The Sync: Alexei Miller & Daniel Piekarz Discuss Technological Changes in Healthcare Post-Covid

Daniel Piekarz, SVP, Leader of Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice, discusses the immediate and long-term impacts Covid-19 pandemic would cause on the health of individuals and the economy at large and how healthcare organizations leverage data and technologies to keep up with the demands of the new times.
19/06/20
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By Daniel Piekarz
Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice
ALL articles
By Alexei Miller
Finance Practice
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The Sync: Alexei Miller & Daniel Piekarz Discuss Technological Changes in Healthcare Post-Covid

Alexei Miller: We're on with Dan Piekarz, who leads DataArt’s work in Healthcare and Life Sciences. Hello Dan, thanks very much for giving us a few minutes. How are you in these crazy times?

Daniel Piekarz: I'm doing okay, trying to find the new normal, I guess.

A.M.: So, as someone who leads DataArt’s practice in the Healthcare space. Maybe frame this situation for us beyond the obvious of the health impact? What are you seeing broader in the world and in the industry as this crisis unfolds?

D.P.: Obviously, the virus has caused a lot more than just its immediate impact on an individual's health. It pretty much has changed how we have to go on as a society right now. So we're starting to see a lot of different new technologies come up to handle everything from telemedicine going to the doctor's office, to people who are stuck at home and maybe drinking more and want to stop that. There is a company called “Monument” that just came out with a tele addiction service. And we're seeing more and more things like this happen because people are stuck at home and they're not able to live their life as normal and that obviously has an impact. If you're not able to go to the doctor, if you're not able to go see your friends, if you're not able to go to work, the health impact is much broader than the symptoms of the virus itself.

A.M.: I've read somewhere along the same lines that besides the virus itself, there are lots and lots of other medical conditions that are either not treated or given lower priority if people may not be going to the doctor and not diagnosed on time. Is this felt in your conversations with healthcare and life sciences practitioners? Is this felt across the industry, there must be a health impact but also economic impact on this industry?

D.P.: Yes, we were talking to one of our large healthcare organization clients, and they were explaining that although they expanded many of their hospitals and basically doubled the number of beds they had. And at one point they had about 80% of them filled with people with COVID-19 in New York, but because basically the curve has started to flatten, the hospitals are almost empty. Well, not empty but a lot more empty than it should be, they're not able to fill beds because people don't want to go to the hospital. Elective surgeries aren't even being allowed or then maybe they just started. I know it's going to change soon, but this has taken a lot of revenue away from the large healthcare organizations, and with COVID-19 even though they had so much business from that and the government is providing them with support, they're losing money. Because they're not able to open up their facilities the way they normally would and people are choosing not to go in.

A.M.: Yeah, and I'm sure the effects of that will be felt for years. Are you hearing conversations along these lines? When will patients come back to the healthcare system?

D.P.: I actually talked to another hospital here in New Jersey, who was having a similar issue, and they're worried because they don't know when people are going to come back. And I think for conditions that you can provide services through urgent care or through telemedicine, we're going to see more people doing that, but the hospitals are doing a good job trying to separate COVID-19 patients from other patients, and I think the more they publicize that and show the safety measures that they're taking, the more comfortable people will feel actually going into the facilities.

A.M.: Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the impact on technology. I understand it may be early, but what do you see people potentially investing in how will the investment landscape in IT in healthcare change after this is over or to cause this to be over. Any broad thoughts on this?

D.P.: Definitely in life sciences, because we know it's going to take a while to get to a virus, there's a lot of technology being put in place, leveraging artificial intelligence with bioinformatics information to try to speed up the process of getting to the vaccine and at the same time to get to therapies that we can use to treat the virus. So doing things like drug repurposing trying to understand what drugs may be able to actually have an impact on this virus. And they're doing that by using artificial intelligence against clinical data to try to understand how different medications might impact the virus, and that's why we're starting to see more and more of these antiviral drugs coming out, granted not fully approved, but they're still being used. So that's what we're seeing inside of the life sciences space. Even the way one of the companies that is looking to bring a vaccine to the market, Moderna, even the way they're actually creating the vaccine, they're basically using a computer to design it. It's entirely based on artificial intelligence and messenger RNA, and they're crafting that vaccine. It’s a whole new way to actually create vaccines, which is very interesting.

