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Reformation not revolution: the future of healthcare

As digitalisation and patient empowerment begin to challenge traditional models of healthcare, change is inevitable. So what will this future look like and what innovations are on the horizon?

Companies like Adidas, Audi and Amazon are interested in entering the healthcare arena, currently the restricted/reserved domain of doctors, nurses and pharmaceutical companies. Why would that be, and what possibilities does modern technology offer the sector? To use Plato’s allegory of the cave, is there an unseen world yet to be discovered?

Werner von Siemens, founder of the leading global engineering and technology services company, found himself outside the cave, driven by curiosity. If he were alive today he would undoubtedly be seen as a ‘hipster’ and, like his modern day counterparts, be sporting wearables and tracking himself in a way now referred to as the quantified self.

Portable computers in the form of mobile phones are driving the digital transformation, collecting data and providing more and more information. However, as these innovative technologies and models emerge, they can impact the values of existing products and services in an industry in a process known as digital disruption. It is easy for doctors to perceive this disruption as a storm that will only hit others, but it is already posing questions for healthcare.

It is important to recognise that the future is not linear; if it were we would have faster horses, brighter candles and deeper basements. The tech guys in Silicon Valley realise this. The Silicon Valley of 16th-Century Europe came up with the invention of block printing. Subsequently, Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin into the language of the people. People read it, got into discussions and the Reformation came about. In modern society, companies such as Healthcare Futurists are at the forefront of realising that it is indeed insight,  not knowledge that will shape the future of healthcare.

Reformation in healthcare is happening right now in the form of Dr Google. Patient empowerment is a challenge for everyone and Dr Google is forcing change. This digital disruption will be painful – to spend years training and be told ‘I just looked this up on Google and think I have this and I just want you to sign the prescription’. In the past doctors were trained as being gods. In the future they will have to be trained as being guys, to listen more to patients. The only way forward is to embrace the change, move from an ego-system to an ecosystem which brings doctors and patients together in ‘an internet of healthy things’.

Digitalisation that generates increasing amounts of personal data is the motor for change, but where it will lead to in 10-20 years from now is dependent on what happens when innovation in healthcare meets regulation. At the moment, new things are emerging in areas where healthcare is less heavily regulated. An example of this is Go Forward, a subscription-based health company in San Francisco that offers an evidence-based, data-driven approach with a focus on preventative and proactive medicine.

Innovative ideas coming through in healthcare include a portable mass spectrometer, insurance companies attaching their services to smartphones, genetic testing supported by algorithm diagnostics, pharmaceutical products being enhanced with digital means, e.g. companies that sell antidepressants Dr Tobias Gantner, CEO, Healthcare Futurists GmbHalso selling complementary augmented or virtual reality products, and 3D printed medication that allows people with multiple prescriptions to take them in one pill. The Open Insulin Project also sees young people building their own devices to treat their Type 1 diabetes. Companies such as Healthcare Futurists are aware that it is insights such as these that will shape the future of healthcare.

These are interesting and reformative times, but there are areas where there are no answers at present. The DocMorris mail order pharmacy is stirring up the market in Germany, but what will this mean for the middle man in healthcare - the doctor, and what will happen to the retailers in an age of digitalisation? What is the role of Big Data and The Cloud? Is there a need to think about open standards in healthcare in the way that the internet brought open standards to everyone? Should digital wanderlust, ie randomly collecting tetrabytes of data to see where it will lead, play a part?

There is currently digital cluelessness on the part of the doctors, the hospitals and the providers, however interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral working with groups such as the pharmaceutical companies, electronic companies and companies involved in the fields of computing and smart data, will provide a way to develop the novel ideas and business models needed to meet these new challenges.

Patients are now seeking power and digitalisation is finally coming to healthcare. There is no going back. Jack can’t be put back in the box, but everyone can work together to make sure that Jack brings about positive change.

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