The Future of Health Tech

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It seems like you can’t turn around these days (online at least) without bumping into yet another set of predictions for the future of health tech, so rather than give you our top 10 or even our top 5 guesses, we thought we’d talk to our own Digital Strategist, Alex Hope, to see how he sees things developing in 2019 and beyond.

1. Which current and future health tech developments do you see gaining traction and why?

I think connected devices, aka the internet of things (IoT), will gain greater traction in health. With the cost of connectivity decreasing and technology costs getting ever cheaper, Gartner is predicting that by 2020 over 20 billion devices will be connected. Combine that with the emerging technologies that will allow us to use this data in more meaningful ways and we have something powerful. What might that look like? Well, we’ve seen adoption of wearables quadruple between 2014 and 2018 and mobile health adoption triple. I think this trend will continue and as people get accustomed to digital health and connected experiences, they’ll expect and want more and better health services and IoT is one way these experiences will be enhanced and produce better health outcomes for people.


2. Are there any companies leading the charge when it comes to innovation?

Babylon Health. It will be fascinating to watch what this company becomes. It recently demonstrated that its artificial intelligence (AI) has the ability to provide health advice which is on-par with practicing clinicians. One test it faced was the MRCGP exam i.e. the exam GPs must pass before they can enter independent practice in the UK. The average pass mark is 72%, Babylon’s AI scored 81%. Babylon’s ultimate mission is to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth and it’s going about doing that through a series of striking partnerships. For example, partnering with Samsung to make Babylon available within the Samsung Health app and forming a relationship with WeChat to deliver personal health assessments, treatment advice and individual health records across China.


3. Big consumer brands seem to be taking ever greater interest in the health-tech space. Give us some examples of what has impressed you?

I think brands like Apple are finding ways to use their products in health, for example their Heart Study which uses the Apple Watch to identify and collect data on irregular heart rhythms. Then there are brands such as Nokia coming to market with digital products with a focus on health and wellbeing, for example their Body+ wi-fi connected smart scales and app that helps people to lose weight. Nokia is an example of a company seeing and acting on the growing wellbeing trend. This is a disruptive force that presents opportunities and challenges for brands. Not long ago we kind of defined health as being in a disease-free state. Now we think much more holistically about living a healthy lifestyle and this is wellness really. I think established consumer brands are starting to understand that if its values, and consequently its products, are not consistent with its consumers’ wellbeing goals, then there are other brands who will capture this market. I think a good example of this is Kellogg’s. They’ve been reformulating serials to reduce sugar. I’m sure there is more they could do here, but it’s already moving its products in the right direction.             


4. What developments interest you most and what do you think our clients will be able to leverage going forwards?

I think it’s easy to just think about digital health as apps and wearables because for many of us mobile health is its most obvious manifestation. But this is a limiting view of digital health. I liked a McKinsey article, published last year, which highlighted key capabilities that can improve customer experience, reduce costs and improve quality and transparency. These include: Process redesign (streamlining of processes), Digitisation (tools that increase the potential for autonomy and make transactional and manual tasks easier), Intelligent process automation (the application of emerging technologies such AI/machine learning, robotic process automation, natural-language processing and generation) and Advanced analytics (autonomous processing of data to discover insights and make recommendations). These capabilities are clearly as relevant to health as any industry and new entrants such as Babylon and AXA’s Heroes of Health Tech are exploiting them to develop next generation digital health services. To keep pace with these companies and changing consumer expectations, agencies and clients need to explore these capabilities and identify opportunities to apply them to business challenges and opportunities.        


5. Are there any developments or innovations that you think will have a transformative benefit for how HCPs provide patient care?

For the benefit to be transformative I think we need to think about the cumulative effect of multiple innovations. And I think one of the main benefits will be that HCPs are freed-up to spend more time caring for the patients who are in most need of time and attention. Some of these developments and innovations will be wide reaching such as better self-management of chronic conditions supported by next generation digital health services; or AI-powered solutions helping triage patients as they enter a health system and providing more insightful information that informs HCP decision making along the patient pathway and which reduces the time they have to spend processing data like robots. Then there are smaller innovations such as providing primary/community care with easy-to-use diagnostic tools for e.g. scanning kidneys or nasal endoscopes that allow images to be captured and then remotely assessed by secondary care experts; even things as simple as  devices which measure blood pressure in waiting rooms will contribute towards optimising the use of an HCP and their available time.


6. What do you see as the key barriers to digital Health engagement, and how do you think agencies like Hive can help to bridge the gaps?

From a healthcare system perspective, there are a few big ones like legacy IT systems which make accessing and sharing data complicated and therefore limit the potential benefits that I’ve mentioned above. Adoption and spread of innovation is also a challenge for health systems and many trials that start local, stay local, no matter how successful they are. When it comes to the people using digital health services, I think habit and attitude are key barriers we need to work through. For many of us, our GP is central to our interactions with our healthcare system. If people are to shift away from this and towards digital health services, what’s on offer has to be attractive, accessible and persuasive. Agencies like Hive, who truly put peoples’ experience first will be the agencies who pinpoint meaningful areas of opportunity to change and improve these experiences, and not just for individuals, but for everyone involved.


7. The Gartner Hype Curve talks to the disconnect between the initial ‘buzz’ and actual realised potential of Tech innovations. Which developments do you think will have genuine potential to transform Healthcare in the next 5-10 years?

Everything is easier and more exciting when it’s conceptual! I think mixed reality (AR/VR) is a classic example of this because it’s only more recently that we’re really seeing interesting applications of this technology and developments such as Apple’s ARKit. Mixed reality’s ability to connect people and blur the lines across physical and simulated reality offers many opportunities in health. One example is HCP training. Hive recently developed a solution that uses simulation and haptic feedback to support medical training that would otherwise require a cadaver.

Virtual Reality has helped HCPs practice a unique and complicated injection technique


Looking further ahead, blockchain is on the Gartner Cycle as being 5-10 years away from the plateau of productivity. I wonder if they might revise that to 2-5 years when they update it later this year? IBM, for example, are already offering an enterprise-ready blockchain solution which is ready to help health organisations to manage and secure data. It’s widely accepted that better data sharing between HCPs and within healthcare systems leads to a higher probability of accurate diagnoses, more effective treatments, and more cost-effective care. So blockchain’s ability to allow multiple stakeholders to access data without compromising its security and integrity will be an enabler to digital health transformation.


8. Which developing trends have surprised you in the past 5-10 years?

I’m not sure anything has surprised me much. Lots has interested me, and I’ve followed it. Given tech start-ups have been so disruptive for other industries I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been greater disruption to health, although equally I can see why disruption is so difficult in health. We’ve been expecting Amazon to enter health for a while, with pharmacy an obvious area for them. But its joint venture with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway was a bit of a surprise to me. Even if they start with an internal health initiative, that’s 1.2 million people to learn from. Some of the areas suggested as opportunities include health administration, insurance claims management, provider IT infrastructure (e.g. electronic health records) and interfaces (e.g. Alexa). There’s a good chance Amazon-JPM-Berkshire will be the ones that surprise us in the coming years I think.


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