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Technology to Help Patients

February 2015

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

There is a growing belief and some data to suggest that expert systems will become increasingly useful in helping to manage patients. IBM’s Watson, after winning Jeopardy, has been redeveloped for use in oncology. It has been trained by Memorial Sloan Kettering and now helps oncologists identify individualized evidence-based treatment options. It analyzes a patient’s medical information against a vast array of data, including expert training from MSK physicians, cancer case histories, established treatment guidelines, and published research to provide individualized, ranked, evidence-based treatment options at the point of care. It also provides supporting rationale for the treatment options.

A company called Iodine provides advice to patients about medications for many conditions. The company was cofounded by Thomas Goetz, a former executive editor for Wired magazine and Matt Mohebbi, a Google engineer who shared his interest in technology and health. Mr. Goetz wrote many articles on the subject, organized conferences, lectured and wrote a book in 2010, “The Decision Tree,” which hailed a technology-led path toward personalized health care and better treatment decisions.

Venture investment in digital health start-ups in the first half of 2014 surged to $2.3 billion, surpassing the total for all of 2013. Enthusiasm for health technology startups is based on the belief that the health care industry is huge and technologically backward. It is crying out for an assault by clever software and data-driven decision-making.

Iodine provides reviews of hundreds of drugs from more than 100,000 people, which can be filtered by age, gender, and condition to find similar people. It also provides information about side effects derived from research, clinical trial data and patient reports to the FDA enhanced by real life experiences. The New York Times says “Iodine is addressing a notable information gap in health care for consumers and providers.” Iodine’s stated mission is to build tools that help people understand their health and improve their healthcare choices. An interesting feature is the use of Google Consumer Surveys as a research tool. With 100,000 surveys completed and more added daily, Mr. Goetz said that Iodine was building the largest survey ever taken of Americans’ drug experience, intended to help consumers and perhaps guide policy. This represents a number of patient experiences far greater than are seen in typical large clinical trials.

Iodine is part of a growing collection of health start-ups using data analysis in innovative ways. The list includes Omada Health, Ginger.io and Propeller Health. The new technology companies sometimes employ sensors and smartphones to provide early warning signals about conditions like diabetes, depression, and asthma.

These companies face a host of hurdles. There are several drug reference guides online, like those of WebMD, Drugs.com and the Mayo Clinic website. Iodine’s hope is that they provide a wide range of material. “Our approach is data-driven, while the sites with drug information now are mainly content-driven,” Mr. Mohebbi told the New York Times. Whether that difference will attract a sizable audience remains to be seen.

Editor’s note: the ATS does not endorse any of the programs or products mentioned in this column.

Last Reviewed: September 2017