Reducing health inequities and increasing access to care using AI and blockchain

The Palmerston North-based Health Hub Project in New Zealand is aiming to reduce health inequities and increase access to care with the help of artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain.

Project co-founder David Hill is a GP at the Health Hub Project in Palmerston North, which runs four general practices with around 9000 patients.

Hill says clinically trained people are a diminishing resource in healthcare and the system cannot rely on that to ensure its sustainability in the future, therefore technology needs to be used to “balance that inequity of supply and demand”.

“The whole point of what we are doing is trying to make sure that we use IT in a way that allows or permits greater equity of access to patients and starts to reduce the reliance on the ever-dwindling resource of healthcare workers,” he says.

“Also, to advance the value proposition that we give to patients.”

The first stage of the Health Hub Project is developing a New Zealand-focused model of risk stratification to identify those patients who are most at risk and in need of services.

“We want to look at a much more integrated model of risk stratification, so it’s not just clinical but psychosocial factors like housing and education as well,” explains Hill.

He says these factors are drivers of poor health, which impact Māori and Pasifika people disproportionally, and the model could help differentiate other drivers.

He is also working with researchers at Massey University to develop a social exclusion measurement for New Zealand, which will be incorporated into the risk stratification.

The project’s aim is to create a database of patient information and to use AI and machine learning to develop the risk stratification score and enable researchers to look at the impact of health interventions.

Hill says the database will start with the 9000 patients at the Health Hub Project practice. Patients will have access via an app to their own data, and be able to input it, as well as choose how it is shared with researchers.

The organisation is working with a small team of New Zealand-based software architects to design, develop and implement into practice a secure application, using blockchain technology.

“The nice thing about blockchain is it allows you to identify each block of data and anonymise it,” he says.

The data will be housed in a data warehouse and the primary use will be for the direct care of that patient.

“So, when a patient phones for an appointment, we know their risk stratification score and that allows us to allocate appropriate resource for the patient when they come in,” he says.

The current thinking is that if patients want an expanded analysis that includes comparing their diagnosis with larger populations, they would have to opt in to sharing their information anonymously for research purposes.

Hill says they are talking to a number of potential investors locally and internationally about the data analysis tool and app to progress the development of the software.

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