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October 6, 2022

How neurology is quietly changing healthcare

From new treatments to new doctor-patient-caregiver relationships, neurological tools are upending healthcare.

In the news

Biotech advances appear to improve older adults’ memories, according to new research explained by MIT Technology Review. The article details the experiment itself, noting it was “a very short intervention which produced both an immediate effect and a very durable one,” as one neural engineer says.

If these findings are confirmed and extended, they could have a significant impact on older adults’ quality of life, enhancing their "healthspan"which has replaced lifespan as the chief concern in healthcare. It would also mark a shift in relationships among doctors, patients and caregivers—and, indeed, the entire healthcare system.

The Cognizant take

Bryan Hill, Chief Technology Officer in Cognizant’s Life Sciences organization, says the memory experiment echoes other advances related to interfacing with the human brain. “We’re seeing encouraging results around treating diseases in the neuroscience space,” he notes, pointing to Synchron’s recent implantation of a device in the brain of a US patient with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease. Research and trials from Synchron, competitor Neuralink and others show promising advances in speech and mobility.

Moira Kyweluk, Lead for Healthcare and Life Sciences for Idea Couture, Cognizant’s human-centered design practice, notes that the experiment dovetails with another trend: shifts across the healthcare landscape bringing greater control to patients. Innovations in neurological treatment, such as surgically implanted deep-brain stimulation, are being used to treat and manage depression, anxiety, essential tremor, epilepsy, Parkinson’s Disease and other conditions.

Previously, these invasive interventions required intensive post-operative programming in a clinical setting and were only available to patients living near a limited number of academic medical centers.

With advances in AI-enabled, app-based programming for deep-brain stimulation, patients and their caregivers are now managing post-operative care at home. The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are working to improve the artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health tools that drive these advanced neurological treatment options. “The more agile the AI and digital health technology gets,” Kyweluk says, “the less direct involvement of clinicians is needed, the less expensive it becomes, and the less patient access to these treatments is limited by geography.”

She adds that such innovations make for a disruptive shift in US healthcare practice. “The doctor becomes a partner in the patient’s health, leading and guiding but not controlling the treatment and outcomes.”

Such shifts need to be studied very closely, Hill points out. “We need to ask who’s impacted by changes in later-stage-of-life care,” he says, as “the burden of treatment falls on the patient and caregiver, not the clinician.”

While no system will ever be flawless or foolproof, Kyweluk says, projects currently under way—including some across the digital health and AI landscape to which Cognizant is contributing—are increasingly making the administration of even complex, invasive interventions or medications a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. The more intelligent such systems become, she says, “the less you need a caregiver or a clinician dosing the patient. That’s a win all around.”

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