While we don’t truly know what the future holds, we all know that health is personal—and will need to be handled accordingly to optimize the progress that is possible with digital health.
The mainstream healthcare consumer in 2014 embraced the ALS Ice Bucket challenge and panicked (rightfully so) about the staggering wake-up call of the Ebola outbreak. While the politicians in US played the Obamacare ping pong game, and Brussels accepted its first applications for eHealth projects as part of Horizon 2020, there was also a major undercurrent in how digital health and health IT have penetrated our everyday lives.
In the US alone, digital health funding more than doubled from 2013, according to RockHealth, and even almost tripled according to StartupHealth. While the delta is not a rounding error, the key point is the exponential trajectory that showcases the fact that smart money believes this industry is ripe for significant disruption.
There are still many companies and investors that are sitting on the sidelines and watching the show from the balcony. As an example, there are many critics of wearable devices and even some hesitations on the value of big data. But, I want to remind everyone that Rome was not built in a day and the first generation or even second generation of devices, big data platforms, and decision support tools will improve care mainly driven by healthcare entrepreneurs, healthcare consumers and passionate scientists and clinicians – the “stormchasers”.
On February 2nd, I attended a local Singularity University lecture with a keynote from Gerd Leonhard, who is a thinker, futurist and a digital heretic. One of the statements he made really resonated with me: “Technology is exponential, humans are not”. The keynote was all about ethics in the age of exponential technology. But, leaving privacy and ethical issues aside, 2015 will be a pivotal year for digital health in an era of exponential technology:
1. Precision medicine
During the State of the Union Address, President Obama announced the precision medicine initiative.
"I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine — one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes — and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier."
Precision, or personalized medicine, (I use the term interchangeably) is an approach to using medical and genetics data, body-generated data, biotechnology, and science, to first and foremost understand the root causes of the disease—but also come up with personalized and individualized treatments and therapies.
Due to forthcoming government funding, but more importantly smart money and brilliant entrepreneurs, we will certainly see more activity this year. After all “Health IS Personal”.
As DNADigest describes it:
"The techniques for researching and characterizing genomics diseases are available to both researchers (next generation DNA sequencing) and the general public (in the form of personal testing), so we should soon be able to diagnose any genetic disease by sequencing a patient’s DNA."
Indeed, this is the future but the future is almost here: Illumina with $1,000 per full genome sequencing, Tute Genomics which is now allowing researchers and clinicians to interpret the entire human genome, and a big announcement for 23andMe regarding their entrance into the UK market.
As an industry, there are still a lot of hurdles, but we will see some significant moves this year in this space—including ways to actually analyze 150 zetabytes (1021) of data per full genome, begin integrating this data into evolving and ancient EMR platforms, and provide genetic counseling to offset the lack of knowledge by the masses.
3. Smart Data and Data Science
Well actually, data itself is not smart, people are! And while there is huge promise in big data analysis, collecting and hoarding zetabytes (yes this term again) of data does not bring any value.
People need to ask the right questions of the data. We are at an age where collecting data is easy with body-generated data, environmental data, and traditional medical data—but it is the data scientist combined with sharp business and clinical skills that will empower the healthcare system to make all this data actionable, with the healthcare consumer at the center.
"If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything" - Ronald Coase
4. Next Generation EMR is personal
Let’s face it—and this is not news to anybody—core medical data is already becoming a small percentage of the overall personal health record. Existing EMR platforms are over two decades old and some are struggling to keep up with archaic architectures, millions of lines of code, and minimal-to-no differentiation to their client base today.
The smart ones are looking to open up their APIs, integrate body-generated and genomics data, and even combine that with environmental data at a personalized level to be able to provide that precision medicine at point of care.
5. Design and Aesthetics
Our bodies are complex, and therefore the medical profession is complex. Once again, an unprecedented amount of content is generated daily—and for both consumers and clinicians alike, dealing with this information overload is becoming yet another full time job.
The aforementioned smart data discussion is only one piece of the puzzle. User experience is another.
At the core of our health is human behavior. Hence, incentivizing healthcare consumers (patients), making their treatment pathways clear, and presenting stupid data in a smart and actionable way are all key to improving our healthcare system.
Global health care transformation is still in its infancy. While we don’t truly know what the future holds, we all know that health is personal—and will need to be handled accordingly to optimize the progress that is possible with digital health.