Ancient civilisations believed that deadly diseases like the plague and cholera were caused by invisible noxious vapours in the air called “miasma”. Some even suggested that people could become obese from inhaling vapours from food.
The miasma theory held all the way until the late 19th century, when the germ theory of disease was established – that specific germs, and not invisible vapours, caused diseases.
Today, medical practitioners have much more specific knowledge on illnesses. At DXC Technology’s Innovation Lab in Singapore, we have been working with health experts to create the next generation of healthcare tools. Here’s what they might look like.
Monitoring patient history
One of the major challenges doctors face today is to understand the specific ways in which diseases affect each patient. They need to understand the person’s medical history and general patterns that exist for that disease.
This is why we’re building better analytics tools to predict and prescribe medical advice. For instance, we’ve done research to detect heart diseases. The right interventions given even five minutes before a heart attack can help save lives. We can detect heart issues based on historical data together with medical professional help.
For diabetes, continuous monitoring is crucial. We have created an IoT solution that monitors fluctuations and can help take timely action. Data from the devices can be integrated onto a central platform which can send out alerts to nurses and doctors.
A second revolution is in augmented digital assistants. Often junior doctors are called upon by specialists to do repetitive work like summarising patients’ medical histories. This places additional pressure on professionals who are already stretched.
We are developing digital humans who can assist doctors and specialists. These software assistants that can scan historical data for patterns and could use recommendation engines to advice specialists on next steps. Meanwhile, doctors can dedicate more time to serve their patients.
Intelligent assistants can also help speed up processes in hospitals. For instance, we have developed a proof of concept for hospital visitors to pass through queues faster. The AI tool uses a patient’s biometric authorisation like facial recognition or a thumbprint to draw up their medical history and direct them to the right place. If a patient has a regular dialysis session scheduled, perhaps they can skip the queue to see a doctor and go straight for their session.
Tackling antibiotic resistance
A third area of our work is in tackling antimicrobial resistance – a massive public health threat and a priority for hospitals worldwide. Up to 30 per cent of infections in Singapore’s hospitals are resistant to widely-used antibiotics. Tackling this requires hospitals to gather massive amounts of data to understand how doctors prescribe antibiotics and how patients respond.
We are working with the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to apply artificial intelligence to the problem and reduce hospital stays, mortality and readmission rates. We built an algorithm from patient data on seven broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics used to treat pneumonia. We analysed thousands of antibiotic prescriptions to identify potential cases of misuse.
The AI solution has helped teams in SGH become more efficient and will help doctors recommend the best type of treatments. The next phase of this partnership will gather deeper insights across all antibiotics used for pneumonia. Further still, our objective is to help improve prescriptions for all infectious diseases.
The need to reduce contact between people in hospitals and other healthcare institutions is quickly becoming obvious. The work in those is at an early stage but shows promising results.
DXC Technology is conducting research that will allow for more contactless interactions with devices. One area of work is in using gestures to interact with screens, rather than touching them or using a mouse.
A further experiment is to see whether we can control devices by just thinking. We are prototyping lights in our lab, for instance, that switch on and off in response to brain signals.
200 years ago, our best explanation for illness was a mysterious vapour. The future of healthcare today looks a lot less murky. Personalised care, digital assistants, contactless experiences and efficient prescriptions are all within reach.