Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Microsoft uses AI to tackle burden of Taiwan’s aging population

Steve Rogerson
March 28, 2017
Microsoft is investing deeply in artificial intelligence research to help tackle healthcare problems stemming from Taiwan’s aging population.
By applying billions of sets of big data and machine learning in the research process, Microsoft has successfully expanded AI technologies to the field of manufacturing, retail, the service sector and now healthcare. After the introduction of HealthVault, a personal health management service platform, the company has integrated robots, voice recognition and cognitive services to launch Health Bot and StaffHub.
All three applications provide deep personalisation, conversational intelligence and world knowledge to medical personnel and patients, which can introduce medical resources to every household, thereby facilitating the healthcare industry in achieving digital transformation. With the premise of complying with international standards of information security, the AI-related healthcare service could effectively elevate quality of care and promote positive doctor-patient relationships.
The vision of achieving digital transformation in the healthcare industry was revealed in the World Economic Forum. With the 25 billion – this number is expected to multiply within five years – connected devices within the extant IoT, far-reaching and ubiquitous high-speed data transfer and connected devices, cheaper and smaller sensors, low-cost data storages, and analytical and machine learning technology, the face of the healthcare industry will undergo extensive changes in the coming decade.
The employment of telemedicine and connected homes programmes could make care-anywhere a possibility. In the face of becoming an aging society, low birth rate and the possible bankruptcy of the national healthcare system in Taiwan, it's critical to allocate and use medical resources efficiently to achieve the goal of aging gracefully in a fulfilling way while providing affordable medical services for all. This is the core problem to be solved by digital transformation powered by technologies.
"As population aging continues to accelerate, Taiwan's aging index reached 100.18 for the first time during last month," said Steven Shaw, general manager of Microsoft Taiwan. “The aged population is now larger than the young age population.”
The National Development Council estimates that the percentage of aging population in Taiwan will exceed 14% by 2018 and 20% by 2020. By that time, Taiwan will officially become a hyper-aged society.
“Prolonged life expectancy, the prevalence of chronic illnesses and limited medical resources are issues that the healthcare system and society as a whole must address as soon as possible,” said Shaw. "As the aging population, has become more active in the society, Microsoft Taiwan has also devoted itself to developing a more comprehensive medical ecosystem. With the aid of technology such as AI, natural speech and robots, time spent on waiting to receive medical care, diagnosis, prescribing, and applying for healthcare coverage is decreased and the processes are optimised.”
He said that these types of technology could help medical personnel in monitoring the patient's condition after appointments, which leads to more effective home healthcare, a decrease in the number of hospital visits or examinations, and an overall reduction in wasted medical resources.
“Furthermore, patients are able to enjoy remote healthcare in the comfort of their homes,” he said. “For both service providers and users of the healthcare system, the application of new technologies paves the way to achieving equal and efficient medical resource allocation."
Digital transformation involves re-centring the operations of an organisation through the use of digital, social, mobile and emerging technologies to reinvent the ways of thinking and work. Visionary leadership, clashes of different thinking and the encouragement of innovation to promote new business models are the key to the success of digital transformation. On the other hand, enterprises can integrate the digitisation of their assets and employ technology to optimise the user experience of employees, customers, vendors and partners.

Taking Hong Kong's Department of Health & Hospital Authority for example, Microsoft Asia healthcare lead Danny Yeo (pictured above) has identified five primary problems that hospitals now face:

