On AI, Big Data, Healthcare in China. Q&A with Luciano Brustia

Q1. What are the main challenges and opportunities in healthcare informatics?

China has more elderly people than any other country in the world: according to the 2010 census, the population aged over 65 is approximately 119 million. In 1960, life expectancy was 43; now, it is 76 — there are even areas like Zhejiang province, Shanghai or Beijing where life expectancy is over 80 years.

The urbanization process started in early 1990 has been characterized by a strong migration from rural to urban areas, with a rapid increase of mega-cities, and this has been often linked with pollution, changes in diet and physical activities, and overcrowding. Chronic diseases have developed much faster than anywhere else in the world.

Today, China’s major cities have healthcare facilities staffed with sub-specialists, possessing the latest medical technologies and caring daily for enormous numbers of patients – numbers that would diminish any other country on Earth.

There are 2 areas where I believe healthcare informatics can make the difference: to provide the fundamentals on building a strong population health system, with a focus on the needs of citizens and patients, taking data recorded into the big hospital datacenters and sharing with all other structures present in the territory. Second, there will be always a shortage of medical professionals – there will never be enough doctors in China to cover all the population of each territory, and the most knowledgeable are often concentrated in the mega cities. A modern technology will help in leverage the knowledge, improve quality and promote evidence-based care.

Q2. What is in your opinion the state of affairs on Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence in the Greater China region?

If you think about the last 10 years, China has changed a lot: from the crash of Lehman until nowadays, China is no more the cheap factory of the planet. Now president Xi and central government set clear priorities for all industries: innovation and digital transformation. With its “Made in China 2025” plan, China wants to become leader in several technology markets. And if we think of digital transformation, China today is the world leader of mobile device, AI and IOT, it’s the largest e-commerce market, and digital transactions are around 50 times bigger than the one in US. As an example, If I’d forgot to bring my wallet when coming to China, that would not be a big issue; more important is to have with me my mobile, linked to WeChat or Alipay, and I can survive pretty well.

With a focus in healthcare, in a challenging scenario. As previously described, health organizations are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves, drive better care, and reduce the number of adverse events within their patient populations. Definitely, Big Data and AI have an important role to play.

Technologies like analytics, AI, Big Data, and machine learning have been used to enable care providers to optimize the patient journey and reduce diagnostic errors. Data themselves are not necessarily new but the fundamental paradigm shift is increased access to data. There is a continuous need for tools that enable access all kinds of data. Without a reliable, fast, interoperable, secure, and scalable technology, you cannot face these challenges.

Q3. Do you have examples of successful use cases in your region, who successfully improved healthcare services by using new technologies and new models of care and financing? If yes, what are the key lessons to take away?

In China there are around 50 AI startup companies whose major focus is healthcare, and I cannot remember how many application partners we have who specialize in medical content. Rather than describing one of these success stories, however, I’d like to share with you two examples of healthcare organizations that I believe used technology to improve their services and to differentiated themselves.

In the beautiful tropical island of Hainan, InterSystems helped a local company, Hainan Haiming, in developing a project that is creating a shared record to improve regional chronic disease management. Hosted by the 2nd Affiliated Hospital of Hainan Medical University, the project is combining records from 5 hospitals in the region into a shared record.

United Family Healthcare (UFH) is an international-standard, multicultural, multi-language healthcare organization in Asia providing comprehensive, integrated healthcare services. UFH was the first and remains China’s largest foreign-invested healthcare provider. InterSystems has been helping UFH for 10 years in supporting the development of their network that now counts 20 sites from the five original just 10 years ago. UFH is always willing to “embrace the future” and has now started – using the clinical database – a cohort management project to identify patients that potentially can develop types II diabetes in few years.

Q4. What are the cultural, political and technical differences when dealing with Chinese customers?

I have often been asked this question, and I have to tell you that there is not a big difference in dealing in China or around the world. You need to understand, respect and follow local regulations and policies – no excuses or shortcuts. You need to understand a people and culture that has more than 5.000 years of history. When dealing with prospects or customers, you always need to be interested in the big picture, in building long and solid relationships, and working for InterSystems definitely helps. Being able to have a basic conversation in the local language – that probably is the most challenging part. But this is not a big difference from Italy or Spain. The real difference is the dimensions: you have 1.5 billion people in the country and a vast territory of more than 9.5 million square kilometres: these huge numbers are driving everyone in an extreme competitive environment in all sectors. Only companies who are really smart and really fast lead, excel, and last in China. InterSystems has had a direct presence in China for the past 15 years. We have built a solid and profitable presence, and we have plan to stay for much longer!

Luciano Brustia,  InterSystems Country Manager, Australia, Greater China, Korea

Luciano Brustia currently serves as the Country Manager for InterSystems in Australia, Greater China region and Korea.

In this leadership capacity, Mr. Brustia is responsible for the region’s business strategy and growth, and supervision of the company’s general management activities for these regions.

Mr. Brustia has been with InterSystems for more than twenty years and has been instrumental in building strong relationships with customers and implementation partners worldwide, including Chile, Spain, Portugal, GCC countries, South Africa and China.

During the last 10 years, Mr. Brustia spent a great deal of time working in China, providing his extensive expertise and experiences in hospital information systems to many of China’s leading world-class hospitals and helping the customers to succeed.

Prior to joining InterSystems, Mr. Brustia worked as IT director for several groups of hospitals in Italy. In 1996 he joined the local InterSystems distributor and has been involved in several successful TrakCare implementations in Italy and around the world. Mr. Brustia studied Electrical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano and received a degree in Information Technology Management in SDA Bocconi, 1995.

When Mr. Brustia is not busy travelling across Australia and China visiting customers, you will find him at local museums and historical sites during his leisure time as he is passionate in learning about local culture and language.


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