Is Technology Disrupting Healthcare to Solve Chronic Challenges?

Globally, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are facing tremendous challenges like high cost, low access, little price transparency, weak R&D pipeline, questionable Fixed Dose Combinations, effectiveness of medicines, over prescription, dwindling ethics, declining trust etc. The industries can overcome some of these challenges by progressively adopting cutting edge technologies to enhance value propositions to patients.

Disruptions happen when science creates breakthrough technology, wasteful & relatively inefficient business model continues for long and economic reality changes. Unfortunately, healthcare industries have elements of all these. To understand better, we need to dive deep into how the new age industries are disrupting existing trillion dollar industries. We have seen the banking, retail, music, publishing, aviation, transportation and manufacturing sectors completely transformed by innovative technologies.

Healthcare sector is huge and lucrative enough for technology industry to deploy increasing resources to create higher value propositions and monetize the opportunity. It is super critical for pharmaceutical and healthcare industries to adopt technologies at faster rate to answer the perennial challenges. The competitiveness in healthcare can be through decrease of manual work, increase of e-documentations, inter connect, prevent medication error, store/retrieve data, enhance data analytics, reduce time to market, instil transparency and eliminate malpractices.

The fundamental question to ask is, which innovative technology can disrupt the healthcare? Deeper analysis indicates that there are multiple promising & matured technologies that can revolutionize healthcare. These are a mix of next generation software, infinitesimal chips, high performance hardware, and efficient networks. Experts believe that limit of the Moore Law is still a decade away. So hardware will continue to double the capacities in eighteen months with almost free fall in prices for wider technology deployment.

Any smart phone’s camera, sensors and computing power can be harnessed to collect clinical grade data and offer services for problems of skin, eye, ear, diabetes, stress, BP, heart rate etc. Healthcare industry lag in launching Mobile applications for patients. The untapped potential of apps to educate patients and enhance compliance to treatment at marginal cost is huge. Patients who are reminded of compliance to medicine and tracked for the progress parameters on mobile based initiatives respond better to treatment. To give the context on trend, International Data Corporation says that direct global revenue (non-advertising) from mobile apps touched $34.2 billion in 2015 and expected to reach $57 billion with over 210 billion installs by 2020.

The innovative use of Social Media is real but the healthcare sector hasn’t fully utilized the benefits. Hospitals and doctors are using it in limited was to reach out to patients and in field healthcare workers. It can play bigger role in empowering patients and making the participatory healthcare movement a reality. Patients can get access to validated information at multiple devices that is available to limited professionals and get connected to other patients dealing with similar problems. Few companies are proactively partnering with stakeholders to build communities which will help to improve company’s image as a responsible healthcare provider and stay closer to patients. Government should set up robust protocol of data privacy and security for product and services built to benefit patients.

Several research groups are working to operationalize virtual physiological model of the human body. This way, thousands of new molecules can be tested on billions of models looking for toxicity or side effects with supercomputers. Experts estimate that this technology can reduce cost & time by half of the clinical trials; major gainers will be pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

The integration of wireless and sensor technologies into wearable technology has proved to be great tool for behaviour change to prevent the life style diseases. IoT devices connect patients and care givers through remote monitoring. IoT has the potential to revolutionize the disjoint healthcare data by connecting all stakeholders in real time through common protocol and interoperability. IDC estimates that by 2020, 80% of the consumers will use IoT, data and analytics to improve quality, delivery and value of the healthcare. Humanly it is impossible to remember and use information from millions of medical articles, journals, diagnostic reports etc. published for physicians to decipher therapeutic mysteries while treating patients. The artificial intelligence is the answer for doctors to utilize the knowledge base through the likes of Watson of IBM. The AI is making physicians make better decisions for complex diseases.

Cutting edge technologies of advanced semiconductors, clinical informatics & big data analytical software, bio-information sequencing machine etc. enables bio-technologists for the Proteomics & Genomics and path breaking insights and cure of diseases.

Synthetic Biology is combining engineering with biology through standardization, modelling and testing. Technology has converted biology into information – DNA mapping, genomics etc. For example, synthesising Artemisinin; anti-malarial drug whose extraction from plant is costly and face scalability challenges offers answer to create access in eradicating disease. Also synthetic mosquitos with self-limiting gene reduce its population by 90%. Personal medicine can be made at low cost and scalable through synthetic biology as well.

There is need to collaborate with tech giants (IBM, GE, Philips, Microsoft, Oracle, 3M, Siemens, Adobe, Samsung, Qualcomm, Intel, Dell, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.) and with the start-ups (Surgical Theatre, Patients know Best, iCouch, Practo, Portea, Medgenome etc.) in healthcare space.

A major challenge in healthcare is that the medical data collected from patient’s behaviour, diagnosis, drug discoveries, genome etc. are in silos; on different standards and with little or no interoperability. Technology is overcoming these differences and enhancing efficiency through interoperability of data. Also use of better encryption and data security measures is helping to address privacy and security concerns around personal data. Other challenges and opportunities include –

Challenges and opportunities for stakeholders:

  • Ensure privacy and security of data. Also protect interconnected devices –M2M from hacking.
  • Bring patients on the driving seat and have bigger say in the healthcare system. The ownership of the data should be with patients.
  • The real challenge for healthcare industries is to make strategic shift from management of sick-care to healthcare as the industry revenue directly depends on degree of medical interventions.
  • Develop payment framework for all stakeholders – doctor, hospital, insurance, tech & healthcare industries.
  • Create framework for technology to integrate and make use of clinical grade data from multiple devices, standards to be used productively.
  • The regulators have to relook at the regulatory approval process for these tech products which have higher obsolete rate but don’t compromise on the standards scientific testing.
  • Faster and wider adoption of such technologies for higher access, reduced price and enhanced utility and value; software, analytics, AI, Genome etc. becomes more intelligent on wider applications and usages.

 What is in it for India?

  • Through collaboration, technologies can transform healthcare into predictive, proactive, personalized, preventive and participatory.
  • The Indian subsidiaries of MNCs can partner with local tech companies to develop global products at lower cost and offer higher value proposition to HQ from India.
  • With infuse of technologies, Indian healthcare industries can bridge the intellectual property gap with MNCs; synergy with prowess of local tech sector can be game changer.
  • The governments should focus on prevention of diseases with help of wearable, sensors, gene mapping and early diagnosis assisted by technologies rather only price control of pharmaceutical and medical devices.
  • The healthcare companies should deploy these technologies to cut cost, identify non promising drug earlier to be discarded, bring more predictability, enhance success rates of drug discovery etc. So that there is reduced pressure to recover money of failed drugs and can price medicine lesser.
  • The tech and healthcare companies should initiate collaborative projects taking advantage of Digital India, Start Up India, Skill India to create higher value proposition for Indian and global patients.

Experts rightly believe that the current century will be known as when ‘Biology became Technology’.

(This article was also published on LinkedIn. The views and opinions expressed in this article are personal of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of current or previous employers. Examples of analysis in this article are only examples. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity. This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice in anyway.)

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Mr. Tabrez Ahmad is Director Corporate Affairs of eBay India. Tabrez has over 20 years of diverse experience in legal practice, marketing, public policy and macro-economy to bring upswing in business through policy intervention. He advised top-notch CEOs in India and US from pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device/equipment, healthcare, software, telecom, electronics, e-business, agribusiness, media and entertainment industries on state, federal and international policies and regulations for compliant business operation.