Digital health tools can help save lives, but questions abound

Andis Robeznieks , Senior News Writer

Digital health tools have been shown to improve health care quality and even save lives by providing physicians with the actionable data they need, but finding those nuggets of useful information in a mountain of data is not always easy.

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“Digital health technology has incredible potential to drive health care quality in a positive direction,” according to Bruce A. Scott, MD, a Louisville, Kentucky, otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon who moderated a panel at the Modern Healthcare Digital Health Transformation Summit in Chicago in May.

“But, at the same time, there are some who believe that AI and emerging technology is proceeding  too rapidly,” Dr. Scott added. “Every day, it seems there are new digital apps, new wearables, and more digital innovations that promises to improve health care, but the question is will they fulfill  that promise?”

Noting the “growing mountain of data that is produced about our patients,” Dr. Scott cited the serious concerns about patient privacy and physician cybersecurity and many other questions, including:

  • How much health data will actually be actionable for patients?
  • Will it help patients understand how to live healthier lives?
  • How much will be useful for physicians in their clinical practice?
  • Where are we trying to go in terms of helping physicians in the treatment of individual patients?
  • Will digital technology simplify medical practice for physicians?
  • Or will it simply be another burden for patients and physicians?

“Keep in mind: The focus here is on improving health outcomes,” said Dr. Scott, who at the time of event was speaker of the AMA House of Delegates. In June, he won the office of AMA president-elect at the 2023 AMA Annual Meeting.

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Much of the discussion focused on the potential promise and problems of augmented intelligence (AI)—often called artificial intelligence—and the need to regulate its use and guard against the introduction of gender, racial and ethnic bias in AI models.

“AI, for us, is augmentation—not replacement,” said Desiree Gandrup-Dupre, Kaiser Permanente’s senior vice president for care delivery technology services.

Physicians who deliver care at Kaiser Permanente are part of the Permanente Medical Groups, which are members of the AMA Health System Program that provides enterprise solutions to equip leadership, physicians and care teams with resources to help drive the future of medicine.

Gandrup-Dupre said one of her system’s early applications of predictive analytics is credited with preventing an average of 520 deaths a year.

The award-winning Kaiser Permanente Northern California Advance Alert Monitor program, first tested in 19 hospitals between 2016 and 2019, uses a predictive algorithm to scan almost 100 data points from patients’ electronic medical records every hour to help physicians identify those at risk of clinical deterioration and who need intervention.

“That is a great way to leverage AI and we're pretty proud of that,” Gandrup-Dupre said.

Learn how AMA works with technology and health care leaders to bring physicians critical insights on AI's potential applications and ensure that physicians have a voice in shaping AI's role in medicine.

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Kaiser Permanente also uses digital technology to reduce administrative burdens by helping physicians better manage their email inboxes.

“We’re looking at intent of the message by using keywords and we’re able to route those messages to the right people,” Gandrup-Dupre said.

That way, physicians can focus on the messages that are the most critical, including those from patients who may need to be directed to the emergency department or those whose condition can be assessed and managed with a quick telehealth visit.

Kaiser Permanente is piloting the use of pre-visit patient questionnaires that compare patient answers with the data in their records. Based on those comparisons, the system then recommends that physicians consider actions such as ordering certain tests or checking whether prescriptions need adjustment.

“I am excited about the emerging technologies Kaiser Permanente and others health systems presenting at the summit are developing that can identify patients at risk and lessen the administrative burdens allowing physicians to provide better care to our patients,” Doctor Scott said in his closing remarks.  

The AMA continues to work with health care stakeholders and policymakers to ensure AI advances equity, improves patient care, enhances the clinical work environment, and ultimately instils trust in its use by physicians and other clinicians.

The event also featured insights from panelists at other health systems. Learn about the AMA blueprint for optimizing digitally enabled care.