There is a pressing need for change
The perfect storm is brewing in Europe. We’ve an aging population with the proportion of over 65s increasing in every EU member state. With an aging population and a rise in obesity comes a huge increase in chronic diseases. To top it off, the economies in Europe are static. There is a very real need for change to cope with this looming situation.
From illness to wellness
Our saviour might just be technology and our increasing ability to better manage ourselves. The next decade is going to see a radical transformation in healthcare that puts technology and the patient front and centre.
Today it seems unimaginable that you would jump in the car to drive to the video shop to rent a film. It seems a lifetime ago that we would go to the travel agent when it opened in the morning to book our holiday. We used to know the people in the bank as we went there every week to pay in cheques, transfer funds and draw out cash.
The world has changed and we are used to doing everything 24/7 from our fingertips. Yet if we feel ill, find an unusual lump, or are worried about something, we phone our local GP practice(when they open at 8:30am) and book an appointment to see a doctor (often with several days’ delay).
The future is about putting actionable information in the hands of the patient who can manage their condition on an hour-by-hour basis. In doing this we focus on keeping people well, rather than just treating illness. There are 5 trends that I believe will evolve to drive this shift:
1. Wearables, ingestibles and implantables
In the future people with diabetes will get a constant feed of data regarding their blood glucose, without having to prick their finger. This will give them the ability to see an instant correlation between their action (eating/exercising) and their blood glucose levels. This will revolutionise the management of their condition and will dramatically reduce unplanned hospital admissions and complications associated with the condition.
Your initial diagnosis for Parkinson disease will come via voice recognition software on your iPhone, up to 5 years before the first clinical signs appear. This gives us a unique opportunity to change the course of the disease.
Neurotrackers will detect early signs of Alzheimer’s; bra sensors will detect early signs of breast cancer; nappy sensors will monitor vital signs in newborns; your cardiologist will send you home with an ECG monitor on your phone which will transmit data to the cardiologist following your heart operation; during a medical emergency on a plane, the crew will reach for a smart phone to confirm or dismiss a suspected heart attack … the list goes on and on. This technology is very close and will play a pivotal role in keep us well.
2. Some of the biggest healthcare companies in the world won’t manufacture drugs
The drive toward wellness will be led by health technology companies who by 2025 will be major healthcare players.
Watson from IBM is already being hailed as the best doctor in the world, making quick and accurate diagnosis and treatment plans that match our smartest oncologists; Google are working with Novartis to develop a contact lens to monitor blood glucose levels in tears and instantly transmit this data to the smart phone; Apple’s HealthKit will revolutionise the collection of data for clinical trials. These are just a few of the companies who have their eye on healthcare and are making significant investments which will have a major impact.
3. ‘Beyond the pill’ will be essential for pharma
The pharma industry is undertaking a slow transition from ‘pill pusher’ to the ‘beyond the pill’ concept. Within the next 10 years, it is anticipated that the first treatment will be given its license based on a patient support programme. This will be a major milestone for pharma companies. It will be fascinating to see if any companies embrace the ‘instead of the pill’ concept, or whether this is left to companies such as Nike to crack.
4. Primary care physicians will evolve from prescribers to educators
Interactions with primary care physicians will be dramatically different in 2025. It is already possible to have a live consultation via video conference and this interaction will be followed up with short courses on managing your diabetes and virtual doctor experiences. Smart companies such as HealthTap are currently working on technology that allows your family doctor to monitor the health information generated by your phone and wearable and proactively contact you to avoid, for example, a potential asthma attack or hypo.
5. We will reward wellness
Smart insurance companies, like Discovery, are already rewarding their members for making simple positive lifestyle changes to promote health. By staying well, you pay less - simple. It is also conceivable that governments will search for innovative ways to reward wellness, either through tax breaks or even financial incentives.
So where is all of this leading us? Technology will help us to better diagnose and manage conditions and to be aware of our health. This will help to keep people well and will put less pressure on our healthcare system.
Our next challenge is to re-design healthcare system to a 24/7 model where we dip in as and when we need specialist intervention.
10 years from now, I can expect to see the following message pop up on my wearable: “Matt, it’s Dr Johnson here. Can you pop in? I’m looking at your data and there is something I’m worried about”.
So the future is about empowering patients to take better care of themselves and putting the patient in control of their health. Self-care will be the biggest change in the next decade.