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Digital medicine and the future of healthcare

Healthcare costs are rising - how can technology improve healthcare
Healthcare costs are rising - how can technology improve healthcare

Healthcare costs are rising rapidly. While our society is facing a growing aging population, at the same time, public health presents alarming concerns with the increase in obesity and resulting chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetic, and cardiovascular issues.

Today, the total healthcare costs in the U.S. are $ 2.9 trillion per year (according to the CMS, U.S. Department of Health), which presents a 17% of GDP - more than any other country in the world. Chronic conditions account to 75% of total healthcare costs and medications cost $325 billions a year, representing a 10% of total healthcare costs. At the same time, only about 50% of patients take their prescribed drugs at all or correctly as directed, or follow up with the medical care instructions they were given. Less than 25% of healthcare providers focus on patient care management, engagement and maintenance care.

Last week, Dr. Daniel Kraft, M.D., Executive Director of FutureMed/Exponential Medicine at Singularity University, spoke at the SVForum's The Future of Healthcare conference.

On his visits to several health facilities and hospitals across the U.S., Dr. kraft found that many of them still maintain similar administrative process as in past decades, and, surprisingly, look the same… Although, there are computers and technology advances, there hasn't really been a major overhaul in many healthcare facilities.

The new world in healthcare delivery is changing. Medicine is gradually ‘going digital’ and there are different models of health centers and newer financial models, like concierge services, pay-for-service models, Obamacare, and more.

Technology has progressed tremendously, creating exponential growth in available solutions and disrupting the healthcare industry. A proliferation of startups and entrepreneurial initiatives in areas such as robotic medical devices, mobile health, crowdsourcing, big data processing, security and privacy aspects, machine-learning technologies utilizing Artificial Intelligence, as well as in biomedicine, medical and pharmaceutical research, neuroscience and the brain, and more. These medical and technological advances help us move forward with ‘decoding’ targeted ailments. For example, with the current and projected aging population, Alzheimer is a growing concern, where we still need to understand the brain better, find the answers and develop treatments and medication.

Personalized medicine

With mobile and cloud technologies, the communication between patient and doctor, and patient and the medical team, has improved. Today we have apps to engage everyone and the technology platforms to provide a feedback loop. Dr. Kraft said that these systems not only improve the communication and follow up care, but also advance managed care, resulting in better, more accurate and personalized care.

Gamification is used for setting appointments, feed information, and follow up on care. There are fun games to track and monitor heart rate, for example, while you exercise.

Another area of progress is in digitizing the data and all the types of medical records. For example, there are mobile apps to track certain medical stats and human vitals. Then, the apps immediately transmit the data to the medical team. Some stats, like EKG (an electrocardiogram), can be automatically and periodically transmitted and analyzed by a algorithm. When ready, results are texted back to the person and he or she can view their heart's health. If the condition merits medical intervention, the patient's personal doctor or medical team might call. Similarly, tracking blood pressure is another common app.

Further, the laboratory was brought into the home: simple devices and apps can collect data and send it out for analysis, without having the patient leave the house. For example, certain blood tests, like insulin levels, can be checked at home and analyzed by a small device, which then transmits results to the clinician. The medical staff can look through past test results and be able to identify patterns or the development or progression of alarming conditions.

There are also solutions for expecting parents: an ultrasound can be done at home using a mobile app utilizing a smartphone or tablet camera. Then images can be transmitted to a clinician for evaluation.

Digital medicine combined with mobile solutions are accessible to many people around the world. With data capture and analytics models, such important information can help in designing better prevention programs and better treatments. Of course, there are security and privacy concerns, which have also brought into the innovation circles a number of startups and entrepreneurs.

Wearable technologies are also part of handling and maintaining our health. Wearable devices have provided our society with various ways to track fitness levels and activities, set goals, count calories, and motivate individuals to lead healthier life styles.

Dr. Kraft gave a few examples for wearable developments:

  • Assisted living eye care is being developed by Google, where smart contact lens can measure various vision conditions, including eye pressure (glaucoma).
  • Wearable healthcare also encompasses an iPill concept.

These pills are usually the same size as an ordinary pill, are disposable, contain a tiny nano ‘computer’ device, a wireless transmitter, and a series of sensors to effectively dispense a drug in programmed doses. Electronic pills have been used for diagnostic applications such as imaging and x-rays. Other iPills were designed to treat gastrointestinal disorders, like the Phillips Research iPill. In 2008, the MIT Technology Review published an article about Phillips Research iPill, which dispenses medication at a location and rate programmed by the patient’s doctor.The Phillips iPill passes through the digestive system after being swallowed and delivers drugs exactly where they’re needed.

Such innovations help us to get visibility and deeper understanding of health trends in certain populations and/or in particular geographical areas, help us understand diseases and non-conducive health conditions, and more, helping improve public health in communities and overall.

One more fun (and effective) nugget: We have the technology and apps today to show people and youth their own pictures of before and after of various harming behaviors, For example, how smoking ages, the condition of the skin that has been exposed to several years of sun tanning, obesity, and more.


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