Technology set to improve preventive care

Associated Press file photo provided by IBM -- High-powered computer systems such as IBM's Watson, which can process 200 million pages of data in three seconds, and other technology will transform health care by helping doctors make better diagnoses, said Chris Loar, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, on Tuesday. Show caption
Associated Press file photo provided by IBM -- High-powered computer systems such as IBM's Watson, which can process 200 million pages of data in three seconds, and other technology will transform health care by helping doctors make better diagnoses, said Chris Loar, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, on Tuesday.

Advances in technology and the analysis of data will shift health care’s focus in the next few years from after-the-fact treatment to preventive care, Chris Loar, director of business information services for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, said Tuesday.

In order to accomplish that, the industry must first figure how to get all the devices and information systems of different providers to communicate, Loar told the audience at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s monthly investor luncheon. The industry must also figure out how to use the enormous amounts of patient data that information technology, such as electronic health records, can capture to be proactive and to prevent health problems.

“When it comes to other industries, technology in health care is still extremely far behind in how it interacts with consumers,” Loar said.

When a consumer logs on at Amazon.com, the website recognizes him, knows his browsing history, makes recommendations based on that history, and is very clear about the cost and when the item will be delivered, Loar said.

In health care, the patient has to fill out the same paperwork every time and fill it out manually. The price for each service is a mystery.

Consumers want the “Amazon experience,” Loar said. They want transparent pricing; they want their information to follow them everywhere they go; and they want the convenience of electronic interactions.

Loar said IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can process 200 million pages of data in three seconds, will completely transform health care, enhancing doctors’ abilities and helping them to make better diagnoses.

“I think that’s absolutely going to happen, and it’s going to revolutionize doctor-patient relationships,” Loar said.

Health care also will be greatly changed by the coming move to personalization, Loar said. Doctors now take a shotgun approach to medicine, using standard treatment approaches for a diagnosis and carpet-bombing with drugs, tests and procedures, he said.

In the future, advances such as wearable sensors and personal genomics will allow physicians to prescribe personally tailored drugs and individual gene therapies for patients, Loar said. For example, for $99 the website 23andMe.com will do a DNA analysis that can tell the customer whether he has the genetic markers that make him sensitive to different types of drugs or more likely to have some types of cancer.

Wearable sensors will constantly send information to the person’s team of health care providers, Loar said, so that they can nip things in the bud.

There are devices under development that can “smell” a person’s breath — in a similar fashion as cancer-sniffing dogs — to analyze the gases and determine whether those indicate a disease, Loar said.

How long it takes for the tech-driven changes to transform health will depend largely on how fast consumers accept the new technology, Loar said. However, Loar said, technological advances could begin cutting the cost of health care within the next 10 years.