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SXSW Focuses on Patient Behavior

Thomas Morrow, MD, is the chief medical officer for Next IT. His current position is the culmination of his passion to improve clinical outcomes for people with chronic disease through the use advanced natural language processing and artificial intelligence. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, practiced family medicine for 14 years, and held a variety of positions including a faculty position at a residency and medical school, staff physician at a staff model health maintenance organization, and numerous medical director positions at multiple health plans.
South by Southwest (SXSW) is an amazing forum to view how the software industry is attempting to influence the healthcare industry of the future. Although numerous solutions were proposed, I participated in an interesting sessions focused on changing patient behavior. The participants of the panel represented 4 different companies, all focusing on the role of technology in changing health behavior change. Those panelists were:

Thomas Morrow, MDNext IT
Kirsten KarchmerConceivable
Hossein Fakhrai-Rad, PhDBaseHealth
Colin AnawatyPatient IO

The panel focused on 2 conditions: infertility and the diabetes spectrum. These conditions are both associated with what are considered poor health behaviors—obesity, poor nutritional intake, sedentary lifestyle, stress, lack of sufficient sleep—all of which can be modified. And if modified successfully, the conditions can be controlled or reversed.

But, how?

The solution: Technology to aid in behavior change and adherence      


Technology Solutions

I discussed how the advances of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven coaching is a game changer. A virtual health assistant is an avatar that can literally enter into a complete conversation to aid people with chronic illness. Numerous theories and tools that have been proven to cause positive behavior change. What is needed is a solution to deploy those tools widely. 

Given the lack of trained professionals, Next IT feels the use of AI and natural language understanding will soon become a widely used approach to changing behavior. This has already been commercialized and has demonstrated significant improvement in adherence for MS patients.

Karchmer talked about her startup, Conceivable, which focuses on women facing infertility. This group is perhaps the most motivated in the US to follow behavioral changes that might lead to a successful pregnancy. Her company has developed a technology platform that measures various infertility related issues and focuses on specific changes a woman may do to enable pregnancy. These changes include supplements, diet, exercise, obesity, stress, lack of sleep, etc. By working on small changes, she cited significant success.

Anawaty highlighted how his company, Patient IO, has created a care coordination platform that can be integrated with any healthcare software system, including electronic health records and population health management programs. Patient IO helps healthcare organizations coordinate care for patients between visits, which enables more efficient, personalized care management and improves patient outcomes. The platform has already been deployed by a major specialty pharmacy.

Dr Fakhrai-Rad explained that by using a sample of DNA along with a detailed history that includes lifestyle and family history with a touch of environmental data, his proprietary algorithms can provide a detailed risk profile along with specific set of objectives. His approach uses genetic markers for disease. His feeling is that your genes are actually only a small risk factor for many preventive diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, but when patients have this data, they’re motivation to improve their other risk factors.


The Future of Health at SXSW

All of these speakers, along with others at SXSW, strongly believe that the future health of the nation is highly dependent upon decreasing the current paternalistic approach and empowering people to take charge of their healthcare through the use of data, technology, AI, and personalized care plans. The current state of affairs is unsustainable, and all of the participants on this panel felt that the entrenched healthcare organizations must embrace innovation by investing in the explosion of new technology focused on patient behavior change.

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