — a non-technological solution is needed.
CGCS: What are the technologies that you feel can have the largest and most immediate impact on the healthcare industry – as far as improving patient outcomes and delivery of care?
Dr. Farrokh Alemi: The current technology where most progress can be made is the electronic health record. Within the electronic health record we can accomplish the most good.
It is the foundation for many other technologies. It is a platform for integrating new applications. It is a data repository that can help us improve precision of medical prescriptions.
CGCS: Personalized medicine is something you’ve written about in the past. What is personalized medicine and how is different than our current approach to providing patient care?
Dr. Farrokh Alemi: There are two types of personalized delivery. The first type utilizes genetic markers to see what will work for the patient. We have done some work in this area but our largest success has been with a different type of personalized medicine.
The second type uses medical history to predict what will work for a patient. This technology is currently available and can radically improve health care. For example, a computer assisted prescription for a patients’ first antidepressant is twice more likely to reduce depression symptoms than a physician’s unaided prescription.
Eventually, progress in this area is likely to switch who prescribed medications: the doctor or the computer. Over time the public may come to rely on the more accurate computer’s advice. The doctor will write the prescription still, but patients and doctors will want the more accurate information about what is likely to work.
CGCS: What technologies are enabling personalized medicine? What role is big data and data analytics playing in making this a reality?
Dr. Farrokh Alemi: Big data, removing of confounding in observational data, and general advances in statistics are the driving technologies today. I call this, “personalized statistics.”
Think of it this way. Data is available regarding what works. Personalized statistics re-analyzes subsets of this patient at hand. It is like the patient has his/her own statistician, mining the data to see what will work for one person.
CGCS: This year’s WTS is health IT focused. Why is it important today to bring together these health IT stakeholders – IT companies, government agencies, academia and investors – for an event like this?
Dr. Farrokh Alemi: The real process and technological changes require us to work together. Investors and innovators that imagine new care processes will benefit.