As we move into a new the year, we thought we’d take a look at some of the advances being made in healthcare through digitalisation. This is by no means the full story of what’s happening, but rather a snapshot of take homes and learnings from our healthcare friends and clients, as well as our own findings. If you have another viewpoint or want to share other trends with us, we’d love to hear from you.
Just like in most industries today, digitalisation is playing a key role in the advancement of healthcare. Healthcare is still governed to a large degree by organisations, such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) which demands rigorous and lengthy vetting of medicines and the like. But for some people, this governance model doesn’t work. Extreme biohackers, for instance, are pushing the boundaries of technology and medicine, using their bodies as experimental prototypes. At the same time, lessons learned from IT are being applied to healthcare as the open source concept gains popularity and medical R&D is openly shared to advance medicine.
The trend of personalised healthcare is in full swing. From global entities, such as Quest Diagnostics, to personalised health improvement service clinics, drugs and “superhuman” healthcare packages are being prescribed for individuals based on their genealogy and lifestyles. On the one hand a map of your genes can be used to plan proactive treatment if you are susceptible to certain conditions. Alternatively, your genealogy can be used to determine what you need to reach mental and physical clarity and move beyond what’s considered “normal health”. But if you don’t want to do a DNA test, how about a simple health booster kit? Today, in some countries, you can book a “service” in an app, nip down to a private clinic, and get a shot or IV to fix your hangover, acne or skin tone. Although not tailored to an individual’s DNA, it shows how healthcare is being packaged and administered with the help of digitalisation.
But what about the masses? Well, data from the masses is being used to help the individual too. Data from the masses and a whole load of help from AI that is. Just like a medical specialist’s experience helps him or her diagnose a patient, IBM’s Watson is now assisting doctors to diagnose patients based on its own patient-learning. Only Watson can learn much quicker from far more sources, and it can provide consultation for multiple patients simultaneously. This type of assistance can help doctors diagnose patients’ illnesses earlier and treat them earlier.
But digitalisation isn’t just about collecting data form the masses. It’s also about providing people with valuable data, and ultimately better healthcare services, in particular those who don’t have easy access to healthcare. Digitalisation can do this in ways that simply weren’t possible before. An app can reach billions of people, or it can reach 5000 specific people spread across the earth, instantly. But like all things digital, if you want to communicate with the masses you need to provide them with valuable content and package it in a user-friendly and engaging way. Healthcare start-ups such as Etsimo are really pushing the boundaries by providing AI based diagnoses. Other services, such as Visiba Care, are providing platforms that allow doctors or clinics to offer online consultation; quick access to healthcare when people need it.
Advancements in medicine can be lengthy and expensive. Teams of scientists can work for years with a medicine or therapy before they get to the stage of phase testing – a vast cost in itself. Because of this, R&D data has always been closely guarded. There is however a shift towards sharing R&D data for the good of society through the development of new and better treatments. By applying the open-source model used in software development, large non-for-profit research organisations are being set up to advance healthcare. The Structural Genomics Consortium, for instance, which is backed by some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and most prestigious universities, is a public-private partnership providing open access to its research. Nobody knows how far open source medicine will go, but if it’s anything like the software industry, we could see some major medical breakthroughs, sooner rather than later.
Nowadays, anybody can type a symptom into a site and read multiple versions of what they may or may not be suffering from. We can also type in a diagnosis and discover very varied treatment recommendations and the potential affects. But how can we help doctors become more enlightened about our health?
Well, the growth in wearables and other monitoring equipment could form part of the answer. The data stored by these devices could help healthcare professions predict oncoming conditions. Add a connected digital scale, blood pressure monitor and thermometer, and your doctor has a great overview that he, she (or it) can use to analyse your health. A quick check of your recent history could speed up consultation time considerably. Swedish company Coala Life is taking an important step in this direction with the pocket sized digital heart rate monitoring device, which lets you take an ECG impression of your heart at any time and share it with healthcare professionals in the app.
A lot of the things we’ve talked about so far are already available today. But what about the coming years? Well if you ask the extreme biohackers they will have a lot of interesting thoughts based on their experiments, but we’ll stick to what we know best, digitalisation. Implants will undoubtedly become far more common. Rather than wearables much of this data – heart rate, blood pressure, temperature will be monitored internally and shared to the cloud. We’ll have connected devices, IoT inside us. Robots, or at least robot attachments will help the impaired, to move, see, feel and live better lives. And remote healthcare will become much, much bigger as the ability to reach millions or billions of people digitally, and provide them with better healthcare, becomes a reality.
So where on earth is healthcare going? It’s going everywhere, it’s going digital, and it’s going personal.