Health Care

Latin American leaders look to technology for accessible, high-quality healthcare

Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of the neurology department at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, discusses improving systems to measure patient data at a University of Miami forum on health care in Latin America on Friday, June 9, 2017.
Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of the neurology department at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, discusses improving systems to measure patient data at a University of Miami forum on health care in Latin America on Friday, June 9, 2017.

Augmented reality programs, apps to track cardiovascular health and mobile workplace wellness programs could be the answer to improving the quality and accessibility of healthcare to consumers, particularly in Latin America.

To bring state-of-the-art technology to patients, healthcare providers should focus on the nexus of data and medicine, leaders in healthcare noted Friday morning at the University of Miami’s fourth-annual Latin American Innovation Forum.

More than 120 Latin American leaders — government officials, CEOs, doctors and healthcare executives from both the public and private sectors — gathered at the university’s Coral Gables campus for the one-day forum. The event was put on by the university’s Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas and the School of Business Administration’s Center for Health Sector Management and Policy.

Although the forum touched on access to healthcare on many fronts, technology was the linchpin discussion at the event, which included panel discussions on healthcare access, the intersection of data and technology and creating partnerships in Latin America to increase prevention and treatment options. The goal of the forum was to inspire leaders to “educate, research and generate the knowledge” to further medical progress in Latin America, said university president Julio Frenk in his welcoming address.

Frenk has an interest in Latin American health issues; he previously had been minister of health in his native Mexico. A dozen speakers from all over the Americas discussed topics ranging from hypertension to cancer to using computers in diagnosis.

Dr. Ralph Sacco, the university’s Miller School of Medicine chairman of neurology and president of the American Academy of Neurology, led the first panel discussion. Sacco, also the former president of the American Heart Association, discussed his work with the World Health Organization. The WHO identified the worst low-income areas around the world that suffer from hypertension and other blood pressure-related problems, and highlighted the absence of technology for blood pressure measurement and management. The blood pressure crisis in high-risk regions is an example of how problems can arise in underfunded communities without proper technology, he said.

“If we don’t have access to the systems, we’ll never increase awareness,” Sacco said. “What gets measured, gets done.”

UDF10 UmHealth News rk
Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of the neurology department at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, discusses improving systems to measure patient data at a University of Miami forum on health care in Latin America, on Friday, June 9, 2017. Roberto Koltun

In discussion with Sacco, Edward Martinez, senior vice president and chief information officer for Miami Children’s Health System, said the key to moving patient information to the next level is by taking big data, simplifying it for the consumer and allowing patients to track their health through apps “like a video game.”

“The ability to take in data is just as powerful for the patient as it is for the physician,” he said. “We’re easily able to make life-altering decisions on our own.”

Martinez used his own workplace as an example, where he’s seen health improvements in 220 employees who participated in a companywide health initiative.

“At Miami Children’s, we had a device that allows us to blow air into an analyzer so we can see how we eat and how many carbs are being burned on a daily basis,” he said. “We’re empowering [employees] by giving them the tools to do so.”

The carbohydrate analysis could be tracked through the app “MyFitness,” and has helped employees — Martinez included — shed pounds and lead a healthier lifestyle.

Panelist Dr. Claudio Luiz Lottenberg said this type of mobile phone technology is not only an effective, but a cost-conscious way to engage patients in tracking their own health.

“It comes to the concept of patient engagement,” said Lottenberg, the CEO of Brazil’s largest healthcare company, UnitedHealth Group Brazil. “The patient has to be responsible for taking care of his problems.”

Also on the panel was Dr. Enrique Ruelas, Mexico’s former vice minister of health. For this type of technology to be implemented and adopted by individuals, Ruelas said, healthcare professionals must first “integrate improvement ... at the community level.” One way of starting this process is by bringing the technology into the workplace, whether it be in a big company like Martinez’s or a small business.

“We are used to dealing with individual patients,” Ruelas said. “We forget very frequently that we have to hear from the communities. We must engage employers and businesses to improve workforce health.

To bring helpful technology to the community, medical professionals must first understand how it can work in their favor.

Tina Moen, deputy chief health officer for IBM Watson Health, provided an understanding of how augmented intelligence can help doctors, “not replace them,” she joked.


UTR00 UmHealth News rk
Tina Moen, deputy chief health officer at IBM’s Watson Health, during a one-day forum hosted by the University of Miami on Friday, June 9, 2017, which focused on improving the access and delivery of health care in Latin America. Roberto Koltun

Because the augmented intelligence technology can perform analyses the human mind cannot, it simplifies a physician’s workflow and “brings the humanity back to medicine,” she said.

Moen introduced the idea of “cognitive” technology, which is the next step in medical data. Cognitive systems understand, reason with, learn and interact with data. In Watson Health’s most recent endeavors, the technology has identified proteins altered in ALS patients at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, pointed out treatment options at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center and used imaging to identify at-risk aortic valve stenosis patients who initially went undiagnosed.

“We don’t make something cognitive because it’s cool and new,” she said. “We make it cognitive because it’s better and improves the length of people’s lives.”

After working in India and Thailand, IBM Watson Health has plans to work with countries in Latin America to help develop data in incremental steps, Moen said. Although there has been a reduction in poverty and the Latin American middle class has grown over the past decade, prioritizing data in medicine is still a work in progress. In many countries of the region, the state has played a major role in rolling out grandiose health campaigns with big goals, but implementing technology is still costly and the data required for cognitive technology like IBM Watson Health’s still lags behind.

“Cognitive technology is only as good as the data,” she said. “But there’s value in the incremental steps.”