What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.
AI-powered scribe tool enables more patients, less burnout
A major issue with primary care, especially value-based care, is how much documentation burden there is for providers: It means hours of “pajama time” with the electronic health record after dinner and hours of more charting at home on weekends. Bill Siwicki of Healthcare IT News interviews Dr. Kendell Cannon, who describes how her primary care practice sifted through the hype of artificial intelligence and found a scribe that does what it promises.
Why it’s important – “This space has been full of marketing hype for a very long time, with companies claiming they have technology that works or promising that it will be here soon,” Cannon advised. “When evaluating AI technologies, I would recommend you try it for yourself before you believe anything. If a vendor cannot do live, unscripted demos, they’re not ready for production. “You should be able to bring your team to pressure test it across a range of realistic scenarios before deciding to invest any resources,” she concluded. “I’ve seen too many examples of AI companies making promises and wasting a lot of our time and resources because they never ended up delivering on those promises.”
Infographic of the week – This was a tough week in many areas of the country because of smoke from the wildfires in Canada. The Environmental Protection Agency released the graphic below to help people understand the health effects of air pollution.
Google strikes deal with Mayo Clinic to comb patient records using generative AI
Casey Ross of Stat Health Tech reports that Google will embed its generative AI technology into computer systems at Mayo Clinic and other health systems to make it easier to search vast repositories of patient data and automate administrative tasks, the organizations said Wednesday. The technology is designed to function like a super-charged Google search for health records, allowing hospitals to find and link information about patients to improve care and research. Google said it had configured its generative AI tools, which can be used to create conversational chatbots, to comply with the federal privacy law known as HIPAA.
Why it’s important – The rapid-fire effort to deploy the technology comes amid increasing competition with Microsoft and other large companies vying for business from healthcare companies eager to use a more powerful form of AI. It remains to be seen whether the technology will produce enough benefits to justify its costs. While generative AI systems have improved and shown the potential to understand medical information and generate useful replies, large models trained on web-scale data also have significant drawbacks. They are expensive to run and consume massive amounts of energy. They also hallucinate and provide inaccurate information.
Podcast of the week – Abraham Verghese is an American physician and Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine and Vice Chair of Education at Stanford University Medical School. He is also the author of four best-selling books, two memoirs, and two novels. In his first Fixing Healthcare interview, Verghese talks about his newest work of fiction, “The Covenant of Water,” which sits at No. 4 on the New York Times list and is an Oprah book-club selection. The discussion takes listeners on a journey into the mind of an exceptional physician and writer. Verghese compares his approach to writing vs. medicine and concludes, “the gaze is the same.” And because he sees the world similarly, whether he’s sitting in front of a keyboard or a sick patient, he shares a fascinating perspective on physician leadership, end-of-life care, and myriad issues that transcend healthcare. You can listen here.
Programmable 3D printed wound dressing could improve treatment for burn, cancer patients
Researchers from The University of Waterloo have developed intelligent hydrogel materials for use as a reusable wound dressing. In developing the dressing, the researchers conducted a 3D scan of the patient’s face and body parts to customize it to an individual’s needs. This enables the dressing to make good contact with surfaces like noses and fingers, making it ideal for creating personalized wound dressings for burn patients.
Why it’s important – One of the challenges in treating burn victims is the frequency of dressing changes, which can be extremely painful. This new dressing could enhance the healing process for burn patients and have potential applications for drug delivery in cancer treatment and the cosmetic industry. The material also has applications for cancer treatment. In traditional chemotherapy treatment, a patient may need to be in a clinic for hours, which can be tiring and uncomfortable. This dressing can provide a constant drug release outside the clinic setting, alleviating some of the challenges associated with traditional methods.
Novocure’s electric fields device prolongs survival in lung cancer, but doubts remain
Stat’s Adam Feuerstein reports that a medical device made by Novocure that creates electric fields in the lungs via wearable skin patches extended the survival of patients with lung cancer in a clinical trial. Novocure’s study achieved its primary goal and showed a survival benefit for patients with lung cancer that progressed following initial chemotherapy. But those data don’t fit the current medical practice for patients with lung cancer because nearly 70% of study participants didn’t receive initial treatment with an immune checkpoint inhibitor such as Merck’s Keytruda, which has come to dominate current therapy.
