An unexplored space
These days you can find startups who innovate in all kinds of spaces. These startups seem to think that with the right IT-solutions, you can bring great untapped value into almost any kind of business. Quite often, these startups have proved themselves to be right. Unfortunately, because of hurdles, both real and imagined, there are some spaces that startups have stayed away from. The health space has been one of these spaces, at least until quite recently. The lack of exploration in the health space means that there is potential for significant improvements, and it’s one of the reasons I find it to be an interesting space to innovate and explore.
Recently we at Lytics announced to the world that we’re getting into primary care, by starting a primary care unit (PCU). The excitement and interest around our new investment in primary care has been great. There are fascinating stories in the world of eHealth and artificial intelligence, the vitality and dynamism in the space is pretty amazing. Hopefully our launch of a PCU, will be yet another fascinating story.
Broad overview of primary care
Primary care units, sometimes called primary care centers or clinics, exists to fulfill your basic healthcare needs. In different areas in the world, the primary care is organized in different ways. In the default set, if you start feeling sick or have some medical questions, you’ll have a general practitioner (GP) who’ll provide you with the required medical services.
If you have some serious disease, you might regularly need to meet some specialist, but the idea is that the GP will be a jack of all (medical) trades, who will serve your basic medical needs. The GP will also help coordinate your care, referring you to the right specialists. Depending on where you live, the responsibilities of PCU can differ. Even here in Sweden, the primary care is organized differently depending on which county you live in.
In Skåne (and most of Sweden), the PCU is known as Vårdcentral, which literally translates to care center. A Vårdcentral is required to have GPs as well several other medical professions attached to it, some of which are psychologists, physiotherapists and organizational therapists. The PCU is basically a small healthcare hub offering services ranging from diagnostics, medical treatments and routine check-ups to psychotherapy, diet advice and counseling.
The importance of primary care and preventive measures
In most countries, it’s the responsibility of the PCU to keep people healthy by promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing the onset of diseases. The PCU functions as a gateway to more specialized and expensive care as well as the first line of defense against diseases. The PCU is supposed to prevent patients from getting sick in the first place and if they do get sick, make sure that the disease doesn’t progress.
One reason having access to a PCU is important, is because it’s much better and cheaper to work proactively by preventing negative outcomes than to address the outcomes when they occur. If you wait until a patient gets really sick, then it might be too late for primary care and the patient will require expensive hospitalization. Beside the financial costs to the patient and society, there are health costs associated with these outcomes. The damage to the patients’ health is already done, specialized hospital care can only mitigate some of these damages. By offering data-driven care, and utilizing our powerful suite of predictive and prescriptive analytics, we will prevent some hospitalizations and promote healthy lifestyles.
Another important responsibility of the PCU is to help chronically ill patients manage their diseases. Although chronically ill patients have a disease that will not disappear, that doesn’t mean they don’t get better or worse. They often suffer from acute exacerbations which results in a visit to emergency department and specialized hospital care. These acute worsening of symptoms, can not only be lengthy timewise, but they’re associated with worse long-term outcomes for the patients as well as contribute to a major part of the healthcare costs.
By helping chronically ill patients manage their disease better, we will greatly reduce healthcare costs, and more importantly, we can improve the quality of life for these patients. By moving from generalizations to specifics we believe we will help patients regain control over their lives and reduce their need for hospital care.
Data-driven primary care: A paradigm shift
Imagine a GP who has seen and analyzed all your medical data as well as other health-related data that you want to share. Imagine that the GP constantly monitors your health status and contacts you before you get ill, in order to prevent it from happening. Imagine that the GP gives you personalized recommendations regarding your health and lifestyle, based on big amounts of your personal data. With the launch of Lytics data-driven PCU, we will in time realize such imaginations.
By utilizing AI algorithms and rich datasets, we can find solutions to problems previously thought unsolvable. There’s a growing amount of health wearables that constantly stream your personal data to the cloud. Under the provisions of traditional PCUs and GPs, this wealth of data is lost. The medical community has few tools and routines to accept and integrate the data in their care. By leveraging expertise in data science and having a system ready for it we can offer data-driven healthcare services and include such data. We know it’ll greatly surpass traditional healthcare, both when it comes to effectiveness as well as keeping costs down.
