How Technology Is Changing the Face of Health Care

What about an on-demand flu shot at a location of your choice? What about an at-home colonoscopy? What about a sensor to detect diaper wetness? All of these options are available today, and the innovations for the future are endless.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the "Inventing the Future of Health" event, an Atlantic-produced town hall series that is held in various U.S. cities. The half-day forum assembled together several national experts to discuss what's next in health care. The dialogue focused on a variety of issues surrounding health care, including the impact of technological innovations, data and analytics, and behavioral economics on the future of health care.

There were many great presentations and panel discussions that addressed everything from new diagnostic tools and wearables to the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, precision medicine, nanotechnology, and Big Data in health care.

The opening session by Dr. Daniel Kraft was fascinating as he addressed several impactful trends in technology and discussed many technological developments affecting the delivery of health care. He spoke of the convergence of different technologies that will greatly reinvent and reshape the future of health care. Dr, Kraft, who has chaired the Medicine Track for Singularity University since its inception, is Executive Director of Exponential Medicine, a cross-disciplinary program that brings together faculty, innovators and organizations from across the biomedical and technology spectrum to explore and leverage the convergence of fast moving technologies in the reshaping and reinvention of health and medicine.

Technology is becoming faster, smaller, and less expensive and is having an amazing impact on health care, from diagnostics to prevention to the management of chronic conditions. Dr. Kraft addressed the digitization of health care and the shift to the use of technology platforms that help move health care away from the traditional office or hospital setting towards the home environment and increased self-monitoring tools.

From a health and prevention perspective, although our genetics certainly play a key role in our health, it is our behaviors that are the most impactful. If we can change certain behaviors we can drive costs down, improve health, and reduce the prevalence of chronic conditions. The innovations in technology are helping to develop new ways to tap into those behaviors. For example, wearables and smart phone applications today are beginning to have a huge impact. With newer versions we will see even more access to data that will aid in quantifying health and integrating data from a variety of sources to offer individuals and their providers a bigger picture of someone's health.

According to Dr, Kraft we are rapidly moving from "Sensors 1.0" to "Sensors 3.0," whereby the newer iterations of devices, like wearables, will not only track data but ultimately provide "nudges" to initiate feedback and appropriate actions. Google is developing contact lenses that can track blood sugar levels and is working with pharmaceutical companies to bring these to market. Such "insideables," for example, will be able to monitor the quality of our breath, how hydrated we are, how good our posture is. What about a device placed on your back that buzzes you when you are slouching and nudges you to sit up straight (remember our moms used to tell us that!)? Having primarily a desk job, I think I might like that, although I probably would be buzzing all day!

Some other insights from other sessions were these:
  • All stakeholders need to work collaboratively to create a Culture of Health across all age-levels. That means we have to start young in educating individuals about healthy habits!
  • Our health-care system is fragmented, overpriced, and error-prone; we need to reward excellent care at affordable costs. One way is through payment reform; we need to shift away from a fee-for-service reimbursement system based on volume to one based on evidence-based outcomes. We need to pay for healthy outcomes.
  • Consumer transparency must continue and, along with education, will lead to more individual empowerment.
  • Employers can play a huge role in educating & inspiring employees to be healthy.
  • There needs to be more of a multi-disciplinary approach to health-care (with the patient in the middle), and this needs to start in medical school with physician training.
  • Health care requires more convergence of physical & behavioral health support systems and this will have a significant impact on health outcomes. Physical and mental health, for example, often, need to be looked at together, but many primary care doctors do not have the training to do so. Medicine needs to move away from the silos!
  • Behavioral Economics is key in helping to understand human behavior and health-care decision-making by consumers. All those who influence health-care delivery need to answer the question, "How do we create the conditions for certain behaviors to occur?
  • Although "Big Data" and health-care analytics will play an increasing role in the future of health care decisions, we must be careful. We need to look "under the hood," and ask the questions," Is this feasible?; Does this make sense?;" Yes, we must make data actionable but we need to be careful and view the data in the context of other factors.

What innovations in health care have you read about or are your companies exploring?

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