The recipe for St. Joseph Mercy Oakland's future success? AI, blockchain and predictive analytics

With the entire healthcare industry evolving at an impossibly rapid pace — and with no signs of slowing down — hospitals and health systems that have gone all-in on advanced technologies will be in the best position to keep up.

Here, Dr. Santosh Mudiraj, a performance excellence leader at Saint Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Mich., discusses how AI, blockchain, predictive analytics and other high-tech tools will continue to revolutionize healthcare, and he explains the importance of fueling those tools with clinical data of the highest possible quality.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is your No. 1 priority today?

Dr. Santosh Mudiraj: As healthcare is constantly changing and evolving with the changing needs of its customers (patients, providers, payers, population, pharmaceuticals, etc.), my No. 1 priority is to address any opportunities with innovation to keep up or stay ahead of this constant change. To do so, my primary focus is to understand the "why" and conduct effective and accurate data analysis. Asking the right questions to understand why an opportunity or problem exists is crucial to being able to capture all of the data needed to ensure insightful analysis and solutions. Without this, we would be implementing an innovative solution that won't be sustainable. 

I have noticed "hidden data" in many of my projects. This is something that is not necessarily generated, but rather, can only be understood by asking the right questions or understanding the "noise" in data. Being aware of this hidden data can not only assist in a sustainable innovative solution, but is also important in predicting and being proactive in problem-solving.

Q: How do you see your role changing over the next three years?

SM: In the next three years, I see myself getting more involved in developing and implementing innovative strategies with the use of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and other emerging technologies. 

Due to my clinical knowledge, process improvement background and data analytics skills, I can see my role evolving toward that of an innovation, information and data analytics expert who can bridge the gap between data and healthcare by providing insightful and actionable information to improve patient outcomes and efficient workflows, and reduce operating costs. In this role, I would like to create predictive models for length of stay, readmission, hospital admission and other specific medical conditions. I plan on innovating in supply chain and revenue cycle management, and in improving patient experience and colleague engagement. 

Q: What initiative are you most excited about today? How will it affect the future of healthcare delivery?

SM: Currently, there is a lot of news about artificial intelligence, blockchain and predictive analytics tools in healthcare. I am particularly interested to see how these technologies will work together to impact the future of healthcare. I am still understanding and watching the growth of blockchain technology in healthcare. Its usage in supply chain and payer contracts has already proven significantly important for health systems. 

I am also very excited to see machine learning and deep learning being utilized to create use cases for AI in healthcare. We already use AI in our daily lives in different areas, from our homes to automotive and retail. AI is constantly learning and evolving from the data we are gathering, and its use in research to develop applications has significantly improved the way we provide medical care. We are now able to diagnose medical conditions quicker than we ever have, and virtual physicians can provide medical assistance any time of the day. 

The future of healthcare will be significantly impacted by the use of these emerging technologies to improve the overall delivery of healthcare, especially in preventing certain medical outcomes, reducing cost burden and improving population health. 

Q: What do you see as the most dangerous trend in healthcare today?

SM: I have noticed that, due to lack of employee engagement or interest, sometimes new technologies are being implemented without ensuring data integrity and accuracy. Because of this, in a review of metrics related to key performance indicators (KPIs) using newer data visualization tools, there is a high likelihood that other contributing factors that affect the KPIs are being missed. Most healthcare-related issues or opportunities are complex and require in-depth analysis; otherwise, it would result only in reactionary firefighting in an attempt to improve the metrics. 

In my career, I have noticed that there has been a significant inappropriate behavior change just to "get the numbers up," because that is where the focus is. This resulted in a downwards trend in the key behavior indicator (KBI). The KPI report doesn't take into account any of the KBIs or other contributing factors for non-compliance, nor does it even tell us if the compliance is truly due to an appropriate behavior.

More articles on health IT:
Mayo Clinic Plummer Project co-chair Dr. Steve Peters on EHR customization, innovation
Viewpoint: Healthcare needs a new type of digital disruption
Consumers less willing than ever to share personal data, even for customized experiences, survey finds

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