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AI in healthcare opens up a whole new world of possibilities

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Microsoft's Haider Salloum discusses how the company is using AI in healthcare as a valuable tool in improving lives, and transforming communities, societies and nations.

COVID-19 has shown us that technology is no longer an afterthought. Technology needs to be treated at the core of a business to ensure high levels of customer satisfaction and a strong ability to compete. One company that has stood firmly by the healthcare industry with its innovative solutions during these trying times has been Microsoft. The company’s solutions have allowed physicians to overcome geographical limitations, supported them on the front line, and helped share knowledge and expertise cross-borders.

In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, Haider Salloum, Small Medium and Corporate Lead – Microsoft UAE, discusses technologies such as HoloLens 2 that can remotely connect medical teams and patients alike, as well as discusses the impact of smart technologies on healthcare, and why businesses should be encouraged to be truly engaged in their digital journeys to make an impact. Excerpts:

How can HoloLens 2 empower surgeons? Are there any success stories you could highlight?

Firstly, I want to recognise the great work that all doctors, nurses, and frontline workers are carrying out, especially during the pandemic.

When we analyse the broader healthcare industry, we look at what lies beyond biomedical research and healthcare research. Here, we have seen years’ worth of digital transformation in a matter of months. In a past era, much of the digital work that happened in healthcare was at the back end, however, the whole of the healthcare sector is now digitising at pace and even ahead of other industries on the customer-facing side.

Today, healthcare providers are adamant that frontline workers should have the same broad access to information, and increasingly employing technology to enhance their work. With digitisation, there is so much available that could make decision making a lot easier, reduce the errors that could happen, and enhance the quality of life.

Over the past 18 months, we have seen a surge of projects carried out with different healthcare providers. Daman, the UAE’s leading national health insurance company has collaborated with Microsoft to deploy the Daman Health Bot, an AI-powered bi-lingual tool that will assist patients to conduct self-assessment on COVID-19 symptoms and guide them to the appropriate level of care.

The result has been greater accessibility of information, broader systems enhancement and providing all frontline workers access to new tools and the ability to consult remotely.

This is where other technologies such as HoloLens 2 can step in, with the power to remotely connect medical teams and patients alike. Crucially, health is also an information business, with certain expertise only available at certain hospitals in another country.

By employing the capabilities of HoloLens 2 we can overcome geographical limitations, supporting people on the front line, and sharing knowledge and expertise cross-borders.

HoloLens 2 provides an enhancement to the surgeon and means that he or she can share and gain advice for a more difficult surgery. Thanks to HoloLens 2 and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, surgeons will be able to share in real-time their field of view with their peers from other countries and share best practices during the surgeries. Furthermore, thanks to a mixed reality app, surgeons will be able to interact with anatomical images of their patients in holograms projected in real-time in the operating room as well as having access to interactive tutorials during the surgeries.

This approach also saves on travel, with remote capabilities reducing costs for insurance companies, governments, and customers.

What are the key features of Dynamics 365 Remote Assist?

Using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, doctors wearing HoloLens can hold “hands-free” and “heads-up” Teams video calls with colleagues and experts anywhere in the world. They can receive advice, interacting with the caller and the patient at the same time, while medical notes and X-rays can also be placed alongside the call in the wearer’s field of view.

In times of COVID-19, this technology has a particular role to play, because doctors can take advantage of its hands-free telemedicine capabilities. For example, it can be used while wearing PPE.

Rather than putting users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to place 3D digital models in the room alongside them and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice. This gives doctors all the information they need at the patient’s bedside in real-time, on one headset.

Haider Salloum- Small Medium and Corporate Lead - Microsoft UAE.jpg

Haider Salloum

What would you say is the impact of technologies such as Virtual Reality, Blockchain and AI on the delivery of healthcare? What role can they play in improving the quality of patient outcomes?

Technologies such as Blockchain, AI and Virtual Reality have a multitude of applications in healthcare, the most important probably related to delivering better and more cost-effective outcomes for patients.

