Hacking Health Care: How Tech Will Drive Down Costs

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Artificial intelligence, sensors and even digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa could help keep down medical costs and improve care.

Artificial intelligence, sensors and even digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa could help keep down medical costs and improve care.


Photo:

ralph orlowski/Reuters

Human beings are safer today than at any time in history. We live more than twice as long as we did in 1900 thanks, in large part, to advances in technology. But our increased lifespan comes at a price. The U.S. spends $3.5 trillion each year on health care, and the federal government shoulders more than 28% of that cost. The Census Bureau projects that 20.6% of Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030, compared to 15.24% in 2016. The U.S. is facing a retirement wave that will strain our health-care system. As head of CTA for three decades, I’ve watched the medical community use new technology to make advances in everything from diet science to disease detection. Much of this technology has not been widely tested, and some of it raises difficult questions about privacy and cybersecurity. But AI, sensors and even digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa could help keep costs down and improve care. Here’s how.

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Sensors Will Show Us Ourselves

How do you respond when a doctor asks you to describe your symptoms? Probably with a lot of subjective, anecdotal self-analysis. But there’s a gap between what’s happening to your body and how you interpret it. The key to bridging this gap lies in wearable devices containing sensors, including micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS). These tiny sensors activate in response to outside stimulus to detect changes in location, air pressure, temperature, light, sound—even smell. You rely on them every time you check your heart rate on your

Fitbit

or consult Waze on your phone. Consider a medical consultation powered by MEMS. Without asking a single question, your doctor could chart your physical activity and check your hydration, sodium and oxygen levels without using a needle. A quick review of your connected prescription dispensers might show you inadvertently skipped a dose of medicine. Today’s cutting-edge prosthetics combine software with sensors that respond to the wearer’s movements, allowing them to perform complex tasks, like turning keys in locks, that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Concussion-sensing technologies in helmets—like those developed by Cambridge, Mass.-based startup MC10—are providing coaches, trainers and the U.S. military with information about head injuries, so they can appropriately assess, extract and treat those affected.

Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.

Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.


Photo:

rick wilking/Reuters
When AI is a Lifesaver

With help from MEMS, individual patients generate millions of data points every day, but doctors and hospitals aren’t able to view and understand this enormous volume of information. AI can quickly sift through vast amounts of data to enhance caregiving—and even save lives.

Qualcomm
’s

AlertWatch:OR AI system, which provides real-time analysis of patient data during surgery, reduces average hospital stays, according to AlertWatch’s research. AI is a game changer in health care because of its uncanny ability to identify patterns. That skill—searching for signs of abnormalities—is at the core of what pathologists, oncologists and radiologists do every day. Cancer applications of Watson,

IBM
’s

artificial-intelligence system, have so far had limited impact on patients, but other oncology-related AI projects are faring better. Optellum, a startup based in the United Kingdom, has created an AI diagnostics system that claims to detect lung cancer in patients earlier than doctors can. Scientists in Japan created a system that detects deadly colorectal cancer with 86% accuracy, according to a study conducted at Tokyo’s Showa University. And a team at Stanford University built a database of 130,000 skin disease images and created an algorithm to diagnose skin cancer. We still need doctors—we need more doctors—but these AI tools will help physicians make better and more effective decisions.

The ElliQ social robot, seen here at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, can send reminders about appointments, message family and friends, respond to voice commands and turn on music.

The ElliQ social robot, seen here at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, can send reminders about appointments, message family and friends, respond to voice commands and turn on music.


Photo:

mandel ngan/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The Internet of Things Will Benefit Seniors

Rick Phelps, founder of the online Alzheimer’s and dementia support group Memory People, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2010. He had this to say about Amazon’s Alexa: “It has afforded me something that I have lost. Memory. I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly.” In addition to acting as a cognitive crutch, AI-powered smart home technology can monitor for falls and provide daily reminders for people with less severe memory loss. The Israeli startup Intuition Robotics has created ElliQ, a robot for seniors that can send reminders about appointments, message family and friends, respond to voice commands and turn on music. Delaware-based HEKA has created an AI mattress that can improve sleep by monitoring and adjusting to a user’s body position. Seniors living in the United States represent a multibillion-dollar market opportunity, including tech products that help people balance aging with a proactive, healthy, independent lifestyle. As a welcome bonus, these consumer benefits can translate into billions in savings for the health care industry.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association. This article is adapted from his book, “Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation,” to be published December 31 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.