Microsoft, Ribera and Seattle

The first thing I would like to do as I begin my first blog entry in 2024 is to wish a happy new year to those of you who follow this modest digital corner, where I share my experiences and opinions about the health sector and the system that should look after our health and wellbeing.

And the truth is that I couldn’t have had a better start to the year. After my brief visit in the first week of January to the Cascais Hospital, one of our most recent projects – it joined Ribera just a year ago – I had the opportunity to be invited to visit Microsoft’s global headquarters in Seattle and see first-hand all the areas of work in which the company, which is already the world’s largest in terms of market capitalisation, is currently involved. This visit follows the signing last October of a strategic agreement between the Ribera healthcare group and Microsoft for the development of research projects and the application of cutting-edge technologies, such as Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, in the field of healthcare, with the aim of collaborating in the modernisation and transformation of healthcare.

This visit has been an immersive and fantastic experience in which I have been able to see, hear and experience first-hand some of the advances that are going to transform the healthcare of today. In addition, I have had the opportunity to meet some of the world leaders in technologically strategic areas linked to healthcare and who, in my opinion, are creating the future of healthcare right now.

The development and proactivity of areas such as cybersecurity and cybercrime, which are fundamental to protecting the privacy of our patients and the day-to-day running of our healthcare system, are key to the strategy of companies such as Microsoft. And I have had the opportunity to see that we all benefit from their diligence and ability to anticipate malpractice.

But what I would like to focus my thoughts on today is the development of AI applied to the world of healthcare from different perspectives. Undoubtedly, seeing in person that a company like Microsoft is committed, as a strategic axis, to research and new developments in AI applied to healthcare is evidence of Bill Gates’ clairvoyance just a few years ago, when he predicted that the healthcare sector would be the one most influenced by this technology. Well, the future is already present in many areas of healthcare. At Ribera we have several projects underway that are based on AI technology, such as the virtual caregiver Lola, who calls chronic patients to check their vital signs and constantly learns from their responses to report any incident in their wellbeing; or the teledermatology project, to diagnose and treat many skin lesions, among others.

But after my visit to Microsoft in Seattle, at the heart and brain of its latest developments, I have seen that research and innovation in this area has only just begun. The applications of AI in healthcare and population wellbeing are so broad that predictive modelling and/or data analytics and generative technology from voice or images are just the beginning of the future of healthcare in relation to AI. New lines of development in Genetics and Genomics undoubtedly open up horizons that I would dare to describe as infinite. Who knows? It is difficult to predict what is to come.

It is clear that we are still at the beginning of the process and that we all have to work together – administrations, technological and healthcare companies, and society in general – to resolve many doubts and questions that, perhaps, still do not have a definite answer. But there is no doubt that we have embarked on an unstoppable race which, with the appropriate security measures, will bring many benefits to healthcare professionals and the public in general. This technology is of unparalleled help to health professionals, because thanks to it they can now provide a better, faster, more effective and closer service to their patients. And as I say, this has only just begun.

The constant analysis and processing of data of all kinds, not only numerical data but also medical history and images, facilitates a first objective analysis which, of course, health professionals have to verify and modify, based on subjective variables and conditioning factors which, for the moment, no technology can analyse. That is why the role of the health professional is and will continue to be key in the health care of the population. I am convinced of this.

In fact, in one of the working sessions at Microsoft’s headquarters, they defined a concept for us, Copilot, which establishes that the «pilot» of the action is always the professional – in this case I am talking about Healthcare, but it can be applied in any field. However, a set of tools are made available to them, in a simple and very intuitive way, that will help them to apply a more personalised, precise and far-reaching medicine, in other words, with greater capacity and ease of transferring its benefits and applications to everyone.

Returning on the plane after those intense days in Seattle, witnessing firsthand what is being done there, I reviewed the great changes that, in my opinion, have transformed the way humanity has lived and interacted in recent history. In the 19th century, the world experienced the industrial revolution; and in the 20th century, many of us have already experienced the telecommunications revolution and the great advance of fast means of transport, which have made the world smaller. It is now clear to me that the 21st century will be the century of the knowledge revolution, a knowledge that will become universal, in this case, bringing about a drastic change in society even faster than previous ones.

It is clear that, as technology and applications evolve in the day-to-day life of companies, organisations and administrations, many aspects will have to be regulated to ensure data security and privacy. But the future already has a headline and AI is in it.

I would like to end this blog entry by thanking the Microsoft team in Seattle for the opportunity of this experience and for all the learning we took away with us. And especially to the Microsoft team in Spain, chaired by Alberto Granados, which has seen in the Ribera healthcare group one of its strategic allies, to work together on technological developments that will undoubtedly result in better healthcare for our patients and in better and more efficient work tools and decision-making tools for our professionals. Let’s go for a 2024 with new challenges and a lot of enthusiasm!

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