If you take Blockchain as an example, one of the most obvious aspects of this technology is probably in increasing the safety and security of any medical transaction involving sensitive information. With Blockchain being transparent but also private, it has the ability to conceal individual identities, while allowing doctors and healthcare systems to share information quickly and safely, without worrying about the accuracy of the information contained in the chain.

AI can similarly be employed to make the patient journey safer. For example, new AI applications now have the ability to assess scans and detect serious illnesses, helping doctors improve their diagnostics.

The customer journey is powerful and often overlooked in healthcare, but chatbots can answer around 50 per cent of questions, or provide a telemedicine session. Simpler and more streamlined services have the potential to reach more patients more quickly, providing key differentiating points for healthcare providers and allowing them to scale and focus their attention where required most.

What are some of the healthcare technology trends to watch out for in 2021?

The focus is definitely on enhancing the patient journey, high-end automation and integrating the blockchain and healthcare providers with insurance companies. Considerable developments are being carried out in this regard. Empowering frontline workers is also critical: as an example, six months ago many nurses did not even have work-related email addresses, let alone access to complex patient information dashboards. All this is changing now, as care is becoming more streamlined and sophisticated, giving whole medical teams access to critical data.

Doctors increasingly have quick and automatic access to scans available on their computers. Having one central access point when talking to patients, which provides all of this information in real-time, has been a big focus point for many healthcare providers.

The pandemic has made it painfully clear that health transcends every border, impacting every person on the planet. We will continue to empower healthcare advisors, and policymakers with technology and grants to support our front liners.

Through our AI for Health initiative, we have awarded over 150 grants to COVID-19 projects all around the world. Our grantees and partners have shared access to Microsoft’s AI technology, and these resources have accelerated the progress made in their research. With large-scale computing and open data, what used to take months can now be done in a matter of days. In the UAE, Ajman University has become the first institution to be awarded a Microsoft AI for Health Research Grant for a total amount of over one million dirhams.

How committed is Microsoft to the healthcare space?

Healthcare continues to play a vital role in any country’s growth story and this has been demonstrated and accentuated by the pandemic. So there is a great focal commitment on Microsoft’s part to work with different providers.

When the pandemic hit, Microsoft started trial licenses or licences with no cost for a limited period to support organisations in rolling out this infrastructure. We are continuously investing in research, partnering with industry leaders, and empowering healthcare organisations to innovate.

Microsoft is a firm believer in AI as a valuable tool in improving lives, and transforming communities, societies and nations with people at the centre – in ways unimaginable to us. The UAE is already taking strides to succeed in this journey by achieving considerable milestones and embracing AI across every sector. The Ministry of Health & Prevention has adopted Microsoft’s collaboration tools to provide virtual consultation to citizens and residents amidst the recent crisis.

Can you shed some light on Microsoft’s AI for health initiatives and other innovations?

Last year, Microsoft launched a US$ 40 million five-year programme to empower researchers and organisations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The programme is underpinned by a strong foundation of privacy, security and ethics, and was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are driving important medical initiatives.

The AI for Health initiative will focus on three key areas- Quest for discovery – Accelerating medical research to advance prevention, diagnoses, and treatment of diseases; Global health insights – increasing our shared understanding of mortality and longevity to protect against global health crises; Health equity – Reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations. AI for Health is a philanthropic initiative that complements our broader work in Microsoft Healthcare.

AI for Health leverages the explosion in data and with so much new data, we can make the most of the information that we collect, such as tracking vaccinations. With the ongoing pandemic, Data has been a critical factor to address and identify challenges in the crisis. Innovations like AI and Big Data come into the picture and can identify trends, machine learning can create projections and AI can conduct forecasting.

I would like to encourage healthcare providers, whether they are big or small to utilise technology. From small clinics in Jumeirah to large hospitals in Healthcare City to chains of hospitals across the Emirates and different countries – digital transformation has something to offer to all of them. Today, every company across any sector is a digital company. Hence, any size or scale of business should think digital-first as their core strategy. Our mission is to empower every individual and organisation on the planet to achieve more. This mission is aligned with hospitals and healthcare providers that are on their transformation journey.

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today, covering femtech, AI, IoT and much more.  

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