Checks and Balances in Healthcare – Can Imaging Help?

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August 15, 2017

A recent family tragedy brought up this question – does access to healthcare lead to good outcomes? It certainly did not seem so in this case. A patient was rushed to the hospital emergency after an incident. Arriving at the hospital, the patient was admitted and seemed stable. The incident recurred and the patient’s condition relapsed. It turned out that the patient’s vitals were not being tracked. In the confusion that ensued, surgery was performed, life sustaining machines were used and no expense was spared but all to no avail.

A precious life was lost.

We may never really know what happened and does it really matter now? What does matter to me, that despite timely access, medical equipment and trained staff a chain of events led to a tragedy. This incident took place in India, where there has been phenomenal progress in healthcare and life expectancy since independence, summarized nicely in this CNN article, Tryst with the future: Where India will be in another 70 years. Yet there is little to no concept of medical accountability, per this NIH post, Indian doctors not accountable, says consumer report.

Comparing this to the USA where the threat of litigation and insurance keeps a check on doctors and hospitals. As a result of this, costs increase, in part due to defensive medicine  and medical malpractice insurance, per this CBS article Why is health care so expensive in the first place?. Despite these checks outcomes are not the best, this Washington Post article says, Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States. Is it possible to avoid the preventable loss of precious lives by reducing medical errors due to negligence with manageable costs?

The research from Johns Hopkins provides a clue by challenging the lack of data and checklists in hospitals, comparing them to the airline industry. I hope diagnostic imaging can provide some of the solutions needed here with faster, fewer yet conclusive tests. This could be possible with a uniform patient experience and standard image quality to be able to see and compare data across systems. Standardized and regular medical imaging right at the beginning of care would help provide a fast and reliable way of looking at conditions with increased confidence before costly mistakes or a lack of timely attention makes things worse. I see a big opportunity here for artificial intelligence and machine learning in medical imaging to help improve speed and quality so let’s explore that next.

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