Even the traditional electronic healthcare records pose a problem for traditional healthcare providers. If you are beyond middle-age, you will most likely have amassed quite a big healthcare record, even if you have no health wearables. Almost no GP or medical personnel will have the time to go through all your information. In a reality, when time is scarce, healthcare providers often make snap judgements and look for proof that will support their initial judgment. With a well-trained predictive modeling algorithm you can have your all of healthcare records analyzed instantly and forward the most objective assessment of your health to your care providers.
By utilizing predictive and prescriptive analytics in a primary care setting, we aim to deliver greater value to the prospective patient. We can predict the onset of certain diseases and will in time optimize preventive treatments. Timing the appropriate interventions is key.
Beside the direct costs for healthcare services there are many costs associated with getting ill. Getting ill isn’t enjoyable, so there’s an emotional costs associated with it. Depending on the condition, you might not be able to enjoy your leisure activities. You might also miss time from work or school. All of these are costs are burdens to society in some way that can be reduced by working systematically with preventive care.
What lights my fire
Regarding the PCU, my own personal goal, is to make sure the healthcare system works smarter, is more proactive and is accessible to more people. Currently the healthcare system is lacking resources to work optimally. There’s a shortage of medical personnel, so most physicians and nurses are overworked. The working environment and work hours tend to be quite stressful, sometimes bordering on inhumane. In a situation like this, only few people can truly do their work well and deliver great service. If you’re lucky, you might meet such people, or you might live in an area with a smaller demand for healthcare. Personally I do not want to rely on luck, I want great healthcare services to be accessible for everybody. By developing a smart virtual health assistant in the cloud, anybody with a functioning Internet connection will be able to access world-class healthcare services.
I have to admit, I also have a selfish goal associated with the PCU. My own experience with healthcare hasn’t been satisfactory. Luckily, I have been able to get by without consuming much healthcare, though my consumption level might have been below optimal. Though, as I grow older, the likelihood that I’ll acquire a chronic illness increases. Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies will start failing and we’ll be more prone to acquire a chronic illness, though it’s not inevitable.
Historically we’ve managed to improve our health and increase our lifespans, by gaining knowledge about the human body, reducing poverty and through innovations in healthcare. In the past couple of centuries, life expectancy have increased from around 30 years to more than 80 in most of the industrialized world. There is nothing, except our own mindset, that prevents us from repeating these historical feats. By utilizing powerful AI analytics, we aim to get deeper understanding of chronic diseases and find better solutions to manage and prevent them. I believe this will be a key part of purposeful ageing.
Seeing how the world is aging and our resources diminishing, the current healthcare system is unsustainable and in dire need of some serious innovations. We can either close our eyes to reality or we can face it. By opening a new PCU that delivers data-driven care, we can solve some of the current and future problems that are facing us. At Lytics, we have now found a way to break status quo and hopefully help bring about a paradigm shift.
Visions of future: The virtual health assistant
In the future, you can expect to have your own virtual health assistant. The assistant will help you manage your health, and will constantly monitor and analyze your health status. The assistant will give you personalized data-driven recommendations for how you should stay healthy. If you are unfortunate and have a disease, it will help you manage your disease and overcome any difficulties you might encounter. These recommendations will be tailored to your needs, personality and life circumstances. If the assistant deems it necessary, it will help you to contact relevant medical personal or direct medical robots to treat you.
One basic way that the assistant can help you, is by creating personalized recipes tailored for you. These are recipes that are adjusted to your taste and health status. You will not have to worry about the food you eat. The assistant will manage your shopping of groceries, by automatically placing your purchase orders online. Your household robots will pick up the delivery and store it for you. By having access to your schedule, your food storage units and having the ability to predict your behavior, the assistant will be able to keep your fridge stocked with fresh food while keeping waste to a minimum. The assistant will anticipate when you’ll want to eat and what would be suitable to you and will instruct the household robots to cook for you. You’ll have a heartily warm cooked and healthy meal ready for you when you want it.
The launch of this primary care unit will not directly realize our vision of having a virtual health assistant, but it will, with time, be a huge step in the right direction.