4 AI trends in healthcare: CVS Health’s data scientist shares the details

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Eugenio Zuccarelli, innovation data scientist at Rhode Island-based CVS Health, didn’t embark on a career in AI because he wanted to work in healthcare. He just wanted to do work that benefits people.

“For the past few years, I’ve been working on human-centric AI – using and analyzing data to help impact people’s lives and society,” he said. . “I’m not just interested in healthcare, but I think it’s a great way for us to have a big impact on people’s lives.”

Fortunately, that’s exactly how he sees his role at CVS Health, a company that over the past few years has prioritized using data and analytics to transform its retail heritage and evolve into broader services that morph into a “one stop shop” experience. for healthcare consumers.

The Genoa, Italy native joined CVS Health — which owns CVS Pharmacy, a retail pharmacy chain, CVS Caremark, a pharmaceutical benefits manager, and health insurer Aetna — in October 2020. These days, he leads a team that leads AI innovation efforts in healthcare. business, particularly in the area of ​​complex chronic care, including conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

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He is currently working on a predictive model that can identify the onset and course of these chronic diseases, and is already used by dozens of large corporations and some federal organizations. The solution helps understand patient risks, monitor therapies, and improve medical decision-making.

“Everything we do on the innovation side is to create products,” he said. “We commercialize these innovative AI solutions and sell them to some of the biggest companies in the world.”

Eugenio Zuccarelli, Innovation Data Scientist at CVS Health

VentureBeat asked Zuccarelli his thoughts on some of the key trends he sees in the healthcare AI space. These are four that he sees as priorities in the industry:

AI-powered personalized healthcare solutions

There has long been a growing interest in the healthcare industry in personalized medicine, which uses genetic information or other biomarkers to determine patient treatment decisions.

But organizations are using AI to customize solutions based on everything from behavior to lifestyle.

“It’s about how we can develop custom solutions that are unique for each individual,” Zuccarelli said. “For example, one person might be at higher risk of making their diabetes or hypertension worse due to a poor diet. Other people might not be taking the right medication.

An AI-powered solution can generate personalized recommendations for each person, based on gaps in care. Zuccarelli compares it to Netflix, as a solution offering personalized recommendations to specific users.

Overall, Zuccarelli argues that personalized medicine will completely revolutionize healthcare – and AI and data will be the tools that will support that change.

“I firmly believe that physicians will always be the most important part of healthcare and the patient journey, but it won’t be about ‘one size fits all’ – it will be about tailored solutions,” did he declare.

AI Applications for Ethical Healthcare

Although the focus on AI in recent years has often focused on building better and more accurate models, Zuccarelli says healthcare organizations are increasingly focusing on how applications relate to the people who use them and who are affected by them.

“That’s why ethical AI is such an important element, especially in healthcare, where privacy, fairness and ethics are so important,” he said. “Every day we see AI applications that could be improved if we thought about their power as tools and how they should have guidelines and an understanding of the cost of bias.”

Even in a regulated industry such as healthcare, there is still a lot to work with data from an ethical perspective, he adds, pointing out that many companies and research institutes can (and do) models without no monitoring of prejudice or discrimination that may exist, related to ethnicity, age or other issues.

“Understanding these nuances and how to improve the system will be one of the most important things for the [healthcare AI] industry in the future,” he said.

Health data interoperability

Hospitals, businesses, and individuals have a huge amount of health-related data, but that data lacks interoperability. That is, data often lives in different kinds of systems, through a variety of vendors, or even just exists on pieces of paper, and so the data can’t communicate with each other, Zuccarelli said.

“I think this is one of the most important components that still needs to be exploited and solved,” he explained. “Once there is a solution to data interoperability, healthcare AI will get a significant boost.”

AI can help solve these problems – not the algorithms themselves – but the way they are used and created. Federated learning, for example, is a technique that trains an algorithm on multiple decentralized devices or servers containing local data samples.

“Instead of moving the data and bringing it into the model, you take the model and move it to all the locations where the data is stored,” he said. “So the data can stay where it is and the model can still have access to all the data.”

Impact of big tech players getting into healthcare

“It’s going to be very interesting to see,” Zuccarelli said in response to Amazon’s announcement last week that it will acquire One Medical, a network of more than 180 clinics, for nearly $4 billion. After its push into the pharmacy space in 2020, it’s clear the company is trying to become a leader in healthcare, he explained.

“The more players we have in this industry, especially tech players, the more likely the whole industry will move forward when it comes to finding tech solutions for healthcare,” he said. .

Healthcare, he pointed out, is an industry historically interested in data privacy and ownership, he added.

“So it’s going to be very interesting to see how Amazon can ensure privacy, maybe help with interoperability, and also allow the healthcare system to thrive.”

An AI holy grail for health

Zuccarelli says if he could choose his own “holy grail” project, he would tackle data interoperability issues in healthcare.

“I would probably try to fix this because there’s a massive amount of data just in CVS Health,” he said. “It’s certainly one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, but it’s only one private company. If we could create a single data framework where we had the ability to share data from hospitals around the world with privacy intact, we would have the ability to improve the health and well-being of so many people.

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Sean N. Ayres