Thinking about the future of healthcare

Reading time: 5 minutes
David Williams
David Williams

VISFO’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, reflects on the need for patient centricity in the development of health technology.

If only a crystal ball could tell us the future. How would we do things differently? No one can predict with certainty what the future holds, especially when it comes to healthcare, but what we can do is identify the trends that are evolving.

From a technology perspective, the big question we’re asking ourselves is, how are we going to cope with AI? Not the Artificial Intelligence ‘AI’, but the Avalanche of Information ‘AI’. We are at the start of a new digital age but are still working within an analogue system, so where will the capability come from to form an interconnected solution? In my opinion, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, digital analytics and data science need to augment rather than replace human intelligence, but the next question is – how do we do this effectively?

Health information – true or false?

When making health decisions, the authenticity of data and health advice has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds recently, primarily because Covid-19 has magnified the need for trustworthy information like never before. The advent of social media and the internet has allowed opinions to be weighed as fact, exposing the global population to the nuances and uncertainty of science and placing the onus on them to make informed choices. Some people aren’t interested in the truth, they’re just looking for an opportunity to propagate their beliefs, however most look to the internet to empower themselves to make informed decisions based on verified medical advice. Evidence-based medicine, that allows us to understand and weigh the validity of data, will be in more demand than ever before.

A level playing field

a leading surveyor of mHealth technologies

One need for the immediate future is going to be understandable science, tailored to individuals with chronic conditions to allow partnership decision making with healthcare providers. Mobile health (mHealth) needs to evolve to include the views of people living with these conditions. Rather than being led by healthcare providers, digital solutions should be guided by patients for any app to be truly successful. ORCHA, a leading surveyor of mHealth technologies, have laid the foundation for this, having shown the consequences of not putting the patient at the heart of any mHealth application design.

Personalised and empowered condition management

FREESTYLE LIBRE

A pressing universal challenge for healthcare systems is the demand for treatments for chronic conditions, which has been compounded by the pandemic. Building on the need to be better informed, we need to take the next step to empower people with chronic illnesses to more effectively manage their conditions remotely with devices. Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre is one example in diabetes, where a remote sensor applied to the skin records a complete spectrum of glucose-related data to empower the user to flex their insulin for better effect. So, are wearables the future? Yes, for some things, but to be effective any measurement needs to have a clear purpose and inform a specific decision. There are some incredibly impressive wearable devices entering the marketplace, but if they’re not designed with patients’ needs and daily struggles in mind they could end up being nothing more than an expensive gimmick. Whilst it’s nice to implement the latest flashy technology, if the UX (user experience) is too complicated or laborious for the target consumer, the wearable becomes an additional source of friction inhibiting the opportunity for more seamless condition management.

What we need to consider is a systematic way of surrounding wearables with mHealth technology, to measure individual patient reported outcomes (PROs). Guided by the mission, ‘my health measured for me’, data can be shared with the treating healthcare provider (HCP), and a true partnership developed. Combining wearables and personalised data, we can escape the gravitational force of 19th century doctors’ waiting rooms and embrace the instant, remote sharing of data and information that modern technology affords us. The result? Fast, personalised and efficient communications between patient and HCP – cultivating a mutually beneficial and convenient relationship.

Virtual and focused

An inevitable trend of modern medicine is that technological advances and patient care get increasingly complicated – so what is the healthcare industry doing in response? Currently, we’re still trying to treat everyone the same, in the same way we always have. For all the technology we have today, it makes sense to think about how we can deliver excellence remotely.

At VISFO we believe that the solution will be discovered by bringing together the specific capabilities of academia, healthcare systems and industry, though a collaborative and constructive approach. We are currently materialising this theory, working with the University of York and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital on several projects to reimagine conventional approaches and acknowledge patients’ specific needs. More on this to come.

Okay – so what?

The big challenge for healthcare is going to be adapting to technological change in a proactive way, rather than a reactive way. The healthcare industry is notorious for its aversity to risk and tentative steps towards evolution, and when you compare this against the speed of technological development – an activity that typically just kicks the door in once a quarter – it’s easy to identify a point of friction.

Some might read this article and think the ideas prophesised are no more than a pipe dream. However, by shifting our mindset to think about how we can make technology work for us rather than frantically chasing a soon-to-be-outdated trend, we can begin to action meaningful change. As I mentioned before, it’s not about using technology to replace the work of people, it’s about harnessing effective tools and software to streamline processes and personalise treatments to improve patients’ lives.

Interested in thinking differently?

Let VISFO help you. Get in touch today at connect@visfo.health