There have been suggestions recently that the public appetite for connected IT such as smart watches is waning. I don’t see it that way; what I see as needed now is wearables and other connected devices that deliver genuine benefits. If those benefits can be shared between the user and broader society, so much the better. Connected healthcare strikes me as the next big thing; properly used, it’s capable of transforming our world and the way we live in it. Take a look at some of the things that are happening.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things has so far been dominated by home automation, security and domestic appliances, but the growth of wearable biosensors will transform it to the point where healthcare is the largest single sector.
Worldwide, McKinsey Corp sees potential growth from digital health solutions of $600 billion to $800 billion by 2018. They point out that 20 percent of total retail spend now goes through mobile apps and 50 percent of banking customers now use mobile as their primary transaction method. The world is ready for this transition.
We have not yet actually reached a position where healthcare can become a totally mobile business, but the goal is in sight. Applications like HealthKit from Apple and 2net from Qualcomm are bringing us closer to a position where real-time insights trigger interventions.
There are suggestions that implementation may still be a long way in coming because of the regulatory regime and the need for approvals, but I’m not so sure; when the world really needs an application as much as it needs this, the enterprising find a way to make it happen and, when the benefits are seen, approvals follow. Most of the connected applications I mention below are a matter of diagnosis and monitoring: activities that are more easily approved than treatment. If there is a delay it may be rooted not in the wait for approvals, but by uncertainty about the record of Google’s Nest in sticking with applications (Revolv; Dropcam) which people bought only to see them abandoned wholly, or in part, when Nest acquired their companies.
So what are these connected applications?
Wearable biosensors maintaining a constant check on, e.g., EEG, blood pressure, blood sugar and pulse rate coupled with telemetry can take us from occasional checkups and talks with a GP to constant monitoring and immediate detection of warning signals.
This is among the things that will turn smartwatches from a consumer fad into an indispensable accessory.
Cambridge Cognition Mental Illness Apps
Cambridge Cognition has entered into a deal to develop assessment and monitoring wearables for people at risk of or suffering from mental ill health. According to the World Health Organisation, the global cost of mental ill-health will exceed $6 trillion per annum by 2030.
How can connected IT help? Symptoms of those suffering from dementia, depression and anxiety fluctuate regularly. This has always been a problem because, unless the patient is in front of a healthcare professional at the very moment of an incident, her or his true condition may go undiagnosed. Wearable devices give a much better picture of the patient’s true mental health and therefore improve diagnosis and treatment and can greatly reduce healthcare costs.
As cognitive data becomes more accurate and therefore more meaningful, detection of mental health risk comes earlier and the ability to help patients manage their condition improves. There is also scope for pharmaceutical companies to monitor clinical trials in a much more complete fashion. Wearables can transform the effectiveness of treatments and slash their cost.
Google DeepMind Health
Google, as always, is in on the act; two years ago in its largest European acquisition to date, Google bought DeepMind, a company formed in London in 2010 to solve intelligence and use it to make the world a better place by developing technologies that help address some of society’s toughest challenges. ‘Solving intelligence’ sounds like a tall order, but the company’s decision to focus on healthcare as an area where they can make a real difference to people’s lives across the world is a sound one.
Early work on a mobile app called ‘Streams’ is designed to give medical professionals information to help them detect acute kidney injury cases (AKI). If that sounds esoteric, AKI is present in as many as 20 percent of emergency hospital admissions in the UK and contributes to 40,000 deaths in Britain every year. The NHS believes that 25 percent of cases could be prevented and the Streams app is intended to do just that.
DeepMind Health worked with Consultant Nephrologist at the Royal Free Hospital London, Dr Chris Laing, to develop the app. Doctor Laing says, ‘Using Streams let me review blood tests for patients at risk of AKI within seconds of them becoming available. I intervened earlier and was able to improve the care of over half the patients Streams identified in our pilot studies.’
Babylon describes itself as ‘Everyone’s personal health service.’ It began in the UK, then launched in Ireland and soon it expects to be providing services in an East African nation.
Babylon says that, in the developed world, medical services can be expensive or inconvenient, but that almost half the world’s population has no access at all to quality health care – but they do have mobile phones. Mobile phones are 1000 times more powerful than they were ten years ago and the next ten years will see a similar exponential growth in technical power.
Babylon puts advanced medical apps onto the mobile phone, providing contact and consultation and a better understanding of what – and how – the body is doing. Put that together with wearable monitors and, as Arthur Daley would have said, the world is your lobster.
Adam Birchall is an international business development specialist and intelligence & insights advisor in the technology sector. He has held senior technology strategy, product development and m-commerce roles with Barclays and Nokia; he is a technology thought leader and is a sought-after speaker at conferences and industry events.