by LAURENTI DE' MEDICI
The last five years have seen significant changes in the global healthcare market. Innovative approach to health and care delivery emerge daily, while the use of technology improves efficiency and workflow in healthcare environments. Technology and the positive impact it brings are becoming widely recognised by worldwide Governments as well. Old, classic, ancient healthcare systems are making way – thanks to analytics, interoperability and latest technological innovations – to new, modern, digital, healthcare systems.
Smart sensors, Big Data, Wearable Tech and IoT (Internet of Things) in healthcare are reshaping the medical landscape. With this change, it is essential to seamlessly and securely connect systems, devices and people across the entire health continuum. All interconnected; from healthy living, prevention and diagnosis, to treatment, recovery and home care, all in a perfectly integrated IoE (Internet of Everything) ecosystem.
Digital Health has already made the transition from ‘curiosity’ and ‘future’ to everyday use.Major “players” – Intel, Apple, IBM, Samsung – are getting involved in the digital health race and more companies are investing on how to integrate smart sensors, connected devices or virtual visits into their care delivery.
1. INTEL – Digital Health Foundation
There is no doubt that Intel is the world’s leader in computing innovation. The company designs and builds the essential technologies that serve as the foundation for the world’s future technologies. Intel technologies power today’s data set management and analytic tools, helping health and life sciences optimise diagnostics, treatment and care delivery.
Intel’s Ignition Lab focuses on IoT research, personalised medicine, mobility, devices, security, and cloud solutions.
At the forefront of genome data analysis, assistive technology, pioneering home monitoring technology – for world’s ageing population – through IoT Ignition Labs, actively engaged in ground breaking cancer research as part of the “Collaborative Cancer Cloud Platform”, Intel through its computing technologies, is actively shaping the future of digital health, across continents and across the continuum of care.
Eric Dashman, Intel’s General Manager of “Health & Life Sciences”, is the visionary behind Intel’s digital health approach. As our ageing population booms, it is imperative, he says, to create personal, networked, home-based health care for all.
“Eric has incredibly deep domain knowledge,” said Diane Bryant, senior vice president at Intel and general manager of the Data Center Group. “Given Intel’s position in the tech industry, we had to be present and Eric is going to drive to make it happen. He’s such a visionary.”
2. IBM – Personalised Medicine
Over the past century, IBM has contributed tremendously to rapid advances in technology and its capability in research will continue to impact many industries. Digital health is no exception. Classic healthcare systems are facing a paradigm shift where the primary focus is now wellness maintenance through disease prevention and health promotion. IBM has engaged in building an interconnected, instrumented and intelligent environment to help providers achieve better outcomes, payers improve operational effectiveness and patients receive more coordinated care.
IBM’s “Watson Division” approach led to a critical role in making big data less unwieldy, supporting digital health startups and becoming a powerful resource for the growing landscape of digital health. Not bad for a “computer” that started as a Jeopardy contestant.
Digital health research at IBM spans pattern recognition, data analysis, interpretation of physiological signals/images and ongoing study of how the algorithms developed at IBM, can be used to analyse the content of patient records, therefore enabling the path to a rational, computerised, genomic based, personalised medicine.
Watson’s ability to “absorb” medical information faster than any human, is “the fix” to the current healthcare model. Wellpoint’s Samuel Nessbaum has claimed that, in tests, Watson’s successful diagnosis rate for lung cancer is 90 percent, compared to 50 percent for human doctors.
As an update, in April 2015, IBM entered into a partnership with Apple and world’s biggest manufacturers of medical devices: Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic.
3. GOOGLE – Digital Health Alphabet
The search-engine company stumbled into healthcare with the launch of Google Glass back in 2013, when doctors, including Dr. Raphael Grossmann (the first surgeon to use Glass in the OR), found the device useful in clinical settings. Early 2013, Google launched its own Life and Sciences division at Google X, with the goal of developing and researching specifically for a digitally connected world.
Google’s glucose-sensing smart contact lenses, developed in collaboration with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis
Same year, Google founded Calico (California Life Company) specialised in ageing and age-related diseases. Google co-founder, Larry Page, described Calico as a company focussed on “health, well being and longevity” and in September last year Calico announced a $1.5bn partnership with pharmaceutical company, AbbVie. Partnership aimed at discovery acceleration, development and commercialisation of technologies targeting age-related conditions such as neurodegeneration and dementia.
Andy Conrad is leading the new health unit at Google. Previously the head of life sciences at Google X research division, Andy is recognised as one of the leading minds in molecular biology and nanotech, as Sergey Brin, nicely put it in his latest Google Plus post:
…”a life sciences team with the mission to develop new technologies to make healthcare more proactive. The efforts it has spawned include a nanodiagnostics platform, a cardiac and activity monitor, and the Baseline Study.
It’s a huge undertaking, and I am delighted to announce that the life sciences team is now ready to graduate from our X lab and become a standalone Alphabet company, with Andy Conrad as CEO. While the reporting structure will be different, their goal remains the same. They’ll continue to work with other life sciences companies to move new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing—and, hopefully—transform the way we detect, prevent, and manage disease. The team is relatively new but very diverse including software engineers, oncologists, and optics experts…”
Personal genomics, nanoparticles, human augmentation, cancer research, health and fitness, Google Fit, Google Glass, Telehealth, advanced diagnostics, smart contact lenses for people with diabetes, human brain simulation through its deep learning start-up, “DeepMind” and the list goes on. It is “an alphabet”. Google’s Alphabet.
