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3 Innovations in Digital Health to Watch in 2018

This is a featured organizational post on PCDN

In 2015 we wrote an ICTWorks post about 5 mHealth innovations poised to reshape the field public health. As we finish preparations for our new TechChange course “The Future of Digital Health” we would like to share three topics and a variety of case studies we’re excited about and which we’ll explore in more detail over the four weeks of the course.

Interested in learning how to build a chatbot for a treatment protocol or how to structure a data model for a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain? Curious about the digital health innovations on the horizon and how to best position your organization for them?

The Future of Digital Health starts on Feb 26th. Use the code “digitalhealth345” and get a $150 discount. Reserve your seat today.  

Here are some of the topics (and case studies) we’ll explore in more detail.

  1. Blockchain:  Can distributed ledger technologies improve the way we store and share electronic medical records? Jerry Gross of MintHealth thinks so. Jerry joined us for our course Blockchain for International Development course this week to share how blockchain can empower patients to take control of their medical history. MintHealth bills itself as a global, decentralized health platform that aligns healthcare stakeholders around the shared goal of patient empowerment and improved clinical outcomes, at lower costs. We had the chance to catch up with  Samir Damani, MintHealth’s CEO and Co-Founder, at the Connected Health Conference in Boston and the Global Digital Health Forum and were impressed with the work his team is doing.

What about blockchain for disease tracking? According to the MIT Technology review, the CDC, state and local health departments, and other organizations that have to routinely share public health data so they can control the spread of infectious diseases that could benefit from the data security and sharing features of distributed ledger technologies. “As straightforward as this may sound, though, it’s a massively complicated data-management challenge. It’s also one that seems made for a blockchain”, according to Jim Nasr, chief software architect at the CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services. We’ll look more deeply at this potential use case and explore privacy and security challenges associated with its implementation.

  1. Artificial Intelligence: AI is primed to have great impacts on remote diagnosis, patient care, customer service, and more within the public health arena. We’ll look at Wysa, the compassionate chatbot for behavioral health, as well as the many developments with IBM Watson, including a recent partnership to fight the opioid epidemic in the US. Watson will analyze doctors’ handwriting and real-time data from smart devices, such as wearables, in conjunction with patient-risk models in order to identify the patients most likely to relapse. Finally, this program called Nutritional Early Warning System—NEWS has us excited as well. NEWS is using machine learning to process a constant flow of data relevant to food and nutrition and powers an early warning system to alert decision-makers to nutrition threats well ahead of a crisis.  

We have a whole course dedicated to Artificial Intelligence for International Development coming up in late April so if you’re still trying to figure out the difference between AI and machine learning and want to build some skills in this emerging sector, this could be the course for you!

  1. Drones and flying robots. We’re excited to take a deeper look at flying robot health delivery projects like Zipline and WeRobotics, both organizations we’ve been tracking for a while. Zipline operates the world’s only drone delivery system at national scale to send urgent medicines, such as blood and animal vaccines, to those in need – no matter where they live. The company is currently operational in Rwanda and Uganda with plans to expand. We’ll explore how scalable this type of delivery technology is for low-resource settings and the ethics of investments such as these over basic infrastructure improvements. Another organization we’re excited about, WeRobotics, has been testing a model for drone delivery of medical supplies in Peru. The WeRobotics model is highly localized and aimed at building local capacity in the form of community “flying labs” as opposed to Zipline which is a Silicon Valley venture backed startup. We’ll explore the relative merits and drawbacks of each in terms of sustainability.

We’ll dive deeper into in the relative merits of these technologies, consider timetables for adoption, and explore the many hurdles to implementation like connectivity, affordability, training and capacity, and more in the Future of Digital Health. Hope you decide to join us.


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