It’s been turbulent times across the spectrum of news over the past few weeks. Be it the electoral politics down south, data leaks from a social media giant, allegations of unethical medical practices by a leading heart surgeon or the boardroom battles of a leading hospital chain that has been put on the block. The drama at times is better than the best of O Henry’s twists and could match the nail-biting finishes of this IPL season. The age-old newsroom adage says ‘if it bleeds it leads’, suggesting that negative news catch more eyeballs. However, a recent analysis done by Wharton school professors has proved that in the age of internet, the possibility of content to be viral is more when the sentiment is positive. Despite the bleeds around, let’s sift through some positive trends in healthcare.
Probably it was one of those strange things to do; but I did go around asking friends and colleagues as to which word starting with letter ‘G’ is at the top of their mind. And as good friends always are, no questions asked, they responded in plenty. Understandably, the answers were diverse, from Good to Great, Gandhi to Genuine, Goat to Grapes, Gold to Google and so on. However, the second most common response received was the word GOD.
In the world of healthcare, doctors were always treated a close second to God; at times even at par. Patients used to follow doctor’s directions without any hesitation or questions. But equations are changing these days. While the doctor used to be the only source of information, there are other treasure troves of knowledge today. The biggest of them lives and moves with us, and when in need all that we need to do is simply type our question in a white rectangular box. At our convenience, privacy, and at the click of few buttons, it gives us all the ‘answers’, free of cost. If you have not already guessed, the world knows this giant by the name Google. In the words of Prof. Scott Galloway of NYU Stern School of Business, clocking about 3.5 billion search queries a day, Google is modern man’s God.
Today it’s a common experience for physicians to have patients visiting, armed with lots of information and print-outs downloaded from the internet. While democratization of knowledge is a welcome development, the challenge, many a time, is that it may not be valid and appropriate information. Hence, the new role of the doctor is not only to dispense correct information but also to curate and adjudge the information available for the patient. When asked in a survey, participants ranked tornadoes as a more common cause of death than asthma. But the fact remains that asthma causes seventy times more deaths than tornadoes. An informed patient is a blessing for any physician. In today’s world, a judicious doctor understands the changing paradigms and adopts a patient centric collaborative approach.
It was the mid 19th century London and disaster had struck. Hundreds of people were dying of cholera. It was widely believed by scientists that cholera is caused by particles in the air. But amidst the chaos, physician John Snow had other thoughts. In a path breaking research, he went about manually mapping cholera cases in the city and eventually found that the disease was clustered around a water pump. After many months and years of effort, Dr. Snow could prove that the Cholera is caused not by air but through water. It was only three decades later that the bacteria causing cholera was isolated, but his pioneering work made Dr. Snow one of the founding fathers of modern epidemiology.
That was the nineteenth century. Today, it’s a different scenario. According to data-scientists, by analyzing trends of Google searches and various digital health data, we could map and predict disease patterns. Jeremy Ginsberg and his team of engineers suspected that people suffering with flu will search for symptoms on Google. They went on to demonstrate that trend analysis and correlations of online web search queries can provide accurate mapping of flu. More importantly, this could happen in real time thereby helping healthcare providers and general population. Through data analytics, Amazon recommends books you may like, YouTube understands your viewing preferences and Netflix identifies your favorite movies. Medical researchers believe that similar logic and algorithms, when applied to healthcare, can help identify, diagnose and treat patients.
India is not too far from adopting these changes. In a recent article, NITI Aayog CEO, Mr. Amitabh Kant, stressed on the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the need for every industry to focus on it. Specific to healthcare he narrated two novel ideas initiated by the government. First is the building of a ‘Biobank’ for radiological and pathological images. In partnership with medical institutions, these biobanks will be a repository of CT scans, MRIs, Ultra sonograms and X-rays from across the country. The second initiative is the building of an interoperable electronic medical record (EMR) using blockchain. With a layer of AI added, these initiatives will serve multiple benefits like prediction of epidemic outbreaks, early detection of diseases, disease heat mapping and also empower our remote health centers in diagnosis. Microscope helped us to see the Red Blood Cells, Telescope helped us to see the Red planet, but modern technology helps to understand human beings like never before. Welcome to the new world of health-care, rather tech-care.
We discussed about GOD and GOOGLE but you may still be wondering about the most common response in my G-survey. In fact with a response rate of almost 21% across genders, it was the word ‘GIRL’ that topped the charts. You may ask why. Well, why not let the psycho-analyst in you interpret that or may be just ask Google.
The author is Co-founder & Director @ BioQuest Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore based MNC that has been partnering with clients across the life-sciences knowledge value chain since 2005.