This week, Chicago opens its doors to some 55,000 healthcare professionals for the 101st annual Radiological Society of North America conference at McCormick Place. Radiologists from around the world are gathering to collaborate with one another and inspect the latest medical imaging innovations, from X-ray and ultrasound to MRI and digital health.
Despite its size, the RSNA conference may pass by unnoticed for the average Chicagoan. In contrast, the global forces that are currently transforming healthcare will be felt by every one of us. Healthcare providers and researchers in Chicago, along with their peers nationwide, indeed around the world, are taking a leading role as several trends—such as expanding data, cost pressures and precision medicine shape today's reality and tomorrow's potential.
Medicine is becoming increasingly data-focused, algorithmic and predictive. Doctors and patients have more information at and on their fingertips than ever before.
Today across the country, hospitals and clinics' medical imaging systems, including MRI machines, can use cloud technology to share information, enabling them to spot clinical patterns faster than the human eye and even predict when they will need to be serviced.
Tomorrow, data-driven insights from wireless biometric sensors and medical histories will be available to doctors before patients even set up appointments. This cloud-based integration of advanced hardware, artificial intelligence software and next generation wetware—the data in our DNA—will empower doctors to make earlier, more accurate care decisions and even predict future health issues.
As life expectancy and populations rise, so too do cost pressures. Governments, hospitals and other healthcare providers are being challenged to deliver value over volume. This means more efficient and effective solutions for more patients, often under constrained budgets.
Today, the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago screens long-time smokers for lung cancer using low dose computed tomography (CT), which can help save lives and money because it may catch cancers earlier. Just miles away, Lurie Children's Hospital makes the potentially daunting PET/CT experience a camping trip-themed story. This helps relax younger patients and reduces the need for repeat imaging studies. Likewise, healthcare providers in other U.S. markets are devising innovative approaches to care delivery. Scripps Health in San Diego has adopted pocket-sized ultrasound technology that helps improve cardiac decisionmaking and patient triage while also helping reduce cost pressures.
Tomorrow, improvements in clinical, financial and operational outcomes will eliminate billions in costs and enhance millions of lives. A hospital's operating rooms, for example, account for 40% of the hospital's costs but often lie idle. Hospitals will soon use real-time data to make sure the right specialists and materials are available in the right place at the right time.
Precision medicine—healthcare personalized to you—is not coming; it's here. Leading doctors are overlaying data from medical imaging, sensors and lab tests with genomics and electronic health records to turn that data into medical insights. The result: more timely, more targeted and more valuable personal patient outcomes.
Today, Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago uses advanced mammography and biopsies to identify biomarkers for specific types of breast cancer, which helps doctors match patients with appropriate anti-cancer drugs. Elsewhere, the Pittsburgh-based UPMC health system is leading in the field of digital pathology, leveraging cloud collaboration so pathologists can address growing workloads and advance individual patients' cancer care.
Tomorrow, the fields of biotech, regenerative medicine and cell therapy will fuse with traditional medical care to create a personalized health pathway as unique as a fingerprint. Doctors won't address just the symptoms of a disease, but also its underlying causes, essentially teaching our bodies to heal themselves.
So while the RSNA conference comes and goes, optimism for the future of healthcare should remain. Researchers, doctors, industry partners and patients are learning together how data analytics and the cloud can help contain healthcare costs and drive precision medicine toward better patient care. And we're only just beginning.
John Flannery is president and CEO of GE Healthcare.