The 2016 whitepaper “Convergence: The Future of Health” was authored by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who sought to bring awareness to a movement known as Convergence in Healthcare. Convergence aims to radically alter the way the U.S. addresses pressing modern health issues.
The movement encourages integration between the life sciences, physical sciences, chemistry, engineering, computing and mathematics sectors. The report’s authors explain the potential impact of convergence on virtually every area of medicine. This includes the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of major diseases.
MIT received support from a number of other highly esteemed universities when creating the whitepaper, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Additionally, leadership from a number of large and culturally significant public and private organizations also contributed to the publication of “Convergence: The Future of Health.”
One of those organizations is Microsoft, known globally for the invention and sale of the Windows computer system. Today, major technology companies are playing a crucial role in supporting the growth of Convergence in Healthcare, as evidenced by the following examples in the work of Microsoft.
In early 2017, Microsoft officially established a medical research initiative within its organization. This initiative is dedicated to “accelerat[ing] healthcare innovation through artificial intelligence and cloud computing,” as described by the company’s corporate vice president of the Microsoft Healthcare division Peter Lee in a post on the firm’s blogsite.
Healthcare NExT (New Experiences and Technologies), as it is called, is convergent in nature. The initiative aims to bring together technology and medicine in a deeply integrative way, exceeding simple collaboration. The initiative will focus on providing health groups and research centers the opportunity to partner with Microsoft to develop technology-based solutions to problems encountered in medicine.
Already, Healthcare NExT has earned praise for the development of game-changing health technology. One of the initiative’s most impressive products is Microsoft Genomics.
Microsoft Genomics is powered by the Microsoft Azure system and allows research teams from around the world to rapidly process and share data as they sequence genomes. The wide availability and rapid processing of this data could play a crucial role in the discovery of a cure for serious diseases such as cancer.
Additionally, Healthcare NExT is experimenting with a “health chatbot.” It is designed to aid both healthcare providers and patients via a conversational, AI-powered triage tool. The chatbot helps patients navigate the complicated web of the healthcare system by connecting them directly to the specialists they need to see and determining how soon they need to see them.
This is accomplished through a series of intuitive questions which helps the AI system to more accurately evaluate patient symptoms. The health chatbot is already in use by four early adopters: Aurora Health Care, Premera, Health Navigator and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Healthcare Interoperability Partnership with Other Tech Giants
Microsoft is not the only organization in its sector focused on the innovation of healthcare. Most notably, corporations such as Google, Amazon and IBM have also made addressing medical challenges a key part of their business strategy in the digital age.
Unfortunately, competition in the tech industry means each company maintains its own systems, technical designs and policies, most of which are incompatible with those of its competitors. This often results in interoperability issues between health tools designed by different firms that would otherwise work congruently. Ultimately, this incompatibility limits data exchange, interpretation and the effectiveness of the tools themselves.
In August 2018, Microsoft announced its intentions to address this issue by entering into an interoperability partnership with Google, Amazon, IBM, Oracle and Salesforce. In a joint statement, the companies declared “we are jointly committed to removing barriers for the adoption of technologies for healthcare interoperability, particularly those that are enabled through the cloud and AI. We share the common quest to unlock the potential in healthcare data, to deliver better outcomes at lower costs.”
This partnership, although not a direct example of Convergence in Healthcare at work, will be of significant importance to the advancement of healthcare innovation. The spirit of collaboration inherent to major corporations setting aside the potential for exclusive financial gain in the interest of advancing human health is in direct alignment with the goal of the Convergence in Healthcare movement.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Initiatives
The philanthropic organization established by Microsoft founder, former CEO and chair, and technology advisor Bill Gates is separate from Microsoft operations. However, Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) have always maintained a direct, supportive connection.
In the past, Microsoft has often worked alongside BMGF for causes related to issues of global public health. This is one of the key areas of focus for the popular and effective nonprofit.
Though BMFG does maintain several other areas of focus, its work on addressing global health issues is one of its most well-known and impactful. There are many instances of convergence-based research at play in the vast network of healthcare initiatives conducted at BMGF. One of the most notable is its work on the eradication of the mosquito-borne illness malaria.
In September 2018, BMFG was identified as the lead funder of a convergent research project using gene editing to completely eradicate a malaria-carrying mosquito population within a laboratory. This approach, known as “gene drive,” will likely take another five to 10 years to test in a wild population of mosquitoes. However, the success of the experiment represents a milestone for both the fight against mosquito-borne illness and the success of Convergence in Healthcare as research model.
The initiatives undertaken by the BMGF are convergent in nature. As a result, Microsoft’s affiliation with and historical support for the charitable organization’s work is yet another way the corporation is helping the Convergence in Healthcare movement gain momentum for the benefit of all. With powerful companies supporting Convergence in Healthcare, the movement has the potential to gain widespread adoption and to create a healthier world.