Reflections on Stanford’s Digital Health Summit

How Digital Technology Can Pave the Way for a New Era of Accessible, Personalized, and Preventive Healthcare

Michael Snyder, PhD, presents at the 2024 Digital Health Summit 

March 12, 2024 - by Rebecca Handler 

February 28th marked the 2024 Digital Health Summit, co-hosted by the Stanford Healthcare Innovation Lab, Times Higher Education, and the Stanford Center for Digital Health (CDH) in the Department of Medicine. CDH Director Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, kicked off the event with opening remarks; her team works every day to bring the best and brightest minds of Stanford, Silicon Valley, and the world together to solve the most pressing questions in a way that is scientifically rigorous and ethically sound.

At a glance, there were over 200 guests coming to the summit from 23 countries across all 7 continents, representing a diverse mix of industries. This included government leaders, tech entrepreneurs, non-profit visionaries, and leading academics, all converging to explore the future of digital health.

Embracing Personalized Medicine: A Shift Towards Customized Care

A major topic of the summit was the concept of personalized medicine, offering shared hope for a system that caters to the unique healthcare needs of each individual. 

The decreasing cost of genome sequencing, as highlighted by Michael Snyder, PhD, exemplifies this shift, as this allows for more widespread and accessible genome analysis. Snyder's lab has been pioneering the use of genomics and continuous health monitoring to track and improve individual health outcomes. By analyzing deep data profiles, including genomic data, the group aims to understand what a healthy baseline looks like for individuals and how deviations from this baseline can indicate emerging health issues and lead to faster interventions. 

Equally compelling, Mark Van Der Laan, PhD, from the University of California, Berkeley, championed the precision of targeted learning and its symbiosis with machine learning and big data to craft personalized treatment strategies. This approach not only anticipates healthcare needs but dynamically adapts to each patient's genetic and environmental context. This embodies the summit's vision for a predictive, rather than merely reactive, healthcare system.

Looking forward, the speakers envisioned a world where digital health technologies are widely accessible, allowing individuals to monitor their health continuously and make informed decisions based on their unique health data. This future includes the integration of genomic data, wearable technology, and personalized health interventions to prevent diseases and manage health more proactively.

Sumeet Chugh, MD, presents on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) 

The Vanguard of Prevention: Wearables and Early Detection

The summit also highlighted the critical role of prevention and early detection in transforming healthcare away from its current “sick care” model –  in which the average patient only seeks support when they have already fallen ill.

Snyder's presentation on the use of wearable technology for early disease detection exemplified this. A significant focus of Snyder's work is on wearable technology's potential to monitor health in real-time. Wearables can detect physiological changes that precede symptoms, such as increased heart rate or temperature, which can be early indicators of illness, including infections like COVID-19. 

Imagine a scenario where your wearable device alerts you to the possibility of COVID-19 infection days before any symptoms manifest. Such early detection could have significantly altered the course of the pandemic by enabling prompt self-isolation and treatment, thereby curbing the spread of the virus.

Sumeet Chugh, MD, Medical Director of the Cedars Sinai Heart Rhythm Center, also presented his insights on the early prediction of sudden cardiac arrest through AI and biomarker research. Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) remains one of the leading causes of death globally, often striking without warning. Traditional approaches to predicting and preventing SCA have heavily relied on monitoring the ejection fraction of the heart—a method that, while useful, covers only a fraction of the risk factors associated with SCA.

Chugh introduced the concept of a novel population-based learning health system over two decades ago. This approach connected emergency health records (EHR) with real-world data from sources such as hospital admissions, outpatient visits, and wearable health monitoring devices. This synthesis enabled the collection of comprehensive data on cardiac arrest incidents. By examining these incidents in detail, Chugh and his team were able to identify clinical markers of cardiac arrest, leading to more targeted intervention strategies. Chugh’s work underscores the potential of technology in preempting critical health episodes before they even happen. 

Akshay Chaudhari, PhD, discusses deep learning 

Deep Learning for Health Predictions 

Akshay Chaudhari, PhD, leader of Stanford’s Machine Intelligence Medical Imaging Research Group, shared his work on harnessing deep learning and big data to revolutionize diagnostic imaging and predictive healthcare. He mentioned the importance of building large-scale models on petabytes of data to extract meaningful insights from medical imaging datasets.

For example, Chaudhari's team was able to build an algorithm that analyzed imaging data from approximately 420,000 patients. This model diagnosed cirrhosis in a significant percentage of these patients, a condition that was vastly underreported in their medical records. This discrepancy—where only about 1% of those diagnosed by the model had cirrhosis noted in their medical records—demonstrates the potential of machine learning to reveal conditions that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Democratizing Healthcare: Bridging the Accessibility Divide

A recurring theme of the conference was the democratization of healthcare, and technology’s role in implementing strategies that improve patient access to care.

The traditional healthcare model is ripe for disruption. From the way patients schedule visits to diagnostic processes and treatments, each step offers an opportunity for improvement through digital innovation. Many presenters touched on the shared goal to use digitization to streamline healthcare delivery, making it more efficient, accessible, and effective for patients everywhere.

Some touched on the importance of virtual care, a concept that emerged through necessity during the pandemic. Virtual care can be defined as a healthcare delivery model that leverages digital communication tools to enable remote interactions between patients and healthcare providers. 

Focusing on complex health conditions, Timothy Judson, MD, MPH, of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), presented case studies  to illustrate the application and outcomes of virtual care. He highlighted the lung transplant virtual care program, developed in response to the pandemic, which significantly reduced the need for in-person visits through the use of a chatbot and Bluetooth spirometry, leading to high patient engagement and expanded geographical reach. 

Overall, the conference emphasized the myriad benefits of virtual care for complex conditions, such as providing a more comprehensive view of patient health, reducing reliance on face-to-face interactions, and improving access to care across wide geographic areas. 

Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, Director of the Center for Digital Health

The Rise of Value-Based Care

Value-based care emerged as a promising theme, with discussions emphasizing a healthcare model that prioritizes patient outcomes over volume of services provided. This approach, facilitated by digital health technologies, underscores the importance of long-term health benefits and cost efficiency. By integrating AI, data analytics, and personalized medicine, the healthcare industry is moving towards a model where care is tailored to the individual needs of patients, ensuring better health outcomes and more sustainable healthcare systems.

A Vision of Collaborative Innovation

Linos encapsulated the summit's spirit with an important takeaway message: "The fusion of minds at the Digital Health Summit was not just inspiring but a beacon for the future. Seeing leaders from various disciplines and corners of the world come together gives me immense hope for the innovations that will emerge from these collaborations. Our collective effort is not just about advancing healthcare technology; it's about reimagining how we care for every individual on a personal level."

As the Digital Health Summit concluded, it was clear that the path forward for healthcare is a collaborative, technology-driven one. The discussions and presentations provided a blueprint for a future where healthcare is accessible, personalized, preventive, and efficient. 

The Center for Digital Health team co-hosted the Summit

Rebecca Handler (Department of Medicine) with Keynote Speaker Erika Cheung (Executive Director at Ethics in Entrepreneurship)

Digital Health Summit speakers Eleni Linos MD, MPH, DrPH, Maame Yaa A. B. Yiadom, MD, & Akshay Chaudhari, PhD

Greeting over 200 guests at the 2024 Digital Health Summit

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