  • Doctors travel frequently among hospitals and need to access the medical cases and doctor training materials, which are siloed within hospitals;
  • Decentralised and distributed locations and limited IT support;
  • Medical staff use Whatsapp, a consumer messaging app that IT cannot control;
  • IT personnel are unable to manage aged containerised apps on Linux, and are always on alert for fear of unexpected failures; and
  • IT personnel are unable to track the dependency of problematic apps and cannot anticipate which systems are affected. Therefore, the promotion of digital transformation to record, manage, analyse and respond to various circumstances is the primary goal of digital transformation.
In the face of the many obstacles in digital transformation, Microsoft upholds the concept of Mobile First Cloud First and proposes four major dimensions in digital transformation. The four dimensions are engage patients, empower care teams, optimise clinical operational effectiveness, and transform the care continuum.
In addition to digital healthcare, precision medicine and information security, the allocation of human resources of medical personnel and the relationship of patients and medical personnel are all tasks to be undertaken in the digital transformation of the healthcare industry. Through digital transformation, data can be transformed into insights that can be further used by medical personnel to optimise medical processes while providing the necessary healthcare resources to patients. This will not only help facilitate medical communications but also improve the quality of medical care and ultimately improve the relationship of patients and medical personnel.
The prevalence of AI facilitates the centralised management of data, enhances communications convenience and security, and ensures the stability of medical applications. Subsequently, problems that stem from inadequate human and financial resources in hospitals can be effectively mitigated by optimising processes, reducing manual data entry, and conserving the time and labour costs required in physical data transmission.
"Microsoft's HealthVault, StaffHub and Health Bot aim to incorporate AI into medical procedures and data management to analyse and optimise doctor-staff interactions, creating value-added applications,” said Yeo. “These services not only bring professional medical assistance from the hospital to patients' homes, allowing every patient to receive hospital-quality care via connected devices, but also resolve the misallocation of medical resources and ambiguity of medical processes."
He said that with Microsoft's enterprise grade security protection and its compliance with various medical IT and cloud security standards, users could ensure their sensitive data were fully protected and could be exchanged and shared in a secure environment.
“This will also motivate patients to be willing to share their personal medical data for medical personnel to provide more customised healthcare or medical research and further improve the quality of healthcare services," said Yeo.
With the inclusion of AI applications, services such HealthVault, StaffHub and Health Bot can create opportunities for users. These services are not only more intuitive but also have the potential of providing even more customised services.
HealthVault centralises storage, management, application, and exchange of personal and family members' health data information. It can assist users in four health management categories:
  • Organise family's health information: Track drug use, medical history, blood pressure, symptoms and indisposition, allergies, physical conditions, physical examination results, and radiology reports and images.
  • Be better prepared for doctor visits and unexpected emergencies: Authorise emergency staff to access health data over the internet via computer, smartphone and/or tablet devices.
  • Create a more patient-centric and complete picture of health: Access examination results, prescription history and treatment records. Authorise laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics to upload health data to HealthVault or let patients upload data themselves for easy tracking of chronic illnesses. HealthVault offers trend charts and a search mode, allowing patients to compile a complete medical report for their doctors. They can also store medical images and share them with medical staff or people they trust, thereby creating a health management support network.
  • Achieve fitness goals: The weight management dashboard assists in managing weight at fitness objectives by tracking weight, activity and food intake. Patients can also set specific goals or check progress. HealthVault can be connected to wearable devices to track exercise and training. It provides reminders to help patients stay positive and on track. They can then adjust their workouts based on health data to increase effectiveness. And they can post progress on social media to share weight-loss, activity or calorie-burn results with friends.
StaffHub provides staff scheduling, rounds scheduling and instant communications. It is a cloud-based platform that works across all devices. It enables staff workers and their managers to manage time, communicate with their teams and share content. Managerial staff such as doctors and head nurses can create schedules or projects to consolidate relevant members into a team. They can then instantaneously update relevant activities and schedules.
The platform can be used to manage staff needs and share case notes, images, reports and charts across different mobile platforms. In addition, nurses and on-the-go staff members can view upcoming schedules, swap a shift or request time off. They can also communicate with other team members individually, in a small group, or across the entire team, view content, and take appropriate actions.
Health Bot is a robot with conversational intelligence. It provides deep personalisation, conversational intelligence and world knowledge for initial patient triage. The bot is built with customisation options and an extensible framework. Partners have the flexibility to tailor the bot to their patient scenarios and can integrate third-party endpoints, such as EMRs and patient portals.
Health Bot provides support for interactive diagnostic symptom checkers, layperson natural language and multi-turn dialogue with users, and it learns from previous interactions.
The information sources for conversational intelligence derive from HealthVault which provides information on lab results, medications and wearable data, Cortana which enables access to deep patient knowledge in multiple areas, partner data sources, Bing which provides local information, maps and crowd search data, and CDC, WHO, NHS and NIH databases.
"Using Microsoft Health Bot, users can now access their health data conveniently, instantaneously, and in their preferred language,” said Yeo. “Insurance companies can visualise their expenses using client reports and reinforce client-company relations."
According to a market report by eMarketer in 2015, 80% of the participants were willing to share their health data to improve medical care, 59% were willing to provide their health data for medical research, and 52% were willing to share their health data to obtain a deduction in insurance premium.
“These outcomes imply that patients are willing to provide their personal health data to hospitals or insurance companies if it benefits personal healthcare,” said Yeo. “The next step in the digital transformation of the healthcare industry is identifying and resolving challenges, establishing partnerships, proposing conceptual verification models, and executing pilot programmes, thereby creating robust and refined medical services that satisfy patients' special needs."