One in every 10 people in Hong Kong suffers from diabetes – and people are being diagnosed at younger ages than usual.

This year, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority is launching a framework of mobile apps that will allow for more targeted management of diseases such as diabetes. “The really exciting thing about the newest wave of stuff, like with AI, is that we’re going to be able to do much more nuanced and appropriate decision support – more accurate in saying which patient needs what,” says Dr NT Cheung, Head of Information Technology and Health Informatics/Chief Medical Informatics Officer of the Hospital Authority.

The Authority is looking to provide better support for patients and empower them to take better ownership of their health. This creates “the ability to have a direct impact on how patients experience their healthcare in a positive way, very systematically, at scale”, he tells GovInsider.

Managing diabetes from your mobile

Patients will be able to record and monitor their blood glucose levels. The app will also set reminders for them to measure their blood glucose, take medicine, or arrange for follow-up consultations.

Other apps to personalise health services provide schedule reminders, pregnancy advice, and pharmacy and drug-related information. “There is more across-the-board stuff, instead of more piecemeal basis that we’ve had before,” he says.

Until recently, Dr Cheung explains, patients’ needs were not the focus of how health information systems were designed. “Hospitals have always been designed to make it more efficient for the health care providers than for the patients,” he says.

“Without radically rethinking the whole thing, certainly we can cut down on the various queues.”
“Now, without radically rethinking the whole thing, certainly we can cut down on the various queues,” he adds. Various healthcare institutions will be able to identify the tasks that can be done on an app, instead of having the patient turn up in person. The Authority is also working on a mobile payments function, he continues.

Experimenting with data

Hong Kong wants to help local companies and researchers to build new services using health data, while ensuring that patients’ data privacy is protected. The Hospital Authority will launch a data collaboration lab this year, which will provide a physical space for innovators to run trials and experiments. It will host “the whole electronic data set that has very granular data on millions of patients over many years”. This is made possible by the territory-wide electronic medical records system that allows both public and private sector healthcare institutions to access and share patient information.

Ultimately, the goal is to help clinicians in their day-to-day, he says. “We have tons of patient data sitting there; we are going to be building up a lot more of the sort of algorithmic care within the Hospital Authority itself.”

The ‘fail fast’ mentality

Dr Cheung’s team is exploring the use of text analytics to reduce errors or oversight in diagnoses, he says. “The idea is to identify patients that would benefit from a specific intervention and make sure the person who can do something about it gets the message in a timely way.”

Histopathology reports, which show the results of biopsies of tumours and growths, commonly come in the form of a long text-based document. There may be indications in these text-heavy reports that a patient has cancer, for instance, but “somebody didn’t see it, or saw it and didn’t act upon it”, Dr Cheung notes. “That’s the sort of thing we want to make sure you don’t miss.”

The team hopes to develop this capability one step further, so that the system only flags those reports that no one has taken action on. This undoubtedly requires “another level of intelligence”, Dr Cheung says. “One of the biggest issues is over-alerting people, putting too much information to the clinicians.”

It is clear that data is key to allowing Hong Kong to target support to patients with deadly lifestyle diseases, and reduce clinical errors, while allowing companies to continue building awesome new services.

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