Health Tech News This Week – May 20, 2023

What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.

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Amputees could feel warmth of human touch with new bionic technology

Reuters contributors Cecile Mantovani and Denis Balibouse kick off this week’s reporting with this research that had thermal electrodes placed on the skin of their residual arm, amputees such as Fidati reported feeling hot or cold sensations in their phantom hand and fingers, as well as directly on the arm, according to the trials by the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The 59-year-old Italian is among 27 amputees who took part in the trials, with 17 of them reporting a successful test.

“Temperature feedback is essential for relaying information that goes beyond touch, it leads to feelings of affection. We are social beings and warmth is an important part of that.”

Silvestro Micera, Professor at EPFL and Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies

Why it’s important – Those tested have also been able to differentiate between plastic, glass, and copper, pointing to where they feel the sensations on images of a hand. The technology, which has been tested for over two years, does not need to be implanted. It can be worn on the skin and combined with a regular prosthetic.

Infographic of the week – From Dr. Bertalan Meskó and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute – The integration of ChatGPT into healthcare services is no longer a futuristic concept for many companies in the industry. An increasing number of companies are now leveraging its capabilities for tasks such as data analysis, referral preparation, and conversation transcription, among others. As evidence of this trend, they’ve compiled a list of companies that have integrated ChatGPT already.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Meskó, The Medical Futurist Institute

Aging body scans to aid understanding of why diseases occur

The world’s biggest human imaging project is set to rescan the brains and bodies of 60,000 UK volunteers to find new ways of treating and preventing disease. Fergus Walsh reports his experiences on the project in his article on BBC News online. First launched in 2006, UK Biobank set out to be the most comprehensive study of the nation’s health. The imaging part of the project was started in 2014 and involves detailed scans of the brain and the rest of the body.

Why it’s important – The study has already led to a genetic test for people born with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. More than 7,000 peer-reviewed papers have been published, nearly a third of those last year alone, showing how its scientific value is increasing over time. In 2018, researchers devised a genetic test to detect people born with an increased risk of coronary heart disease by analyzing genomic data from the UK Biobank.

Podcast of the week – From the On With Kara Swisher podcast series, Kara Swisher talks to the FTC chair Lina Khan about big-tech misbehavior and how to regulate AI. You can access the episode here:

Image Credit: Vox Media Podcast Network

EHRs negatively affect well-being of healthcare teams, study finds

Electronic health records are the dominant form of communication among healthcare teams. Still, while a JAMA Network Open study found that they facilitate straightforward, task-related communication, they limit “rich and social” communication. Jeff Lagasse reports the story in Healthcare Finance online. The technology shifts attention away from the human needs of the care team, they said, and interventions to cultivate interpersonal interactions and team function are necessary to complement the efficiency benefits of health information technology. A previous study by several of the same authors indicated that EHR requirements often take precedence over other physician core competencies, disrupting professional conduct and causing distress to physicians and team members.

Why it’s important – Several physicians were interviewed for the paper, and while they agreed that the EHR has improved lean and task-related communication – suitable for simple, uncomplicated tasks – they perceived that the EHR negatively impacts team function by amplifying disagreement and introducing conflict. The results suggest that the EHR supports looser forms of interprofessional work, such as networking and coordination, at the expense of more intense collaboration and teamwork. This study explores a reverse connection, suggesting that fostering physician well-being may be beneficial for team function and, therefore, may minimize unprofessional behaviors instigated by physician distress. This represents yet another rationale for system approaches to address burnout in healthcare. The new findings track with a 2021 study showing EHR-integrated patient-generated health data may create burdens for clinicians, leading to burnout. Based on surveys of more than 20,000 U.S.-based physicians, data published in November showed overall burnout rates at 49% over a three-year window.

Kaiser creates new AI, machine learning grant program

Naomi Diaz reports that The Permanente Medical Group, part of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, has launched a new AI and machine learning program that will grant three to five health systems up to $750,000 in her article in Becker’s Health IT online. The program dubbed the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research Augmented Intelligence in Medicine and Healthcare Initiative, or AIM-HI, Coordinating Center, will give money to health systems using AI and machine learning to improve diagnoses and patient outcomes, according to a May 17 press release from Kaiser.

Why it’s important – Kaiser is aiming to cut through the buzz around AI in health care to prove the promise and positive impact of this exciting technology for improving patient outcomes. In addition to supporting algorithmic research, the AIM-HI program will develop best practices and enhance the capacity for AI/ML deployment in diverse healthcare settings.

Can Artificial Intelligence Solve The Growing Mental Health Crisis?

Increased awareness around mental health has introduced significant innovation and investment into new remedies and treatment modalities. One such novel concept is using artificial intelligence in the mental health space. Forbes contributor Sai Balasubramanian, M.D., J.D. writes that with the advent of generative AI, conversational AI, and natural language processing, the thought of using artificial intelligence systems to provide human companionship has now become mainstream.