The Optune device, also called tumor treating fields, consists of four wired patches applied with skin adhesive to the upper body surrounding the lungs. When connected to an external, battery-powered generator, the patches create an electrical field tuned to interfere with the cell division of tumor cells while sparing healthy cells. Patients are instructed to wear the device for up to 18 hours daily.
Why it’s important – The findings could lead to a new approval for the Optune device beyond its current marketing clearance to treat a type of brain cancer. Delivering additional sales, however, could be a significant challenge. The device did not delay tumor progression or shrink tumors better than standard therapy. The most commonly reported side effect was minor skin irritation caused by the patch adhesive.
Avatar Medical wins FDA clearance for VR surgical planning tech
Avatar Medical announced on June 6th that its virtual reality (VR) surgical planning technology received FDA 510(k) clearance. Sean Whooley reports on the development in his article in Mass Device online. The company designed its proprietary technology based on four years of research in human-data interaction and machine learning. Avatar Medical conducted this research at the Institut Pasteur and Institut Curie. Use of the platform in the U.S. to date spans more than 100 surgeons across 20 different hospitals and universities. The system’s uses include case studies, student education, and patient engagement, Avatar Medical said.
Why it’s important – Patient “avatars” generate instantly from CT scans or MRI for use with the VR platform. It features underlying technology developed by the company, which has a U.S. subsidiary in Mountain View, California. The company said its platform serves as a valuable tool for pre-operative planning. It can also be displayed during surgical procedures.
FDA’s letter to medical device maker iRhythm is a warning for the industry
Stat’s Lizzy Lawrence reports that heart monitoring company iRhythm is in hot water with the Food and Drug Administration, which issued a stern warning letter to the device maker this week for marketing its product for “high-risk” patients and changing its algorithm without seeking the FDA’s permission. iRhythm sells a wearable monitor called the Zio AT system that detects irregular heartbeats for up to two weeks. Its monitors do not present this data in real time, so they are not intended for patients in critical care. But according to the FDA, iRhythm told customers that its devices provided “near real-time monitoring” and could be used for “high-risk patients.”
The FDA first raised its concerns after an agency investigation in August 2022. The company responded to the FDA’s various concerns with seven separate letters. The FDA wasn’t satisfied and instead issued the warning letter. The FDA also slammed the company for not adequately informing doctors and patients about its device’s transmission limit. iRhythm’s monitor can automatically detect up to 500 arrhythmias. After that, the device must be replaced. The FDA said iRhythm did not make this limitation clear — with serious consequences.
Why it’s important – The letter highlights the FDA’s growing scrutiny of digital health and patient monitoring tools — as well as the grave impacts even small device glitches can have on patients. The FDA routinely issues warning letters to enforce patient safety, but regulators holding a digital health company accountable for making unapproved claims and changes remains rare. The FDA has only recently begun seriously regulating digital health technology, particularly in the artificial intelligence space. Multiple investigations by STAT have found that software tools can deliver inaccurate results that advise doctors poorly, send false alarms, and add bias to health care.
Another huge US medical data breach confirmed after Fortra mass-hack
Hackers stole another half a million people’s personal and health information during a ransomware attack on a technology vendor earlier this year. Zach Whittaker from Tech Crunch reports that Intellihartx, a Tennessee-based company that handles patient payment balances and collections, said in a notice filed with the Maine attorney general’s office that 489,830 patients had information stolen in the cyberattack targeting its vendor, Fortra. According to the notice, the hackers stole patient names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. The breach also compromised patient medical billing and insurance information, as well as diagnoses and medication.
Why it’s important – Millions of patients across the United States also had their health information stolen in the cyberattack, including children’s data. The impact of Clop’s ransomware attack prompted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to publish an alert warning that the ransomware group was targeting the healthcare industry.