AI Talk: Strategic Plan and fancy cart

Nov. 6, 2020 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…

Federal Health IT Strategic Plan

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published their latest five-year strategic plan for the 2020-2025 period. I’ve reviewed these plans over the years and so I was curious to see the HHS focus for 2015-2020. The last five years have been truly revolutionary for every aspect of the technology landscape! Few foresaw these changes coming at the beginning of the last decade, particularly advances in deep learning, smart phones and wearable technology. So, what did the federal health IT strategic plan cover in 2015 and what is different now? Remarkably, at a strategic level, the vision and mission of the Health IT strategic goals have largely remained the same—to provide high quality care, lower costs, healthy populations and consumer/patient engagement through use of health IT.  In 2015, the plan called for four overarching goals:

  • Advance patient-centered care and self-managed health
  • Transform health care delivery and community health
  • Foster research, scientific knowledge and innovation
  • Enhance the nation’s health IT infrastructure.

The current plan says:

  • Promote health and wellness
  • Enhance the delivery and experience of care
  • Build secure, data-driven research and innovation
  • Connect health care with health data

The details of the plans are actually quite different, as they should be. In 2015, the country was still in its major push to adopt EHRs. Communication infrastructure was the focus. The opioid crisis got major billing and the National Institutes of Health had just launched the precision medicine initiative, a massive research program to collect data at scale to support personalization of care. This effort is still ongoing and can provide huge dividends. AI and machine learning technologies were not mentioned.

Fast forward to now: The plan for the next five years has a good deal of information surrounding the use of internet and broadband technologies, and the use of smart phones to promote wellness. The role of AI and machine learning technologies to support personalized care, clinical decision support, diagnostic support is addressed throughout the report. The impact of COVID-19 and the increased use of telehealth is mentioned. COVID-19 also illuminated health inequality in disadvantaged communities (social determinants of health (SDOH) are highlighted in this context). Information blocking receives high billing in the plan, defined as the practice by which EHR companies and health care providers raise artificial barriers to the sharing of clinical information with the patient and the patient’s evolving care team. Clearly, that needs to be rectified.

Reducing the regulatory and administrative burden is also mentioned as a priority. Physicians and health systems saddled with numerous reporting requirements to the point of burnout will undoubtedly be happy to see this HHS goal. The strategic plan is a blueprint to guide HHS activities. To the extent this prompts HHS to reduce barriers such as information blocking and encourage research towards precision medicine, then the plan will have served its purpose. If the past five years are any guide, technology innovation will continue to rapidly accelerate, independent of  HHS.

Dash cart

A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video showcasing one of the latest gadgets from Amazon: A simple looking cart dubbed “Dash Cart.” This cart is equipped with tons of cameras that dot its interior a touchscreen display, an integrated weighing scale, and my favorite: a cupholder for my coffee! It is rather small though—about half the size of a regular size grocery cart—but what it lacks in size it makes up for in convenience. The cart allows you to grab whatever item you want and throw it in. The cameras then automatically read the barcode, recognize the item and ring up the charge on your display. If you want to remove the item, no problem. Just remove it from the cart and the item gets canceled. This works with produce as well and once you are done you just walk out of the store in a special lane and your credit card gets charged automatically. The first store to use this new cart has opened in Los Angeles (2). This is a glimpse into the future, where there are no cashiers but hopefully lots of tech helpers!


The Amazon cart YouTube link was sent by my friend Vinod.

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.