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Philips and Huawei: Just what the doctor ordered

2017-08-07 By Gary Maidment

    Key takeaways:

  • Cloud solutions and AI will revolutionalize medical diagnosis and treatment.
  • Biosensors and wearables will provide 24/7 health surveillance.

Taking healthcare to the clouds with Philips

Rapid disruption is happening in the healthcare space, with cloud, AI, and biosensors poised to form your personal health team. Find out what Philips and Huawei are doing to get you there.

In 4Q 2016, Huawei and Philips signed an MOU on a cloud-based healthcare solution for deployment in China. With testing already completed, the project is opening up a future where cloud and machine-learning will digitalize and disrupt the healthcare vertical with unprecedented speed and reach. 

Targeting China’s smaller urban centers, the Philips-Huawei partnership is keen to expand high-quality cloud-driven healthcare to communities that lack advanced healthcare solutions or physicians with specialist skills. 

Cloud AI is able to process vast amounts of data in a much shorter time and with far greater accuracy than a human physician. Ludwig Liang, Head of Population Health Management for Philips in China, points out that this is especially important in China’s tier-2 cities, because many physicians “don’t necessarily have the skills to read image diagnostics like MRI scans and CT scans. If you ask a doctor to process thousands of images a day, he may miss something.” In contrast, AI is adept at spotting patterns in big datasets. For terminal illnesses like cancer, machine learning solutions hosted in the cloud can make a real difference in a patient’s prognosis. 

Cloud AI in the healthcare domain benefits individuals, physicians, and populations.

Helping you help yourself

Mobile technology and apps put personal healthcare management in the hands of the individual, moving away from a reactive and sporadic model to one that’s proactive and always-on. According to Liang, “Using an app, people get objective data from a cognitive device, rather than just the word of someone they might not trust.” 

Patients can approach consultation with healthcare professionals on a more informed level, with personal healthcare expanding into predictive monitoring, preemptive action, and even remote diagnostics and treatment. For example, data from a life-logging app that records your habits can work in tandem with wearables that monitor your physiology. Data can be sent to your physician in real time if, for example, your heart rate indicates a possible problem, “We can set a threshold that will alert your doctor so they become aware of something you may not notice,” says Liang. 

With tech advancing at such an impressive rate, is there a risk of the elderly and less affluent being left behind? After all, they’re generally more vulnerable when it comes to health and also slower adopters of technology. Liang takes a pragmatic view, “We have to admit that we’re heading into new areas, how healthcare can be extended from hospitals to homes and leveraging apps and connected devices.” And, for Liang, the concept of extended healthcare is very important – treatment will no longer start and stop in a hospital or doctor’s office after someone becomes sick. Apps, sensors, smart devices, and the cloud will in effect mean “you have your own health team on call 24/7.” 

Wearing your heart on your sleeve

Wearable tech isn’t quite there yet, but it’s only a matter of time. “We’re seeing some wearables going through FDA certification right now. So this is happening,” says Liang. In the future, we can expect biosensing functionality to offer a broader overall picture of one’s health, with advances in machine learning promising much greater predictive power. For example, your smartphone might employ voice analysis technology to identify stress, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s based on your vocal patterns; your steering wheel may be able to pick up on the onset of Parkinson’s disease from small tremors in your hands; or your shower or bath might be scanning you for tumors on a daily basis. 

He’s also confident that any skills gap can be bridged: “The generations already accustomed to computers and mobile apps are getting older. Many people in their 50s and 60s already use social media like WeChat. They’re picking up new technologies quickly.” Liang also believes that younger generations will also play a key role in this regard, “They’ll be thinking ‘Oh, how’s my dad doing today?’ They’ll want to actively monitor their parents or grandparents and ensure they know how to use new technology.” 

Apps that log behaviors and sensors that monitor health are not only predictive; they can also help ensure compliance with medication and treatment plans, giving notifications and alerts to optimize treatment efficacy.

A helping hand for doctors

Cloud AI can eliminate a lot of the grunt work for physicians and deliver two major benefits for them. The first is in the area of clinical processing. Doctors will be able to offload part of their work tasks like diagnostics to computers, which are far superior at observing patterns than humans. For example, strokes are caused by blockages or bleeds, but there’s just a 45-minute window to make a diagnosis and begin treatment to dissolve a clot when the first signs appear. However, it can take hours – or even days – for a shadow to appear on a scan that’s recognizable to a doctor. 

The second is that it will allow doctors to more efficiently share information and conduct research using massive datasets that can be instantly mined. “[Doctors] collectively can record a huge amount of data from different cases over a long time period,” says Liang. “So, they have a better chance of understanding different diseases and identifying how they can provide more effective treatment for patients.”

Cloud AI and the analysis of huge datasets will mean healthier overall populations, where trends can identify potential epidemics, implement constant monitoring, and facilitate AI-enabled research into rare diseases and sub-populations or geographies that are too fine-grained for humans to analyze.

Local issues

In China’s case, Liang identifies three areas that tech solutions need to address, “The first is the aging population. People are living longer and so they require healthcare for longer, which stretches resources. The second is the increasing cost of managing chronic diseases, which places a burden on society. The third is the uneven distribution of healthcare resources.”

The Philips-Huawei solution will go some way to leveling the playing field by cutting costs and increasing the efficiency, speed, and accuracy of diagnostics and treatments. “Our collaboration basically covers a cloud platform, but it also includes IoT connectivity and solutions,” says Liang. “We’ve tested our solutions on Huawei’s cloud and we’re very satisfied with the results. Now it’s about both companies working together to go to market.”

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