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“High Tech Enables High Touch.” Stanford’s Dean of Medicine on How Technology is Changing the Face of Healthcare

June 21, 2017

Dean Lloyd Minor says technology, and specifically, smartphones are making healthcare deliverable in real-time. By the year 2020, tech crunch predicts smartphones are expected to reach 80% of the world’s population. He’s encouraged and yet pragmatic about this statistic. He says, “Technology will never replace one on one human interaction between patient and physician, but it will allow us to make our information available, for example, training midwives in India.” He adds, “There are few cases in which patients wish to have only virtual interaction, they still want someone they can talk to.”  But, smartphones are delivering data faster and enabling physicians to cut out the red tape and have more time with their patients.

Along this same line of thinking is Project Baseline, a collaborative effort with Stanford Medicine and Duke University School of Medicine to amass a large collection of health data in hopes of developing a well-defined reference of human health.  Approximately 10,000 participants, some of them healthy, others have been treated for everything from heart disease to cancers, will be followed for four years. This “baseline” map of human health will then be used to understand the transition from health to disease. Data will come via clinicians, self-reported and bio-specimen samples. It will then all be transferred and uploaded to a Google Cloud Platform. And in some cases, patients will be able to input their own data on a wearable device, which tracks everything from sleep to calorie intake.

Dean Minor says, “As we plan better strategies we have been able to discover new relationships to be used for causes of disease and intervention. What will come out of this study can be used for biomarkers associated with new types of cancer, or a new novel area of the genome. That can then be tested in a larger group of people that are not undergoing a screen everything approach.”

A similar approach is being tested in the Stanford Precision Health for Ethnic and Racial Equity Center, or SPHERE. The precision medicine here focuses on identifying genetic and biological markers that could be used to help reduce disease in minority populations in the US. It’s funded by a five- year $11.5 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH. One project involves the study of 200 obese Latino American children in Santa Clara County, California. Researchers are looking at the driver of obesity in these children such as home life, food, genetics and the microbiome. Possible solutions have been interventions, smaller plates, and scheduling of meals. Dean Minor adds, “All too often we play catch up when diagnosing diseases. With precision medicine, we can now look ahead, before disease, such as diabetes in Latino children, sets in.”

When calculating healthcare costs, these two projects required adequate funding on the front end, but over time are expected to prevent and expose possible disease before the onset. It’s an investment, but one that technology is ensuring will pay off in the long run.