Big Data and AI Highlighted at the Providence Business News Fall Health Care Summit

Big Data and AI in Rhode Island Healthcare

On Wednesday I attended the Providence Business News Fall Health Care Summit. The Summit brought together a group of experts to discuss the state of healthcare in Rhode Island and what lies ahead. There were two panels moderated by PBN’s Editor Mike Mello. The discussion quickly turned to issues impacting the health of Rhode Islanders, such as rising medical costs, healthcare accessibility, fallout from the COVID crisis, and staff burnout. Big data and AI are technologies that can be used to help address these urgent issues.

All panelists seemed to agree that community-focused healthcare will help improve overall outcomes and affordability for Rhode Islanders. Expanding access to healthcare can be achieved by reducing barriers and using data to make better informed decisions.

In many ways, technology (including big data and AI) can help bridge the gap between healthcare goals and actual outcomes.

Chief Medical Officer for Commercial Products at Point32Health Dr. Raj Hazarika discussed how telemedicine is “…one of the silver linings from the pandemic.” For example, before the pandemic most behavioral health visits were in-person. Dr. Hazarika shared that he is seeing roughly half of all behavioral health visits are now happening via telehealth.

Dr. Scott Rivkees, interim chair and professor of Practice, Health Service Policy and Practice at the Brown University School of Public Health expanded on the opportunities for utilizing telehealth. Dr. Rivkees acknowledged that the increase in telehealth adoption addresses an accessibility issue plaguing Rhode Islanders who might not otherwise seek behavioral health treatment.

And this is important, as the cost per patient can double if they need behavioral health treatment and other medical services versus a patient who needs only medical services. Getting patients behavioral health treatments where, when, and how they need it can drive down the overall cost of healthcare in Rhode Island. “We can’t address physical [ailments] if their mental health isn’t addressed,” noted Johnson & Wales University Associate Professor Samantha Rosenthal.

General Manager of CCA Health Rhode Island Corey McCarty agreed that telehealth medicine is an excellent tool and added that patients first need to have access to a device and an internet connection in order to participate in a telehealth appointment. Understanding where the gaps are that create accessibility challenges for each patient and connecting them to the right programs in the state are key to increasing adoption, he added.

In addition to the rise in telehealth technology to help increase accessibility to healthcare, big data and AI came up in the panel discussions as hot tech-related topics in healthcare.

AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare in numerous ways, making it more efficient, accurate, and patient-centered. Dr. Hazarika referenced a recent study which reviewed chatbot versus physician responses to patients posed in an online forum. He revealed that patients preferred the chatbot responses, finding them to be more empathetic. Using AI assistants to draft patient responses could improve the quality of the responses, lower clinician burnout, and improve patient outcomes.

Another area in healthcare that can use technology to improve is the call center. John Fernandez, CEO & president of Lifespan, talked about the time and resources that are needlessly used when patients try to make appointments. Rather than call the clinician’s office and speak with an attendant to make the appointment, using technology to make the appointment can streamline the process for both the patient and the healthcare provider. The call center employees could be retrained to fill other critical staffing needs within the organization, noted Mr. Fernandez.

Using big data to look at trends and causes to improve care and put patients first is incredibly effective. Dr. Rosenthal illustrated this with an example of a vaccine program whose data set went from 50% of members to 88% by looking at not only the data they already had, but by pulling in data from the Department of Health vaccine registry and KIDSNET data. This valuable information helps the state to design effective interventions that reduce health disparities and increase vaccinations.

Other panelists included Dr. Kristin Russell, chief medical officer for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island; Dr. Farah Shafi, chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI; Eric Swain, vice president of Sales/Account Management at UnitedHealthcare; and Dr. Michael Wagner, chief executive officer at Care New England.

So what are some other ways we might be able to use big data and AI to improve health outcomes?

We can use AI to quickly evaluate large data sets. For example, Google’s DeepMind project is using big data and AI to predict the potential danger of millions of genetic mutations. This project, and others like it, are expected to accelerate research and diagnose rare disorders faster.

Social media data is an additional data set that can be combed by AI to uncover signs of mental health issues or public health concerns. Even hospital operations data can be analyzed to improve efficiency and resource allocation.

Another major consideration for healthcare organizations is HIPAA compliance. AI can also be a valuable tool in helping stay HIPAA compliant by enhancing security, privacy, and data management. For example, AI can help in implementing robust encryption algorithms to protect patient data during transmission and storage, ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential. AI can also be used to help HIPAA compliance and security is the monitoring of network traffic and anomaly detection that could indicate unauthorized access or security breaches. AI has the potential to automatically respond to potential threats, such as blocking suspicious IP addresses.

AI can also maintain detailed audit logs of data access and changes, which is essential for HIPAA compliance. Moreover, medical practices can use AI to automatically analyze these logs for suspicious activities.

Another exciting use of AI is AI-driven platforms that can provide HIPAA compliance training to staff, helping them understand the regulations and the importance of safeguarding patient data. It seems the possibilities for AI in supporting HIPAA compliance are endless.

While AI holds great promise in healthcare, it also raises concerns about privacy and data security. To address these concerns, medical organizations should implement robust data governance policies, strong security measures, and transparent practices that prioritize patient privacy and data security.

We work with many medical practices in Rhode Island to help them navigate these waters. With the arrival of AI within healthcare organizations, we are also seeing the emergence of AI in cyberattacks. This AI proliferation from both sides creates another layer of complexity which medical practices must navigate. IT and cybersecurity professionals serve as part of the frontline, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

It’s exciting that Rhode Islanders see the value in using big data and AI to improve healthcare outcomes. We have some of the brightest minds in the medical field in Rhode Island working to create a better healthcare system which will result in a stronger Rhode Island. I look forward to seeing what 2024 brings to the state.