Technology is a fundamental tool for the advancement of medicine. Having better and more advanced machines is just one of the aspects that explains to what extent they can be improve processes and diagnostics in the medical field. The use of new alternatives such as artificial intelligence or remote work should help combat two of the great evils that health systems face on half the planet: the lack of means and personnel that causes long waiting lists and delays in consultations.
Kees Wesdorp is the global head of Philips' Precision Diagnostics division, a department where medical imaging, monitoring, laboratory work, genomics or data analysis teams are integrated with one purpose: to provide a clear and precise vision of the future with predictable treatment for each patient. A department that works on using technologies that could seem futuristic to apply them now in hospitals and health centers around the planet.
El Confidencial has contacted Wesdorp to find out some of the latest news from the company in the medical sector. One of them, baptized as Radiology Operations Command Center, puts in contact expert radiologists and technicians with remote centers that they do not have such specialized resources to optimize the diagnosis of a patient. Another, called the Radiology Workflow Suite, encompasses a series of tools designed to accompany the patient throughout the process, from the appointment for an X-ray, for example, to the follow-up after the initial treatment.
QUESTION. Philips is a company known throughout the world for pioneering the adoption of CD, for its work in lighting or imaging. What has led the company to focus on the healthcare sector?
REPLY. Two things have happened. The first: we have been working in this area for a long time. Decades We were already there with the invention of X-rays and we realized that one of our strengths was medical imaging as well as 'software'. The second, as our CEO, Frans van Houten says, is that a company has to renew itself. You need to see where you can have the most impact for your customers and perhaps say goodbye to branches of your business that are better covered by other players. It is a matter of being more focused on fewer areas but with a greater impact.
Q. You run the area of precision diagnostics. Could you explain to us in more detail what this division does?
R. What if, every time you visit a hospital, you received an accurate and correct diagnosis? That doesn't always happen because there is an assumed degree of inefficiency. We want to transform the relevant moments of a medical history, such as a visit because you have a discomfort in the lung, into a route with predictable results for each patient.
We have reduced this idea to four very specific points. The first, to offer better diagnostic imaging equipment with a greater capacity to detect diseases, but which are also simpler, cheaper and more sustainable. Second, we have optimized workflows to be able to diagnose faster and reduce the waiting list. The third aspect is the integration of diagnoses to have a 360º view of the patient with information from different sources (diagnostic imaging, genetics, laboratory results, vital signs) to facilitate correct decision-making. Finally, based on all the accumulated available data, we will be able to help the doctor choose the ideal treatment by predicting the clinical result of each alternative for each patient in a personalized way.
Q. Do we already have that technology?
R. Some of the solutions indicated are already beginning to be used in different centers. The expectation is that the adoption of these types of solutions using artificial intelligence and predictive models will spread rapidly around the world. Our mission is to help and improve people's lives, so our solutions should improve the quality and access to health.
P. But from what you explain, it may seem that you are going towards a two-speed health model, in which those with more means will be able to access these cutting-edge treatments.
A. We believe that these tools should be for everyone. It is true that a scanner that costs 800,000 euros cannot be afforded by any health system. For this reason we are also working so that many of the new software solutions are compatible with equipment already installed: the idea is to be able to update these equipment to improve performance.
Even if you have the means, you may run into other problems. Let's say you install a scanner in a rural area. How can you train the staff? With a tool like ours, we can help professionals with little experience or without previous knowledge, especially when we know that there are problems of lack of professionals.
P. One of the challenges that medical centers face is the obsolescence of the machines. We are talking about working on better diagnoses, but, on many occasions, that is not possible without state-of-the-art technology. How can you combat this problem?
R. We have to offer more advanced business models to replace systems efficiently. That it is profitable to change an old machine to offer a brand new or reconditioned one. We can also offer the machines as a 'renting' or 'leasing', to ensure that these machines are always up to date.
Q. From your words, it seems that Philips also plans to operate as a firm that offers service solutions.
A. This is an industry that moves very slowly. But buying a scanner is no longer sustainable. The ideal is to have a framework that allows you to change specific parts, as if it were a car engine, and update it via software. That is the future. It is much more efficient in economic and environmental terms.
"It is an accelerator (the technology), a means to solve more, more complex diagnoses, and to help an increasingly saturated workforce"
Q. Let's talk about artificial intelligence, which is one of the strengths of your catalog. To what extent are we leaving our health in the hands of computers?
A. Artificial intelligence is not going to end the role of medical professionals, but it is going to help them. Much. It is a fantastic opportunity to tackle the fatigue problems experienced by up to 45% of radiology professionals, who must work reviewing thousands of images every day. It is an accelerator, a means to solve more, more complex diagnoses and to help an increasingly saturated workforce.
P. Is the human factor still going to play an important role in health?
A. Human intervention is necessary in all steps of our system: from preparing the images to taking them, interpreting them, reporting the results, sharing decision-making or offering treatment. The AI notifies you of your appointment, but when you arrive at the hospital there is a person attending you and the scanners are still handled by people. Even if images are getting smarter, they will always need to be examined by a radiologist, who will become more and more like a data analyst.
Q. The pandemic has had a severe impact on how we relate to healthcare. The increase in visits by videoconference has been an example. Do you think that we are still far from the day when technology allows to relieve hospital pressure to mitigate the effects of situations like the current one?
R. This pandemic is being terrible, both for its personal impact and for its work. If there is any positive effect, it is the push it has given to digital transformation. We have realized that working remotely is possible and some tools, like the ones we have, allow us to achieve safe environments in hospitals with minimal human contact.
But we can do much more. I have read in the local press that in the Netherlands diagnosed diseases have been reduced by 40%. Either we have become very healthy or we do not go to the doctor. Obviously, it is the second. And it is a problem. Taking a year to detect a cancer or a heart problem reduces the chances of survival dramatically.
Q. Finally, and if I am not mistaken, Philips has developed several strategic projects in Spain in recent years. What can you share with us about it?
A. That's right. One has been developed in Galicia, where we have launched a program in which 75 equipment has been renewed and another 44 existing ones have been updated, to combat equipment obsolescence without having to make a large initial outlay. In this way, Galicia has one of the most advanced technology parks, being able to make more agile and accurate diagnoses while reducing waiting lists. Also in Andalusia we have a regional solution that digitally manages up to 10 million radiological studies per year, spread over 94 hospitals and 1,600 primary care centers. This means that more than 19,000 doctors have access to reports and images to make the correct diagnoses.