Why it’s important – In his balanced look at the state of the industry, the author lays out the pros and cons of deploying this technology in the mental health field. While artificial intelligence certainly can solve potential access inequities, conveniently provide healthcare services and even provide companionship to those that most require it, it has to be developed with guardrails in place for numerous reasons. Using AI technology in this capacity means that a significant amount of sensitive patient information will also be collected. Developers must ensure that this data will never be compromised and that patient privacy is always the top priority, especially amidst a landscape of growing cybersecurity threats. Moreover, perhaps the most critical concern is an existential one: How far should humanity go with this? While the benefits of AI are undoubtedly numerous, innovators have to be cautious about the limitations of these systems. Notably, the systems are only as good as the models and datasets they can learn from. In the wrong hands, these systems could very easily provide incorrect or dangerous recommendations to vulnerable populations.

The Daring Robot Surgery That Saved a Man’s Life

Two doctors, separated by thousands of miles, carried out a lifesaving operation using a robot. Wired’s Joao Medeiros brings us the story. The surgery took place on May 21. Fernando, wearing full personal protective equipment, operated the console of the surgical robot two meters away from the patient. The robot has four articulated arms, three fitted with surgical instruments, and a fourth holding a thin tube with a camera at the end, which, upon insertion into Tajer’s abdomen, allowed Fernando to see inside the patient. Porter, wearing his pajama robe and sitting at his home in Seattle, had access to that exact same view on his laptop. For five hours, he guided Fernando through the surgery step by step, talking to her while using an augmented-reality pointer to identify anatomical parts and drawing annotations to pinpoint where specific incisions should be made.

“When we started we only had in mind the live surgery feature. But then we thought, what if people want to have feedback after the operation or to review their performance? That’s why we built the library.”

Nadine Hachach-Haram, CEO, Proximie

Why it’s important – Currently, more than 95 percent of the surgical sessions using Proximie are also recorded in its online library, which enables surgeons to edit and tag footage that can be later used for training or debriefing. This library currently stores more than 20,000 videos of surgeries, making it the largest database of this sort. Today more than 20 percent of NHS hospitals have access to the software.

World Record Achieved for X-Ray at Highest Altitude

Mike Cairnie of portable x-ray developer MinXray has earned a world record for acquiring a portable chest x-ray of a patient last year on Mt. Everest in Nepal. Will Morton from Aunt Minnie reports the story. Cairnie, described by a radiologist and colleague Dr. Saurabh Jha in an interview with as “the Indiana Jones of radiology,” is MinXray’s director of global and military sales. The pair made the trek up Mt. Everest last year along with several other colleagues leading Project Khumbu, a proof-of-concept initiative to increase access to imaging in remote areas in Nepal. The record achieved during the project is also notable for artificial intelligence (AI) developer, whose software is installed on the battery-powered digital radiography system. The software can automatically generate chest X-ray interpretation reports and identify tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, lung cancer, and medical emergencies such as lung collapse, for instance.

“The highest altitude operating an x-ray machine is 5,364 m (17,598 ft) and was achieved by Michael Cairnie (USA), in Mount Everest Base Camp, Khumjung, Nepal, on 21 April 2022.”

Guinness World Records announcement

Why it’s important – Another example of bringing medical imaging to the patient instead of the patient to the imaging location. People with medical emergencies in remote areas simply have no access to the technology. Pairing portable imaging technologies (x-ray, Ultrasound, MRI, CT, etc.) with AI dramatically expand the availability of medical imaging to even the most remote areas of the globe.

Me And My Digital Twin: I Have A Brand New Deepfake Avatar

Finally, this week, this article from Dr. Bertalan Mesko describes his experiences in creating his own avatar. Synthesia approached him with an intriguing proposal – would he be interested in creating a digital avatar? Of course, he was! The prospect was too tempting to resist. Initially, the plan involved him traveling to London to work with their team. However, with his own studio, crew, and equipment, including a 4K camera and a green screen, they could tackle the task right at The Medical Futurist HQ. The team compiled the necessary footage without setting foot outside their studio. Here’s a YouTube video showing the result.

YouTube Video Credit: Dr. Bertalan Meskó

Why it’s important – As you can see in the video, my initial reaction was that it was pretty creepy. First of all, the avatar doesn’t blink. At all. That is by far the eeriest part of the experience. Also, its gestures and emphasis points are slightly off, making it apparent that the technology isn’t perfect yet. The interesting question is whether this technology can be applied to medical purposes. For now, the answer is no in the case of replacing live doctor-patient interactions. The “uncanny valley” effect is too strong; the avatar cannot convey emotions and empathize, which are vital in the medical field. Therefore, at this stage, a patient would likely find a written message from their doctor without a visible avatar more comforting.

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