When a patient arrives at an emergency room, a doctor will typically ask about medical history and symptoms, possibly order blood work and tests, and then, using all that information, try to make a diagnosis.
If artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could be applied to that situation, an algorithm could generate several possible diagnoses to help physicians more quickly and easily identify the correct one.
That scenario is among those envisioned under a new multiyear collaboration between Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies (JJMDC) and Microsoft. Announced Monday, the initiative will establish Microsoft as JJMDC’s preferred cloud provider for its digital surgery solutions.
Peter Schulam, M.D., Ph.D. and head of JJMDC’s Office of Digital Innovation, said the company recognized a need to harness the increasingly large amounts of data generated by its medical devices.
“The digital revolution that’s going on all around us is happening in medical devices as well,” he says. “Our instruments, which before were purely mechanical, can now generate data. We have to think about how we’re going to aggregate and process that data.”
Putting data on a unified cloud platform, Schulam says, will enable physicians and surgeons to gain insights about patients, with the potential to increase consistency and improve the standard of care.
“We all know that procedural outcomes for patients – surgeries, outpatient procedures – are highly variable,” he says. “With data, we can provide guidance to help improve a surgeon’s performance by augmenting their judgment and/or enhancing their skill.”
Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, JJMDC makes digital technologies ranging from surgical robots and instruments to orthopedic devices and interventional tools. The new platform will connect those devices, along with patient records and hospital information systems, through Azure, and Microsoft will help JJMDC develop a dashboard to monitor its digital surgery ecosystem.
“It’s really about connectivity, but not only connectivity in the most traditional sense, which is often IoT and the like,” says Larry Jones, senior vice president and group CIO for JJMDC’s medical devices group. “It’s really about connecting the disparate parts of health care with the potential to make it much more efficient and effective for patients.”
Microsoft was the right choice for the strategic partnership, Jones says, because of its investments in its health care cloud, IoT, AI and machine learning, and Microsoft’s suite of secure productivity and collaboration tools.
“They also have off-the-shelf solutions that facilitate building this platform in a much faster, robust, compliant way to achieve the kind of connectivity and insights that we want,” he says. “Putting those together, and leveraging our solutions and our approach, is going to create some fascinating outcomes.”
The new platform has the potential to improve care by using AI, machine learning and data insights to create personalized surgery and treatment plans. JJMDC is already seeing the benefits of AI, Schulam says, through an algorithm developed for use with an electrical device used to seal vessels during surgery.
“Now, we can measure the quality of that seal with data and then feed that back to the surgeon to enable the surgeon to reduce bleeding,” Schulam says. “Without the ability to generate, aggregate and process data like this, surgeons didn’t have the ability to leverage that data to gain insights to facilitate real-time clinical decisions.”
Going forward, AI and machine learning could extract data from a patient’s health history to flag potential risks that might arise during a procedure or help the medical team identify if a patient is at higher risk for specific diseases or conditions.
The new platform will allow providers across the health care spectrum, from surgeons to physical therapists and care managers, to access the same patient information in one place, enabling a comprehensive patient view and reducing the time needed to read medical charts and records. Leveraging data can not only help reduce variability and improve patient outcomes, Schulam says, but also potentially save hospitals costs associated with surgical complications.
“Medical complications increase health care costs,” he says. “If you can help improve patient outcomes, that’s not only a value to the patient, but also a value to the health system.”
Schulam, who was previously chief of the urology department at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, says there are also plans to use the Azure Digital Twin platform to create digital representations of medical devices for remote monitoring and predictive maintenance. As a surgeon, Schulam encountered situations when procedures had to be canceled because a necessary machine wasn’t working. The use of digital twins can help avoid that, he says.
“In the future, if you have the ability to remotely monitor all devices in real time, 24/7, you could have predictive maintenance and identify potential failures before they occur,” he says.
The collaboration between the two companies will ramp up this year. Tom McGuinness, corporate vice president of global health care and life sciences at Microsoft, says the initiative underscores the impact cloud computing and data can have in improving patient care.
“Combining the power of cloud computing with AI and machine learning can create a more holistic and connected health care journey, with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ lives,” McGuinness says.
Schulam agrees the collaboration will help make a meaningful, clinical difference for patients and customers. The new cloud-based platform, he says, will provide capabilities that will benefit physicians and other health care workers around the world.
“Everything we do in our lives is highly digital,” he says. “Think about your home and your car and how connected things are. Everyone is living this every day, and I think everyone is ready for health care to follow.
“We’re excited to collaborate with Microsoft on this important work so we can continue to shape a future in which medical intervention is smarter, less invasive and more personalized.”
Top photo: JJMDC’s new digital platform will use data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist surgeons. (Photo by Getty Images. All other photos courtesy of JJMDC.)