This year’s Digital Health World Congress in London once again attracted more than three hundred participants from across the industry – technology providers and life science companies were particularly well-represented.
Over the two days of the conference, more than twenty lectures brought the following developments to light:
Trend 1: Data is the new currency of the health care industry
It is estimated that a person born today will produce an average of one million gigabytes of data relevant to health over the course of his or her lifetime. That is equivalent to the content of about three hundred million books. Technological progress is leading to an explosion of health care data, which needs to be linked, condensed, validated, and placed in the appropriate context, which is a particularly challenging task. Without the use of artificial intelligence, this will be impossible to accomplish.
The expectations of the knowledge obtained from this data are high:
- Predictive analyses will generate added value through the identification of high-risk patients and early treatment. Today, this procedure already optimizes resource allocations in hospitals and helps decision-making processes in the research and development of therapies in life science companies
- Personalized medicine promises a new era of efficacy and tolerability of therapies. The goal is to benefit especially chronically ill people and groups afflicted with rare diseases, for whom there is often no treatment at the present time.
- Value-based health care is designed to enhance the focus on the benefits of treatments and to remove non-value elements from the system. Reimbursement models are designed to reduce investment risks for sponsors and thereby increase patient access to therapies.
Trend 2: From health care to self-care
In the future, patients will be closely involved in the management of their own health care. By using wearables, they will be able collect health-related data; mobile health apps will produce informative trend curves at the tap of a fingertip; and networked platforms will allow the sharing of data with medical care teams. Before patients leave home to go to the hospital, they talk about their symptoms with a health bot, which in the majority of cases already makes the doctor’s visit superfluous. The artificial assistant accesses the information of countless health databases and helps them self-diagnose with its self-learning algorithms.
In many cases, tomorrow’s patients will even be able to carry out their own treatment at home. Digital helpers will issue electronic prescriptions, reminders to take medication, and automatically book the next check-up date with the physician. Although it may sound like science fiction, some of this is already reality – as numerous examples presented at the conference demonstrate.
The next step: connectivity
Despite all the optimism of the technology providers, it became clear – at the latest in the panel discussion – that for the most part, this digital treasure still must be brought to the surface. The current degree of implementation of the digital possibilities was estimated by the experts at the conference to be somewhere between a meager ten and a more optimistic forty percent. The next step required is to enhance connectivity between the stakeholder groups: the circle between the patient, medical and technological service providers, and sponsors must be closed. However, we lack not only the technological and procedural standards to establish a health care ecosystem, but must also change the way some of the participating groups think. Some initial steps have been made, for example, by increasing patient involvement (keyword: patient-centric care) or through the expansion of partnerships between hospitals, life science companies and technology companies.
Conclusion regarding the conference: A good start, but next time with more diversity at the podium
The Digital Health World Congress is worth a visit: In addition to the entertaining, but rarely critically-developed keynote speeches, the panel discussions, in particular, also raised controversial issues such as the validity of health tracker data, the question of the actual maturity of artificial intelligence, and concerns about the protection of patient data.
Speakers from hospitals, government authorities and sponsors were not well represented and it would be desirable to see more of them at the next conference. Most importantly, as mentioned frequently during the presentations, it would be nice to hear from the group at the center of all this: the patients themselves, to obtain more input on their needs and concerns regarding the continuing technological advancement of health care. In this respect, the conference itself will be a good model for the required networking of all the groups who are already making fiction a reality.
■ Sonja Fix