For months, the entire country's focus has been on the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, many other healthcare concerns have been left unaddressed. Patients with chronic and acute conditions avoided going to doctors for routine care or to the hospital when potential emergencies arose out of fear of exposing themselves to the highly contagious virus. As a result, their health has suffered ill effects unrelated to COVID-19.
Data we have collected provides some revealing insights. From the time COVID-19 became more widespread in March, people began postponing medical appointments, as well as routine procedures like colonoscopies, and elective surgeries, such as joint replacements.
Prealize's analysis showed that during the past several months, diagnosis of heart disease is down 37%, cancer diagnoses down 35%, and stroke-related diagnoses down 38%. Unfortunately, this is not because Americans’ are suddenly healthier. Instead, we see this as a major concern; a precursor to substantial strain to our healthcare system as patients begin to suffer the consequences of delayed care.
Our country’s response to the coronavirus exposed many of the challenges that the healthcare system faces. We have serious gaps in care. We have traditionally treated illnesses, rather than promoting health. And in many cases, we were just woefully unprepared for everything in the healthcare realm we've faced in 2020.
As we navigate the post-pandemic era, the healthcare system must find a balance. One of the most important questions we need to ask ourselves is: “How can we continue to treat those who are still battling COVID-19 and ensure that millions of individuals who put regular and essential healthcare on hold receive the care they need?”
This is a question Prealize CEO Linda Hand tackled in a recent webinar hosted by Chilmark Research. Linda was joined by Dr. Susan Athey, Economics of Technology professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Colt Courtright, director of Corporate Data & Analytics for Premera Blue Cross.
During the event, we discussed how technology – particularly artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) – can be a game changer as we adjust to the new normal of continuing to provide regular care of our patients while treating those who are still impacted by coronavirus.
Already we see the potential for AI and ML to play a critical role three key areas:
- Health equity – Certain ethnic groups, like Black and Latinx individuals, are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Plus, they are twice as likely to suffer from chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, lung disease and stroke. AI and ML can help identify these underserved communities, which are impacted by socioeconomic, demographic and geographic factors not often considered as part of the greater healthcare picture. By deriving insights into other aspects of patients' lives, providers can more equitably reach out to patients in ways that better meet their health needs and circumstances, and correct for biases in a way that improves access to care for all patients.
- Delivering priority care – Nearly half of Americans delayed or skipped medical care during the pandemic, and in 11% of the cases, the person’s condition worsened as a result, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. AI can be leveraged in several ways to help providers prioritize care – from supporting in-home telehealth applications for non-acute medical conditions that reduced the barriers for care to predicting potential complications for patients to support triage of non-emergency issues. Payers and providers also can leverage AI to help identify patients at higher risk of complications from chronic conditions, and proactively engage them in taking steps to improve their health.
- Drug and vaccine development – In the throes of a pandemic, where continued spread of a virus is keeping businesses and schools closed, the time it takes to find a vaccine is of the essence. ML, a subset of AI, can speed the process by providing scientists with insights into effective vaccine and drug design, and how they may interact with other commonly prescribed medications. AI also can help analyze genomic data for groups such as African Americans or Hispanics, which isn't often incorporated into today's R&D efforts.
AI and ML have been long used in other industries to improve efficiency, enable them to anticipate customer needs and gain the insights that drive innovation. Now is the time that the healthcare sector begins to seriously consider how AI and ML can improve healthcare in the post-pandemic era. Not only will they be crucial tools for accurately modeling the spread of a virus so we can more quickly identify where outbreaks may occur to reduce community infection, they will play an equally important role in delivering routine care and proactively addressing complications related to chronic conditions that continue to plague our patients.
With insights derived from AI and ML, together we can create a new paradigm for healthcare, focusing on a proactive approach that promotes health rather than reacting to illness, and ensuring that all patients receive the care they need in a timely manner.
We invite you to learn by and watch the recent Chilmark Research webinar on The Essential of Health AI in a Post-Pandemic World.