A.M.: So if we are to believe all these press reports, that this may be the record fast vaccine created in under a year or two years relative to decades that it took with some vaccines in the past it will be in large part, thanks to advances in effectively software and the ability to crunch through this tremendous amount of data.

D.P.: They're also using artificial intelligence to do image analysis, to identify lung damage, to determine how far the actual illness has progressed. So it's this technology that is being used across all aspects of healthcare and life sciences. It's really moving the ball forward much quicker than we're able to in the past.

A.M.: And on the IT side of things. I've heard and read this many times that the big complaint with respect to IT in healthcare and patient records medical services is how disjointed many of the systems were, how patients have to re-enter their information in multiple systems how doctors have sometimes almost fax each patients’ information between offices and things of that nature. Now that this virus has displayed that everything has to happen so fast. Do you think there is sort of motivation to make these systems more connected or is my idea of this disjointed world of healthcare IT outdated?

D.P.: No, interoperability between systems inside of healthcare has been a big focus for years. Unfortunately, things have moved slower than I think the industry would like, and you see a lot of different healthcare organizations trying to implement their own health information exchange inside their organization. If they have 20 hospitals, even if some of those hospitals are using different EHR systems, finding a way to actually pull all that data into one place that they can analyze. So they can understand trends, understand if they're losing patients to other facilities. There are all sorts of things you can do when you actually pull the data together in a data lake and start leveraging the value that's inside that data. So you're seeing more and more hospitals do things like this.

A.M.: Despite this loss of revenues because of the virus, because so many of the regular medical procedures are not happening right now. Do you see health care organizations continue to be able to invest in these technologies? None of it is cheap, right?

D.P.: Yeah, I would say it has slowed down at least for the big spend items, but a lot of the healthcare organizations are at least trying to look how do they provide an app or how do they provide some patient engagement around COVID-19 and whether it's a symptom tracker or symptom checker to guide people, should they go get tested and even across things like understanding the difference between the antibody test versus getting tested for actual exposure or having the virus. People need to understand the differences here. So you see a lot of these healthcare organizations putting out patient engagement tech around this kind of stuff. I think some of the larger things that need to be done around understanding patient data, like the patient 360-view and making sure large organizations have access to that, I think that's going to pick back up, but I think it's going to take a month or so. The hospitals have to get back to where they feel like there's not going to be another huge rush that they have to plan for next month. So I think everybody's being a little cautious.

A.M.: One of the things that I find fascinating after this pandemic is how healthcare will be a bigger part of so many other industries. You cannot talk about travel without some kind of healthcare considerations from temperature checks to health assessment, symptoms checker before you board an airplane. In schools, a school nurse used to be sort of there to put some ointment on if you bump your head or something like that. Now there will be some of the most critical important people in a school system, in the office environment. It will all be about health and precaution. So I bet there is a lot of talk in the industry of how healthcare sort of injects itself in all of these various fields, do you see that?

D.P.: Definitely, and the interesting thing is it's a balance between patient privacy and safety in travel, safety in the society. So I've had talks with people from other companies about what kind of technology can you implement in an airport that balances all of this. There are companies out there looking at thermal camera technology so that they can analyze and determine if people have a fever just through a video camera. Also, using video recognition to actually determine if people are socially distancing and following the rules and if not to actually be able to take action on that. So there's a lot of different technology above and beyond just the normal contact tracing apps that everybody's talking about, a lot of different types of technology that can be put in place, it's just about finding that balance between our privacy and our safety.

A.M.: Very interesting, and I'm sure to be continued. Thanks so much for a few minutes of your time Dan and good luck with everything you and your practice area has to go through. Again, Dan Piekarz, who leads DataArt work in Healthcare and Life Sciences. Thanks very much!

D.P.: Thanks Alexei, have a great day!

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