Irma Rastegayeva

Q&A with Irma Rastegayeva: What Lies Ahead for Digital Healthcare

Based in Boston, Irma Rastegayeva is the cofounder, with Evan Kirstel, of eViRa Health, a business-to-business marketing consultancy. She is also a storytelling coach and innovation catalyst who operates at the intersection of health, technology, and patient experience.

Q: As a co-founder at eViRa Health, can you briefly discuss the company’s mission?

A: At eViRa Health, we are digital storytellers with a purpose. We live at the intersection of emerging technologies, healthcare, and patient experience. Our mission is to inform, educate, and inspire the vast healthcare community.

We use the power of storytelling and the reach of new media to engage with our audiences, who are healthcare stakeholders spanning health technology, providers, patients, patient advocates and caregivers, payers, pharma and medical device companies, researchers, policymakers, and healthcare executives.

What differentiates eViRa Health is that my cofounder Evan Kirstel and I are technology experts with accomplished careers and deep technical backgrounds, experience in business development, medical technology, patient engagement, and storytelling, who are also skilled at social engagement. Evan and I combined our complementary skills and passions for social media, health technology, and patient experience to launch eViRa Health in 2017.

Q: Looking ahead five years, which digital technologies do you expect will most profoundly shape the delivery of healthcare in America and elsewhere around the globe?

A: In my recent 2020 Digital Health Predictions article, I highlighted eight technology trends that have been gaining momentum and are poised to accelerate in 2020 and beyond. I believe that in five years, many of them will become increasingly prevalent and a routine part of healthcare delivery. I’ve organized my list of predictions by their position along the continuum of care, with innovations at the front end of the healthcare continuum having the biggest potential impact on health outcomes and healthcare costs.

  1. Disease Prevention
  2. Reducing Employer Healthcare Costs
  3. Artificial Intelligence for Early Diagnostics
  4. Digital Therapeutics
  5. Care Personalization with 3D Printing
  6. Creating Alternatives to Opioids
  7. Connected Health Care and the Internet of Medical Things
  8. Digitizing Clinical Trials

In addition to these predictions, there are several other technologies that I believe will profoundly shape the way healthcare is delivered in the United States and around the globe. These include:

Connectivity and Telemedicine: Fifth generation (5G) wireless is an enabling technology for healthcare connectivity that allows telemedicine applications to be more widely deployed and utilized for more conditions and use cases. Ubiquitous global connectivity will empower patients and enable healthcare providers to reach wider geographic areas. With Evan, I’ve written about this in detail in The Effect of 5G Technology on the Healthcare Industry.

Mixed Reality: The global forecast by predicts that the augmented and virtual reality market in healthcare is expected to grow to $6.5 billion by 2025. There are a multitude of applications for AR, VR and mixed reality in medicine, from training for medical students across many specialties to immersive learning, remote surgery, and physical rehabilitation and patient education.

Q: In a LinkedIn article about the role of AI in healthcare that you coauthored with Evan Kirstel, you quote Bill Gates about the tendency to overestimate the magnitude of short-term change while underestimating long-term change. What are your realistic short-term expectations for AI as a force for change in the healthcare industry?

A: While “AI” has become a buzzword that seems to be ubiquitous, it really is an important technology that is ushering in a new era of transformation and rapid growth across every industry. In healthcare, which is my particular area of expertise, artificial intelligence is increasingly being viewed as the “nervous system” and the engine for the growth of this sector of the economy.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can enhance every stage of patient care, from research and discovery to diagnosis to selection of therapy to the monitoring of treatment progress.

One area where AI has been quietly taking hold for a while is radiology. AI is increasingly assisting radiologists in the analysis and interpretation of diagnostic imaging. It will never replace physicians, but it can endow them with “superpowers” in this realm of healthcare. Studies showed that radiologists together with AI have achieved better diagnostic accuracy, which leads to improved clinical outcomes.

On a more “futuristic” note, I would call your attention to the recent news of the first therapeutic molecule developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence.

Q: As a self-described “influencer” and “digital storyteller,” what sort of health-related online content is most likely to engage public interest and trigger positive consumer response?

A: I would recommend informative and educational content that is properly targeted to a given audience, can be easily understood, and can be realistically applied. I think it’s essential to go beyond “edutainment” to share accurate, relevant, timely, useful, and actionable information.

To achieve that goal, I would encourage using a variety of formats and mediums to meet people where they are and tap into their preferred methods of consuming information, be it text, images, audio, or video.

Q: What forces do you blame for the public’s relatively slow acceptance of telehealth/telemedicine as a viable alternative to the conventional face-to-face practice of medicine?

A: Uncertainty about the coverage of such services by traditional health insurers and the regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels have been key factors in the slow acceptance of telemedicine by both healthcare providers and healthcare consumers as well. We see signs of growing acceptance as some of these questions and uncertainties are resolved.

Q: What most excites you about the short-term prospects for digital healthcare delivery?

A: With the increasing use of advanced technologies, I look forward to better access and better care and a sharp reduction in the level of patient frustration. With these new technologies, patients will feel greater empowerment and an increased control over the specific type of healthcare they want for themselves.

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