How virtual radiology can help meet the goal of #healthforall
Providing healthcare to a wider range of patients via AI technology and remote diagnosis in places like China
It’s a simple but ambitious goal powering the message of April’s World Health Day 2018: everyone should be able to have access to affordable, inclusive healthcare and live a healthy life. Virtual radiology has the potential to dramatically advance this goal and provide more access to essential health services, such as diagnostic imaging, in areas around the globe.
Robert Cascella, leader of Philips Diagnosis and Treatment, and Sham Sokka, head of Philips Radiology Solutions, recently discussed the potential for virtual radiology now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is providing computer-assisted interpretation (including detection and diagnosis of lesions, clinical staging of cancers, anatomical modeling and quantification), solutions for intelligent image acquisition, and radiology work flow optimization.
Several key healthcare trends are challenging the way Philips delivers value to our customers and increasing the demand for integrated imaging solutions. These trends include: the shift to value-based healthcare, aging populations living with chronic illnesses, and the rise of AI – which is the underlying enabler for virtual radiology: the move from individual imaging procedures to connected, comprehensive care delivered anywhere.
To advance the goal of health for all, we want to be able to give a patient in a rural community the same level of diagnostic sophistication as someone living in metropolitan Boston, Beijing or Brussels. Of course, we’re not going to get the best radiology experts in the world to go in person to every geographic location, but we can employ virtual radiology to accomplish our goal remotely. A strong informatics backbone can add AI to the interpretation of the images, as well as the setup of imaging equipment and workflow standardization.
Here’s a great example of where we’re headed: Philips has partnered with Digital China Health, the largest provider of cloud-based healthcare services in China, to launch SHINEFLY  – a secure, cloud-based platform for tele-radiology applications co-created by the two companies to meet the demands of China’s rapidly expanding healthcare system. Now, collaboration between radiologists and clinicians at different locations, aided by Philips’ image, information and analysis tools, will help primary and remotely located hospitals in China enhance the quality – and access to – care.
Indeed, SHINEFLY is a great example since the technology behind the platform can be customized to suit several different radiological service models. It can be used in tiered hospital alliances to make medical images and clinical applications available at all levels; used by national medical centers to provide disease-specific radiology services; or used to create commercial on-demand doctors’ group services that individual hospitals can subscribe to.
This is not exclusive to China – it’s happening around the world and is great news from the patient perspective. Virtual radiology has huge potential to transform healthcare by providing more access to services and medical expertise in areas around the world that need it most, but the operational structure and workflow support needs to be in place to facilitate it. To develop a remote medical imaging solution, three levels of technology are essential from the top down: supportive diagnostic system and service; health information exchange technology and service; and an image data storage and management platform. It doesn’t just happen, and it won’t add tremendous value if technology and services are not integrated well.
At the same time, the dynamics of the healthcare industry mean radiologists are still being pressed to do more with less. The same qualities that make virtual radiology better for patients are also guiding the business of radiology.
Of course, there’s been plenty of what we call “tele-radiology” going on for years – imaging films that are read remotely by radiologists located far away from the source of the imaging. Tele-radiology was initially used to read images during off-hours and for relatively simple diagnoses. But greater consolidation in hospital systems is now driving consolidation of radiology practices, and those practices are saying, “I’m running a larger, consolidated practice. To be profitable, what do I need to outsource, and what should I keep as my core business?” Likewise, hospitals are deciding to outsource diagnostic imaging to large, chain providers. Virtual radiology also enables providers to increase their volume while maintaining quality.
We’re also seeing world-class academic medical centers moving into “brand name” radiology outsourcing. These premier institutions will contract with primary care hospitals to have their physicians read images from the most complex cases — allowing patients in nearly any geographic location to get expertise that was once reserved for patients living in sophisticated urban settings. To me, that’s driving toward the goal of better global healthcare for all.
Yes! Philips is supporting this transition to virtual radiology with an AI-driven imaging platform that can link hospitals, medical centers and outsourced providers located around the world to create a seamless virtual radiology network. We also have the insights to be able to broker the most cost-effective and clinically advanced agreements between stakeholders. Thus, we can help facilitate the spread of virtual radiology around the globe.
Right. Like the World Health Organization, Philips is committed to long-term partnerships with governments, health systems and others to move toward “health for all.” Virtual radiology can help us achieve success in shifting away from designing care around diseases and institutions to designing care for people.
 Commercially available in China only