We took the yearly pulse of healthcare innovation. Here are the results of the checkup and our prognosis of the future.
Healthcare is one of the industries that has the greatest potential — and need — for a sea change in innovation in the coming years. Startups are riding the crest of the medical technology wave, and large tech firms such as Google and Apple are sticking more than just a toe in the water. Everyone wants to bridge the gulf between medical discovery and patient experience by developing a winning technological solution. But how that will unfold will depend on a few factors.
Let’s start with the bad news.
The negatives: clogged arteries
Healthcare technology is thriving and rife with possibility, but there are considerable blockages at the systemic level. Healthcare administration the world over is best described as “the left-hand doesn’t know what the right is doing” and, while there might be a will and a way to change this bureaucratic impediment, data silos are still prevalent. What’s more, the traditional business models of pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies — a long time to market due to testing and approval, huge overhead, monopolistic pricing, patent protection — have trapped them in an unsustainable way of working. This renders them late bloomers when it comes to innovation, making disruption a major threat to these health giants. However, if they shift towards partnering with biotech startups, data sharing, or finding clever ways to move away from conservative business models, they have a chance to keep up as the tides change.
The positives: signs of new life
New players are entering the market and we believe that they will take a leading role. It won’t be the pharma companies as they have no experience with digital. Startups, while leading the change with new tools, do not have enough bandwidth to make their mark on a large scale.
Google, Amazon, and Apple, with its newest medical device function on its Apple watch, and Philips, with its revolutionary mobile ultrasound device Lumify that can be used by anyone from paramedics to general practitioners, will begin to rule the game. They have the customers, the tech knowledge, and are ready and eager to focus on health.
Thinking global, acting local: personalized medicine
The focus going forward is going to be on personalized medicine. And when not personalized, steps are increasingly being made to make treatment more specialized. Novartis now has a treatment for a type of leukemia in advanced stages that costs €400,000 per patient. And while that is grossly unaffordable, it is conceivable that health insurance solutions could be found that borrow from the philosophy of startup HealthCoin, a startup which is incentivizing insurers to reimburse patients based on a tradable credit-based system. Tailor-made medicine for an individual can even be performed on the genetic level via DNA sequencing, which is becoming vastly more affordable. In short, the one-size-fits-all approach to medicine will no longer apply, nor will people expect it to.
The startup myTomorrows offers a platform for patients to connect directly with doctors and drug companies that have performed successful trials of the latest treatments. Patients are updated electronically when treatments that match their disease become available.
Streamlining healthcare: finding the cure
Creating a frictionless experience is currently the main driver of innovation strategy in healthcare. Redesigning the patient experience to make it as user-friendly as possible is taking the form of fertility tests in the privacy of your own home instead of at a physician’s office. Telemedicine and virtual care are removing the need for direct contact with a health professional, services that are especially relevant in emerging markets where there are too few health care providers for patients. This has the potential to free up hospitals to focus more on surgery and crisis medicine. The Chinese are looking to AI to diagnose the most prevalent diseases, after which the patients are switched over to a video call with a doctor. They are also testing out automated pharmacies. 3D printing of medicine is likewise revolutionizing the conventional distribution channels of medication, and opening up new directions for pharmacies.
Perhaps a slower sign of progress, but just as vital, are the improvements in the way data is mined. Better data collecting from patients, better storing and organization of this data internally, and improved access and analysis (read: easier and more accurate) are the small steps that companies are taking to move the cogs of the medical wheel forward. Of course, applying machine learning to find new patterns in the mountain of data that already exists from years of analog collection is another sign of progress. Apart from a massive spring cleaning of information, it will be interesting to see what can be achieved once that happens.
A big breakthrough is in algorithmic diagnostics. The rapid advances in deep learning and huge efforts on the part of many of our clients working in healthcare are leading to improvements in a number of fields, such as medical imaging analysis, and detecting and diagnosing cancer. Benevolent AI, a startup using artificial intelligence to mine and analyze biometric data, is improving prediction techniques in clinical trials.
The way forward: the holistic approach and the return to wellness
Doctor entrepreneurs, so called “doctorpreneurs”, are emerging. And while this term might seem to conflict with the Hippocratic Oath, it is creating a whole new intersection between doctors interested in healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. As well, there is increasing interest in creating clean supply chains in medicine so that patients know exactly what goes into the medicine they take, helping with treatment outcomes.
We believe there will be a big move from treating illness to sustaining wellness, to put “health” and “care” back into healthcare, ironic as it may seem that they were missing in the first place. Digital tools to maintain health and assist people in making lifestyle changes to be at their healthiest will be commonplace. Utilizing the Internet of Things, objects like implants, apparel, trackers and patches with sensors will become the status quo to give us a real-time snapshot of our health, and help us optimize it, meanwhile helping doctors make better diagnoses. Biohacking and 3D printing will only grow in popularity as companies race to advance in these departments and to help regulate the industry.
Lastly, healthcare will go beyond mere physical and mental health to take into consideration everything a human encounters that affects their state of being — from molecular biography to the external environment and even social data. There is a deal being negotiated between Chinese data firm iCarbonX and Tencent to this extent. They’ll be able to assess health based on the level of bacteria in your home, the quality of air in your car, your behaviour and lifestyle, and, of course, whether you’re eating the apple a day that keeps the doctor away.