If one word best captures the spirit (and obsession) of Silicon Valley, it's "disruption." Every now and again, a startup completely disrupts an industry or fundamentally changes how we live our lives. Amazon disrupted the retail industry, Airbnb disrupted the hospitality industry, and Uber disrupted the ride-hailing business. Yet what about the most important industry for our well-being: healthcare?

Depending on who you ask, the healthcare industry is valued around $3.5 Trillion, and it is ripe for disruption. The cost for care continues to increase despite advancements and innovations. As patients, our personal data is sold to third parties, for profit. And for all the money flowing towards finding cures, there's still much researchers don't know about diseases, and how to treat them. 

Sam De Brouwer, co-founder and COO of doc.ai, is aiming to change the healthcare for the better. Doc.ai's digital health and Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms have the potential to disrupt the healthcare system by empowering researchers, patients and stakeholders.

Today, doc.ai announced a digital heath trial with the Stanford University School of Medicine, focusing on Epilepsy treatment. I don't normally cover announcements, however, doc.ai's technology and ambitions could produce significant ripple effects across the healthcare industry, and dozens of other industries. 

The best entrepreneurs, leaders and change-makers notice key inflection points and identify future trends before they happen. In many cases, they find innovation from sources outside their normal purview.

In this article, I will explain the important details of the announcement and highlight the key takeaways you should understand.

Announcement: Using AI and data to drive better results

Doc.ai, a Palo Alto based digital healthcare company, will work with the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Stanford Epilepsy Center to improve the precision of treatment options for Epilepsy and to test how AI can help create predictive and accurate models for treating or curing diseases.

Through doc.ai's mobile app, patients will track their seizure episodes and other diverse sets of data that are often lost in traditional clinical studies. Doc.ai's artificial intelligence platform then analyzes the data and helps identify models to potentially improve treatment.

"When you combine the convenience of using a mobile device for data capture, with the processing power of AI, you're left with a technology platform that could forever change the effectiveness of clinical studies," says De Brouwer. 

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects 65 million people globally. Despite advancements in medications, doctors are still limited in how they decide which of the more than 25 Epilepsy medications to give their patients. In essence, they make their best educated guess. If you factor that there are thousands of possible combinations of drugs, a potential outcome for patients is to suffer from adverse side effects without realizing the benefits of the drug that works for them.

Why is this trial so important?

The outcomes of this trial could be significant, not only for Epilepsy patients, but for all of us. We will all become patients some day, and this study could help demonstrate how access to more data, artificial intelligence and patient involvement could lead to significant breakthroughs in medical research and treatment models.

On the technology side, doc.ai stands in the center of the convergence of healthcare, artificial intelligence and machine learning. De Brouwer is integrating the most relevant technologies into doc.ai's platform, demonstrating the disruptive potential of each technology.

The following sections highlight the important takeaways from the announcement. 

Big issues with patient data

The issues surrounding data and medicine are significant on their own, and especially significant when you consider how intertwined they are. The treatment of data is not balanced, and it does not benefit us as patients and consumers.

There are two big takeaways with respect to data.

1. Researchers need more data

There is a myth that money leads to cures. In reality, researchers need more patient data, and more diverse types of data. When you consider all the factors that could impact someone's health (genetics, environment, activity, diet, etc), researchers simply need more data. 

Doc.ai's platform allows researchers to obtain more patient data across increasingly diverse data sets, and to process the data with advanced AI to identify important correlations, causation or conclusions. The results could be more effective clinical trials, better research conclusions, better treatment models and potentially more cures or preventative medicines. 

2. Who owns your data?

The second issue with data relates to who owns, and is compensated for, a patient's data. As noted above, various entities in the healthcare system sell patient data to third parties, for profit. As patients, we deserve the right to own our data, to know it's secure, and to receive compensation directly. 

Doc.ai's technology could help re-balance the ownership of data while creating the potential to change the entire reward system for healthcare. If patients own their data, and they can earn income from it, then it could incentivize them to generate, track and share the data with researchers and third parties. As a result, patients and individuals might become invested in their own future healthcare solutions - contributing to research that may one day save their life.

In this type of system, more people win. Patients own their data and receive compensation, researchers get the diverse data sets they need, and providers can offer effective healthcare solutions to patients. 

While this discussion focuses on patient data, the same considerations can be made for any type of personal data. Imagine if we applied this same approach to how our data is collected, used and monetized on social media, online advertising, e-commerce, the internet of things, and ride-sharing - to name a few. 

Federated Learning

One of the most exciting developments in machine learning is the emergence of Federated Learning. Compared to a centralized approach that uses machine learning in the cloud, Federated Learning decentralizes the processing of data to end devices, like a mobile phone. Federated Learning will have a profound impact on AI, machine learning, edge-computing and it will impact virtually every industry in some way.

Doc.ai is currently researching how Federated Learning technologies can keep a patient's data confidential while also allowing it to be fully usable for research.

"Federated Learning with differential privacy is a promising new development in machine learning and security that allows us to learn from data that is on hundreds of thousands of devices without ever requiring the data to leave the device," says Akshay Sharma, CTO of doc.ai. "The model is trained on the smartphone and edge devices, and all that is sent back are a pile of numbers to inform the master model."

Sharma continues, "This new, privacy-first approach to sharing health data has the potential to release data from its silos, advance health research and medicine at scale, and bring in diversity to medicine never seen before."

Internally, doc.ai has established that Federated Learning works and the company looks forward to adding the technology to the doc.ai app in the near future. It can also license this technology to healthcare industry players.

Smart entrepreneurs and leaders will understand that Federated Learning does not just apply to healthcare. It will be far more pervasive, and it's worth investing the time to understand it on a deeper level. It will be important for any technology provider handling data or looking to add AI and machine learning to their products and services. 

Final Word

While this announcement might appear on the surface to just be about Epilepsy, it includes significant clues as to what major technology trends are coming. Whether you consider the implications with consumer data rights, AI, Federated Learning or the power of data, you should understand how this announcement could have a significant impact on your life, your work or your industry. 

Published on: Oct 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.