In 2016, I saw innovative and unexpected developments:
- Drones promise to bring quickly and safely medication to villages and remote places. A company like Vayu has already deployed such drones in Madagascar. In addition to medication, the drone can bring back to a healthcare facility blood samples for testing.
- Philips and other startups like Clarius are introducing wireless ultrasound transducers. These are transportable in a small bag and use your tablet or phone as screen. Ultrasounds are traditionally prohibitive in cost and too heavy for individual usage.
- Virtual reality can help reverse complete paralysis. Others companies are using VR to distract children from needles or transfusions.
- People can now control prosthetics through thoughts. I’ve also seen the first Cybathlon with very interesting devices. See video here with commentary
- GPS sports watches and fitness trackers are now mainstream, with companies like Apple, Fitbit, Garmin and Samsung offering a variety of devices.
What I see here is healthcare adopting mainstream technologies such as mobile, drones, VR or GPS, and that’s a good thing. These technologies are cheaper and mass produced, and can bring significant improvements to the healthcare industry.
What can we expect for 2017?
Disclaimer: I work actively on healthtech apps and platforms, such as OutcomeReference and others in dentistry, sports, and nutrition. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Data Insights Services
Activity trackers measure continuously heart rate, movements, GPS localization, sleep patterns, and in some cases body temperature. You can correlate the data with body weight, blood pressure, weather, maps from additional devices. This means that on any given day, those who bought an Apple Watch or a Garmin sports watch have huge amounts of data at their disposal.
If 2016 was the year of activity trackers, 2017 & 2018 must be the year of data insights. Analysis can reveal patterns and alert users on risk factors. Based on activity levels, preferences, and heart rate/weight info, machine learning software can design smart training plans that are tailored to the user’s athletic abilities, or meal plans for those with special needs. This is a perfect use case for artificial intelligence to carry out tasks that would usually require certified fitness trainers or nutritionists.
Mint did this for the banking industry. Users sign up and allow Mint to analyze their banking records to get budgeting advice or get alerts. With persuasive design, good story-telling, and innovative data visualization, the same can be done for health.
I tried to launch a telemedicine service 10 years ago. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. We were informed we were too young, we were not doctors and that health care should be exclusively offline, in an exam room with four walls.
In 2016, a variety of telemedicine services appeared, ranging from chronic diseases management, disaster response to the old fashioned doctor diagnosis and prescription. Teladoc or Doctor On Demand are reporting immense growth. I expect telemedicine services to become mainstream in 2017, and be able to connect to various devices : body temperature sensors, blood pressure, weight etc. I also expect a few of them to program bots and connect through Alexa.
This will hopefully bring more flexibility in the healthcare industry. Currently regulation also restricts consulting doctors and health professionals from another country. But if I have a rare disease, why wouldn’t I be able to a world-renowned specialist through telemedicine, who is located in another country? Telemedicine can also be a lifesaver in the US when or if they kill Obamacare, and Americans wanting to look elsewhere for more accessible healthcare services. Hopefully, more flexible regulation will see the light in 2017
Chronic Disease Management Programs
A large percentage of the population (at least in developed countries) live with chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, COPD etc. These require constant attention. Any lack of attention can exacerbate the condition, for the worse. Payers (employers, insurance companies) also have incentives to encourage employees to follow a healthy lifestyle.
There are now a variety of devices continuously monitoring vitals such as blood glucose, and take pro-active actions such as insulin delivery. One step ahead would be services delivering appropriate and customized training plans, nutrition plans, stress management programs, not just to monitor but improve quality of life. These can be a good alternative to post-care services or rehabilitation services. The main value of such programs would be proactive prevention instead of just reactive treatments. Artificial intelligence is also essential for these services.
Mainstream Health Records & Genomics
Apple is working with clinics on ResearchKit and CareKit. The mobile apps are available on iPhones, meaning users can see their health records and current research, as easily as checking the weather. Similarly, they have focused on health & fitness on the 2nd version of the Apple Watch.
Similarly, I have seen more and more companies launching fitness and health-focused devices for the Android platform. Misfit has announced Vapor at CES2017, Polar has an advanced GPS sports watch based on Android, with a highly accurate heart rate monitor.
Genetic analysis have also plummeted in costs (from a small fortune 10 years ago to a mere $100).
What does it mean?
I expect Apple & Google to launch new health services this year, bringing heath data even closer to users. In contrast, the systems in clinics and hospitals are outdated, heavy and incompatible. Patients will demand that doctors and providers use the new connect health services instead.
Of course we will also see incremental improvements for consumer devices from the likes of Garmin or Fitbit. Omron has announced a continuous blood pressure monitor (see coverage here). Devices like Kardio will be able to stream EKG to your phone or tablet. On the other hand, many other companies such as Jawbone will stop producing wearables. 2017 looks to be an exciting year, with new medical devices and technologies. Hope you will continue epxloring this with me in 2017!