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Vol 22, No. 02, February 2018   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
An interview with Dr Simon Kos: Seeing the digital transformation of healthcare
Microsoft is best known for its computing products and services, but one area less known that Microsoft is establishing itself in, is the healthcare industry. APBN had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Simon Kos, chief medical officer at Microsoft. He shared with us his views on the digital transformation in healthcare systems, emerging technologies and Microsoft's role in transforming healthcare.

Dr. Kos was a practitioner in critical care medicine when he saw how fragmented information was in healthcare. His hobby in technology sparked when he dabbled with electronic medical records, realising they could help prevent the problem of issuing the wrong medication to patients who were allergic to them. That led him to a career in healthcare IT.

At Cerner and InterSystems, he experienced a lot of change and digitization, helping implement some of the largest e-Health initiatives in Australia. What he realized was, there wasn't any technology to change care, or communicate and collaborate effectively. Kos said, "We didn't have the business intelligence, and although we were collecting a lot of data, we were not using it to drive improvement in care".

He added, "My previous effort was about the digitization of the record. Microsoft is more about if you have the digital asset, how do you transform it? So, as part of my role in Microsoft, now as a chief medical officer, I think a lot about what is the strategy, what are we trying to achieve in healthcare?"

Technology advancements in the fourth Industrial Revolution, like Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), advanced data analytics, and mixed reality that are powered by cloud computing are creating limitless possibilities in transforming the way people work, live and play. This revolution, compounded by on-going challenges faced by the healthcare industry, such as the evolving healthcare needs due to changing demographics, rise of chronic diseases, shortage of caregivers and cost of quality healthcare, is ushering societal and economic changes at an unprecedented pace.

Kos spoke about how healthcare demographics have changed over the years, and the problem we are trying to fix have changed. “In the past, it used to be infectious disease and trauma. Now, it is chronic diseases and lifestyle induced illnesses. But the problem here is we still have the same healthcare system so that needs to change”. This presents a huge opportunity for the healthcare industry, to embrace the digital transformation, not just to stay relevant but remain competitive.

Digitalisation is not just about making everything digital, so I asked Kos on his definition of digital transformation. "I don't think just turning paper-based records into the digitised format is digital transformation. I think that's digitization. The transformation comes from what you do next. Now that we have a digital estate, how do we use that to achieve different outcomes or provide a different service or dramatically change the cost structure?"

"How do we better engage patients to provide a different experience? How do we empower care teams, more than just helping with the digitalized records? How do we help them communicate and collaborate? How do we help with medical education? How do we use data analytics and artificial intelligence? How do we broker new models of care?" Kos mentioned that Microsoft has defined what it means to digitally transform, specifically in health, in these four key pillars: engage patients, empower care team, optimise clinical and operational effectiveness and transform care continuum.

If it was that easy to embrace digital solutions and transform companies’ strategies, why are healthcare providers still not jumping onto the bandwagon? Kos said according to the Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study conducted, the top three concerns faced by healthcare business leaders in their digital transformation journey are the lack of supporting government policies and ICT infrastructure, uncertain economic environment and cyber threats, crime elements and security concerns.

While there is no doubt that digital transformation will bring significant benefits for both businesses and employees, the path to digital transformation has been slow, and will be slower if the barriers are not removed. Also, the Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study mentioned certain emerging technologies that business leaders in Asia Pacific’s healthcare sector were interested in, to accelerate and achieve digital transformation. Some of the most relevant emerging technologies identified were AI, wearable technologies, IoT, virtual/augmented reality and mixed reality.

Kos shared how mixed reality are being used in real world examples in healthcare. Mixed reality as its name suggest, is a combination of virtual and augmented reality. Virtual reality is a computer's version of reality, so you are immersed in a simulated environment while augmented reality is data overlay on the real world, without obstructing your view. Mixed reality essentially maps the real world and blends holograms into it.

The Microsoft HoloLens is an example of mixed reality. Kos shared that the HoloLens was initially used for medical education. Over at the Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, U.S., medical students are beginning to learn and practice lesser on cadavers. Instead, students don on the HoloLens headsets, and they can view a hologram of the human anatomy, right in front of their eyes. They will be able to interact actively with the hologram, and observe the details of the human organs. Running a cadaver lab can be expensive, and corpses offer limited views into the body. The HoloLens could help change the way education is taught and saves time and money (e.g. maintenance).

Another Microsoft HoloLens application Kos shared was of a holographic doctor. Working with Australia's Silver Chain Group, healthcare professionals will be able to visit patients in holographic form. By appearing as holograms in patients' homes, healthcare professionals can save valuable time otherwise taken up by transportation time, etc. In addition, patients can interact with the hologram of the doctor and do not have to be physically in hospitals, saving time and money for the individual as well as the healthcare system. "It acts as a virtual consultation," says Kos.

On his thoughts on the adoption of these emerging technologies in Asia, Kos has this to say, “Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia have typically been quite progressive in the adoption of electronic medical record technologies in the hospital sector. As we move into the cloud economy, some countries have embraced it, some countries have been more reticent about it. Looking across Asia, the adoption of cloud services has happened faster, than many other countries”.

Microsoft is also working with another company in Malaysia, Doctors2U. Doctor2U will leverage on Microsoft’s intelligent cloud services to integrate AI and machine learning into its platform. It is built on Microsoft Azure and aims to create an entire healthcare ecosystem built into a single app. Some of its features include a Video Consultation feature where customers can video call with a doctor and a Live Chat feature. These will allow Doctor2U to deliver more effective treatment plans for patients. Kos concluded, “And its these companies which show that Asia is open to digital business models”.

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