The speed of change in healthcare is gathering pace and shows no signs of letting up. However, who will be the greatest beneficiary of this progress?
Unlike other large industries, the medical industry has typically relied on the pharmaceutical multinationals to implement ambitious projects aimed at new drug therapies. However, with the introduction of new technology and the availability of patient quantification, other agencies and vertical sectors are using insights from patient data to develop products, as well as cutting the cost and time to launch to market with new approaches to therapy management. The UK exemplifies the general spend on health R&D. The latest Office of National Statistics figures found that the country invested a record £33.1bn on research and development with the healthcare sector leading the way with peak spend on health R&D.
One aspect of this push on R&D is big data, which is impacting every facet of the corporate world. The convergence of powerful computational horsepower and advanced database technologies makes it possible to process the vast amount of information for actionable insight. As the healthcare sector uncovers new approaches to patient and disease quantification, this data will continue to have greater and more impactful implications for patients, providers and other stakeholders in this ever-evolving, inter-connected world.
Digital healthcare is remodelling the traditional system that incentivised providers to keep patients in treatment (i.e. inpatient care and facilities). The old system is inefficient, volume-led and can lead to inconsistent outcomes for patient, and it is ripe for disruption.
Diabetes care – a bellwether for an effective value-based healthcare
When you consider that diabetes is one of the most quantified chronic diseases in the world, the vast amount of readily-available data provides organisations with a wealth of contextualised insights that, when leveraged, is significantly recalibrating the speed and frequency of new innovative products and services entering to market.
Diabetes is a very complex disease and without proper management can lead to severe complications. Diabetic patients are required to self-monitor their blood glucose levels, which can be impacted by diet, exercise and other external factors such as stress, continually throughout the day. For a patient with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, the challenges of managing the blood glucose levels can alternatively lead to hypoglycaemia, which occurs when blood sugar levels fall below normal, leading to dizziness, loss of consciousness and even seizures, or to hyperglycaemia, which occurs when glucose remains at elevated levels and which can have significant long-term health consequences (including ketoacidosis, neuropathy, and cardiovascular disease).
In diabetes therapy management, the bigger challenges for medical professionals is medication and therapy adherence, and lack of face-to-face engagement with patients. However, by combining newly available data, wearable technology and mobile devices, a new group of players – including medical device and technology companies are beginning to reduce the burden on patients by creating a personalised course of treatment and helping people with diabetes pre-empt dangerous complications.
The challenge remains though: how do you provide better outcomes with regards to spending less time on managing the disease at the patient level?
One of the innovations in healthcare that has transformed the way patients monitor and understand their health is wearable technology like the Dexcom G6 – a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device. The G6 allows patients to take the guesswork out of their estimates and no longer painfully prick their fingers to measure their glucose levels – which some might have traditionally and reluctantly done up to 10 times a day.
The glucose data collected by the G6 device, which is discreetly worn on the body, relays a real-time stream of glucose readings to patients who can then choose to share the same information to family members or care-givers who “follow” these readings on their own phones. The insight provided by this new critical stream of glucose data, helps the patient understand how their behaviour (insulin dosing, eating, activity, stress and more) impacts their glucose highs and lows. The newfound visibility of this data alone is helping patients move towards better “glucose management”. Dexcom’s CGM technology is now considered to be one of the most accurate and effective diabetes management tools on the market.
However, what sets the diabetes industry apart is the level of information the patient and healthcare providers have at their disposal. Unlike other areas of healthcare, the instant access to personal health information at any given time, and the ability to safely and quickly share those records with trusted individuals and partners, could mean the difference between life and death. That then allows stakeholders the opportunity to continually and precisely tailor treatment regimens to patients for optimal outcomes.
Furthermore, Dexcom and other players in the diabetes sector are increasingly working with tech companies on tackling some of the more technically challenging hurdles facing patients with diabetes today. While companies like Apple and Google might hold a great deal of information on consumers, the more important data the healthcare sector requires is standardised and anonymised data that offer trends and insights on the whole.
These partnerships are necessary, as tech firms have the technical capabilities required to test new healthcare models at scale. For instance, the diabetic industry needs to better estimate patients’ dietary intakes. What if you can do that by simply taking a picture of a meal? However, any viable model will require a library of images and machine learning capabilities to identify food quickly and correctly and then map it to the right nutritional information. Right now, that capability mostly lies with emerging tech.
It is worth understanding that every organisation in healthcare will have to become a digital business, extending their core competencies through new digital experiences and creating value in new business models.
What does the future look like for patients?
The future is personalised healthcare and big data. So, what will the revolution look like for patients?
Patients and the general public will no longer be passive bystanders in the development of innovative products and breakthroughs because, for the first time, their direct engagement would be necessary, as will the data they actively provide insurers, tech companies and healthcare providers.
For instance, in England, it is now common practice for the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) to automatically collect data about cancer and tumour diseases. The information collated includes everything from personal information to the type of disease to the treatment received and any other relevant medical information. The exercise aims to ensure that the NCRAS can build a complete picture of the cases and prevalence of cancer in England, as well as understanding how cancer patients are diagnosed and their eventual outcomes. This information is helping the country’s national health service to improve patient care and to inform future national policies.
Additionally, the democratisation of big data will seek to put data back into the hands of patients – this shift is critical as the sector shifts towards an outcomes-based healthcare system.
As more patients gain access to information, they become increasingly more responsible for their health. There is a change in behaviour as more people make proactive choices to stay healthy or to manage chronic diseases. In the long term, this approach could potentially save the health services money as fewer people would require urgent medical care or hospitalisation. Furthermore, conditions that exacerbate the pressure on services, such as obesity, could be managed sooner as health professionals would have more opportunities to intervene with improved and more patient-centric behaviour management solutions before these issues become a health risk.
Unfortunately, a headwind for the impact of these technological advances is found in the fact that much of our health records are still relatively siloed across practitioners’ medical records. That inefficiency in the system may lead to health professionals and the patients themselves missing crucial information from their patients’ medical history. But, as more records are digitalised and more players jump in to solve for these challenges, the sector, leveraging artificial intelligence applied to this complete medical record, would become more accurate and exact in diagnosing diseases and treating them.
For instance, US tech giants recently pledged to work together to drive common standards for exchanging health information with the aim of making it easier for healthcare organisations to share and access patient details on smart devices.
With smarter data, policy makers and insurers can look at the system holistically to determine who is most at risks of chronic diseases and how best to intervene.
Preventative healthcare solution will not only save the public money, it ensures more patients can enjoy a better quality of life for longer. The biggest obstacle to the revolution of healthcare would be a lack of sufficient data. As long as organisations can demonstrate that they are diligent with patient data, attitude to data sharing will develop and inform invaluable research for years to come.
Annika Jimenez, SVP, Data, Dexcom
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