General interest,  Health,  Technology

The future of health part 1 – The ‘Consumerization of Healthcare’

This article is written by a guest author, John Blackney, an international management consultant with a passion for innovation, technology and data analytics and their application to health.

Ed Dentel, a 46-year-old communications consultant from Richmond, Virginia, did taekwondo with his family three times a week, biked and skied frequently, and had no history of heart problems. In December of 2018 he installed the new ECG software on his Apple Watch and it sounded an alarm right away. Assuming it was faulty he asked his wife to try the watch on – no alarm. He tried it on both wrists – the alarm sounded both times.

He drove to a nearby emergency center but when he found the parking lot was full and the waiting room was crowded, he almost left. When he checked in he said he felt like a hypochondriac, explaining his watch told him something was wrong. But he was quickly given an EKG by a technician, who immediately called for a doctor, who said, “Yup, you’re in AFib, this thing may have just saved your life!”. Atrial fibrillation can result in heart palpitations, complications, weakened heart muscle, and an increased risk of stroke. According to the WHO, cardiovascular diseases are the cause of 31 percent of all global deaths.

Seismic shift

In the mid-nineties the internet burst into our lives and changed the way we interact with each other, purchase goods and watch movies. We are about to experience a similar seismic shift – this time in healthcare.

Data, devices, apps and artificial intelligence (AI), are going to completely change the way we detect, treat and manage our health issues – and most importantly – help us stay healthier for longer by empowering individuals to better understand, impact and manage their future health.

This new approach to our health will underpin a shift from the current health sector model, based on a reactionary cycle of: feel sick-doctor-hospital-treatment-post care-recovery, to enabling consumer-empowered proactive health management based on advances in technology such as cost effective whole genome sequencing, medical history storage and forecasting, or AI-based x-ray and MRI analysis.

Leveraging readily available technology

Many companies are using the technology we already have, such as the sensors in mobile phones like cameras, microphones and accelerometers, for physiological sensing and the management of chronic diseases. Current examples include:

  • SPiroSmart and CoughSense, which monitor lung function;
  • BiliCam, which detects neonatal jaundice in newborns;
  • HemaApp, which monitors hemoglobin levels;
  • OsteoApp, to screen for osteoporosis;
  • BPSense, which monitors blood pressure.
  • SkinVision, which can detect melanomas better than a dermatologist

Leveraging low cost and ubiquitous smartphone capabilities is making healthcare more affordable to the developing world, for example, a microphone for respiratory monitoring has already been deployed in parts of India and Bangladesh, and HemaApp is being used in Peru to screen for childhood anemia.

We’re slowly moving to an inflection point where patients are going to generate more clinically useful data outside of a hospital than within it. Interestingly, given their expertise in data analytics and AI, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are potentially best positioned to be the main drivers of these advancements in healthcare.

Just on its own, Apple has the consumer engagement, technology and marketing investment to drive this paradigm shift.

Leveraging simple bodily fluids

The consumerization of healthcare is being driven by simple bodily fluids, and new home-based digital technologies. Blood, saliva, urine, sweat or even ear wax can carry valuable information about an individual’s medical state. Until now, even basic tests on such bodily fluids had to be carried out at medical facilities, but with the recent developments in digital diagnostic technologies, more and more solutions are appearing on the market that enable the patient to do those tests at home.

New healthcare solutions use cloud-based technologies to do the advanced processing, requiring only relatively simple and low cost technology in the home to capture the raw data. The SkinVision mobile app is a good example of this – only the photo is uploaded – all the complex image analysis is done in the cloud.

Is this where we are headed?

The future is already here – companies like 98point6 are offering AI augmented direct unlimited GP care via an app for $100 per year! What’s next for you?

In the next article in this series we will explore what health tech is available today to empower individuals to take better control of their healthy future.

This information is of a general nature only and nothing on this site should be taken as personal financial or investment advice, or a recommendation to buy or sell a particular product.

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