Telstra and Gold Coast Health: delivering virtual care
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented healthcare companies around the world with an unprecedented challenge, as traditional methods of delivering care to patients have buckled under the strain. For Jamie Spencer, Regional General Manager, Business Development at Telstra Health, the effect of the pandemic was largely to expose a problem that was already there.
“Healthcare spending in relation to GDP is rising throughout most developed countries. And it can't continue at the rate that it is,” he explains. “The popular conception is that the traditional, centralised hospital model should be able to provide services to everyone, but the reality is that we're going to hit a crunch point, and it’s a lot closer than we think.”
In the same way that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transfromations in other industries, so too has it provoked a radical leap forward in terms of healthcare providers reevaluating their models. “The industry needs to look differently at the ways in which hospitals provide care, and how to do things differently so that people still have access to the care they need,” Spencer says. “COVID-19 has definitely started to normalise the idea of connecting digitally. It's given people the opportunity to access care in a way that they never had before, and it’s probably pushed us forward by about 10 to 15 years. ”
Founded in 2013, Telstra Health is Telstra Health works to improve lives by delivering digitally-enabled care to communities by supplying innovative digital solutions to governments and healthcare providers throughout Australia.
Telstra Health was chosen as a key partner of Gold Coast Health Services, providing their virtual health consultation platform as a way to deliver patient care remotely. “Traditionally, you might go to see a specialist at a hospital and, after a five minute conversation, be sent home,” Spencer says. “Someone living in rural Queensland might drive for up to four to six hours for that five minute appointment. Now, rather than people having to make those long journeys to see a specialist, we can provide that consultation to people in their own homes, in a way that leads to a richer conversation, which results in better feedback and, ultimately, a better standard of care.”
Telstra’s virtual care technology adopts a twofold approach. First, using Bluetooth connected devices, clinicians can monitor patients’ blood pressure, pulse oximetry, temperature and weight remotely. “It’s a basic spectrum of things that we're monitoring, but if you do those basic things well, then the positive impact can be huge,” explains Spencer, adding that these baseline metrics are then combined with a virtual appointment in which the clinician can follow up with the patient to discuss and provide results. “We've found that our service has helped to dramatically reduce readmission rates, and enabled early discharge, which means that patients get to be at home sooner,” enthuses Spencer, who also notes that, “The overarching monitoring aspect can also help people who need readmission get back into hospital sooner, which can make a huge difference in some cases.”
Spencer, who works closely with Sandip Kumar, Gold Coast Health’s Executive Director of Transformation and Digital, emphasises that the relationship between Telstra and Gold Coast is far more than that of vendor and client. “We’re looking for a real partner, not just a customer,” he explains. “I think it's really important that we continue to grow through our partnerships. That means working closely with the likes of Gold Coast University Hospital to develop our product in a way that we know meets their needs. All good partnerships are based on trust, and we're working to build that trust with Gold Coast Health.”
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.