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Human HeartMore than 25% of deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease. There are many statistics on the subject but to me the stunning one is that between 1,500 and 2,000 people die of heart disease every day. Most people would assume that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men but many are surprised to learn that it is also the number cause of death for women.  In fact, half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2006 were women. In 2010, heart disease will cost the United States $316.4 billion including the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity. In China the numbers are even bigger and this is why Beijing Goodwill and IBM have launched a joint effort to improve detection of cardiovascular diseases.
Although great strides have been made in the understanding and treatment of heart disease, there is much more that can be done. We all learned that the heart is a pump. If NASA had a pump that was experiencing difficulties it would put the pump in a lab, connect it to various sensors and testers and study it until the issue was resolved or the pump replaced.  In some cases a similar regimen is followed with humans but in most cases the analysis of a heart is done on a much more distributed basis. A primary care physician may look at a routine electrocardiogram done in the office. If anything in the ECG looks suspicious, you may be referred to a cardiologist for further examination. A second ECG is likely to be obtained. The specialist may have you wear a holter for a week or so. A cardiac stress ECG may also be requested. If some special testing is required you may be sent to the hospital. Then back to the cardiologist who does his or her best to integrate all the data and determine what is going on.
The model I described is not ideal. Part of the problem is that the reimbursement model provides an incentive for more visits and more tests. Physicians are not paid to cure you — they are paid to see you, to test you, to see you again, to re-test you, etc. Part of the problem is that the data is distributed among multiple technologies and locations. That is the problem that IBM and Beijing Goodwill are working on.
The joint project will launch an all-in-one electronic cardiogram management system in China. The idea is to achieve smarter healthcare by helping hospitals analyze real-time patient information generated from electrocardiography (ECG) examinations thereby getting better insight and a better ability to detect cardiovascular diseases with more accuracy.   The project will also empower doctors with mobile devices to monitor heart patients rather than wait until a holter is returned and a report is created from the data it contains. Physicians will be able to review test results from a single databank of centralized ECG information available to them anywhere.
Doctors will now be able to retrieve patient’s current and past cardiogram data, medical reports, and relevant scientific research. The integrated analytics tools of the system will automate the examination and diagnosis of results in real time, helping physicians increase the speed and accuracy of their diagnosis. As a result of this high-level of integration, the system will help hospitals to diagnose more effectively, eliminate human errors, reduce cost, optimize resources, and enhance research and educational capabilities.
IBM is investing heavily in Healthcare Industry Solutions Labs in Beijing and around the world and hiring doctors to work with IBM researchers to speed the evolution from anecdotal medicine to smarter information based medicine. There is a lot to be said for the laying on of the hands and comforting words of a physician but to make great strides in reducing the loss of life from curable diseases and conditions, we need to supplement emotion with more integrated data and collaboration in the healthcare model. With the efforts of IBM and many other technology companies focused on healthcare in partnership with providers and payers, I believe we will see tremendous progress in this regard over the next few years. We have many reasons to be optimistic.