Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Leveraging Machine Learning Muscle at the Brigham & Women's Hospital iHub Idea Lab with Microsoft

The air was electric in the Shapiro Room at Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH), the setting for the BWH iHub Idea Lab with Microsoft on the evening of Monday, June 22nd. With innumerable ideas afloat on the topic of “Machine Learning in Healthcare”, it seemed it would be only a matter of time until lightning struck – in the form of a truly groundbreaking idea to improve population health and/or care management. Combining the clinical and technical acumens of members in attendance from the respective BWH and Microsoft communities, it appeared that the necessary parts were all in place, like a well-oiled Rube Goldberg machine, to harness the room’s bottled energy to propel forward real world solutions to some of healthcare’s most nagging problems.

The evening started with a brief welcome and introduction from Pothik Chatterjee of the BWH iHub, a group that’s trailblazing new paths to allow innovative technologies to surface from the hospital with increasing speed and efficiency, serving as a model for Academic Medical Centers and the likes to follow. After a series of brief lectures by representatives from BWH and Microsoft, including David Bates, MD, MSc, BWH’s Chief Innovation Officer, the attention was then turned over to those in attendance to come up with ideas for how to leverage machine learning software capabilities to improve care / population health. You could see the mental wheels whirring as the packed house broke off into smaller groups to brainstorm potential uses for the given technology. At the end of the evening, the room reconvened to share what resulted.

As the evening’s guests lingered and slowly dissipated from the hospital grounds, seeming reluctant to let go of this electric feeling, I looked around the space and came to grapple with what felt to me like a growing sense of solidarity. In the year 2015, it’s obvious to most that healthcare has its share of formidable challenges. What’s worth distinguishing, however, is that it’s not for lack of effort on the part of those involved. No matter where you find yourself in the world, there are likely to be countless people and organizations dedicated to the joint causes of improving patient care and population health – with its abundance of healthcare institutions, Boston is more fortunate than most. So with an event like the one tonight as just another example of the types of efforts taken, in a strange way I found myself comforted to realize that the work doesn’t end here.

As a follow-up to the event, Microsoft and BWH iHub will be working together on a selection of the best ideas to try to bring potential healthcare solutions to light. Thinking about the scale of population-level problems, even if just one or two ideas were to come to fruition, the ramifications would be huge. And yet, even then, there will still be more to be done.

Walking away from the hospital that night, there was one thing that I realized can be held constant in healthcare - much like the Energizer bunny, the work keeps going, and going, and going…

And so shall we.