4. QUALCOMM – Connecting Devices
Billions, maybe trillions of times a day; that’s how often people around the world touch something, changed forever, for better by Qualcomm. It could be the tablet on your table, the wireless modem in your luggage or the smartphone in your pocket. It could bethat action camera strapped to your chest or even the navigation system in your car.
Qualcomm has the largest ecosystem in digital health through connected devices, with more than 500 partners now.
Through the 2net platform, Qualcomm Life captures and delivers medical device data, to integrated portals or databases from nearly any customers’ or technology partners’ wireless medical device, then store it in a specially designed, for security and interoperability, platform. It is a whole new way of connecting smart devices and “liberating” patients’ biometric data so that it becomes ubiquitous across the continuum of care.
In Jan 2015, “Qualcomm Life” was selected by Novartis as a global digital health collaborator for its “Trials of The Future” program. Qualcomm Life’s 2net Platform serves as a global connectivity platform for collecting and aggregating medical data from connected devices, during clinical trials.
5. MICROSOFT – Connected Health
Microsoft’s “Connected Health Platform” is a complex platform of tools, accelerators, solutions, prescriptive architecture, designs and deployment guidance for the digital health partners. Built on “the open”, extensible and agile – principles of “Microsoft Connected Health Framework Architecture and Design Blueprint”.
Microsoft “Connected Health Platform” provides healthcare-specific guidance and tools to help both, emerging digital health organisations configure standard desktop-server infrastructures, digital health ready while providing solution accelerators to digital health consumers, in their “connected health” tasks.
Microsoft Lync is used by specialists at Dallas Neurosurgical & Spine to remotely review high-fidelity images and other health data, in order to better support patients in rural areas without easy access to specialists. Baycrest Hospital in Toronto uses Lync to improve productivity and reduce costs by allowing people to communicate with smart devices, or work at home, more easily.
Microsoft Kinect is another technology with great potential in digital health. During surgery, a doctor could use Kinect to swipe patient records while remaining sterile instead of asking a nurse to click through documents using a mouse for example.
Kinect could also be used in physical therapy or to support children with autism by allowing natural movement without the use of a controller.
6. SAMSUNG – Digital Health Initiative
Samsung has been very active in the wearable tech landscape in general and the fitness tracker market in particular. Samsung Digital Health Initiative is based on open hardware and software platforms that will accelerate the development of advanced sensors, algorithms, data collection and analysis. The technology giant gave emphasis on the effort by launching at the same time, a $50 million investment fund in digital health.
A key component of Samsung’s Digital Health Initiative is the new open platform, tailored to take advantage of the latest smart sensors, behavioural algorithms, battery technologies and intelligent screens.
Samsung has established the “Digital Health Innovation Lab” with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for better validation of new digital health technologies, smart sensors and algorithms.
“Our bodies have always had something to say and now, thanks to advanced sensors, algorithms and software, we’ll finally be able to tune into what the body is telling us,” said Dr. Michael Blum, associate vice chancellor for informatics at UCSF. “Validation of these technologies will improve the quality of data collected and help advance the ability to bring new products to market quickly. UCSF is pleased to play an important role in this effort, to focus increased technology resources, in digital health development.”
More recently, April 2015, Samsung and Partners HealthCare have teamed up to develop, the next generation of personalised digital health solutions. The first phase of this effort is going to include software development and clinical research.
Digital health will aid both, patients and providers, by increasing patient engagement, medication adherence and empowering the individuals to better look after their health and wellness.
7. APPLE – Digital Health Revolution
Apple proved its seriousness about digital health field when it announced the HealthKit platform with iOS 8. ResearchKit is an open source framework, introduced by Apple in 2015, framework that allows researchers and developers connect and create powerful, meaningful apps for medical research.
A range of research and educational organisations, including Oxford University and Stanford Medicine, are participating to fight diabetes, Parkinson, cardio vascular disease, asthma, breast cancer, etc
Paul Sonnier sums up Apple’s entrances in digital health: “They’ve got the size, the influence and they are integrating across consumer digital health to medicine. It is all about ecosystem building and bringing in the right partners.”
As ResearchKit works seamlessly with HealthKit, researchers can access even more relevant data for their studies – blood sugar, heart rate, calories burned, cholesterol, etc. “Your health and fitness apps are great at collecting all that data,” is written on Apple’s website.
8. PHILIPS – Patient Relationship Management
Philips has a leading position in medical technology, clinical applications and clinical informatics. “Philips eCareCoordinator”, “Philips eCareCompanion”, “Philips IntelliVue”, HealthSuite Digital Platform, or Philips My Heart Project ( comprising of 33 industrial, research, academic and medical organisations from 10 different European countries, “MyHeart” consortium was researching the preventative and management aspects of chronic cardiovascular diseases), to mention just a few, are projects Philips designed, to match the pace and needs of the new digital health era.
Philips “Rehabilitation Exerciser” supports patients and therapists in the implementation and execution of a personalised neurological motor exercise plan at home.
These platforms give doctors the power to monitor patients with chronic conditions in their homes and facilitate Philips’ “Hospital to Home” clinical programs.
The MyHeart consortium, comprising 33 industrial, research, academic and medical organisations from 10 different European countries.
Patient relationship management is at the centre of the these platforms, allowing caregivers to collaborate closely in support of their patients. These platform enable medical device and data interoperability, collection of data and subsequent analysis, for enhanced clinical decisions by professionals, while enabling patients to take a more active role in managing their personal health.
9. AMAZON – Digital Health Retailer?
A tenth of the companies in the “Fortune 500” are new entrants to healthcare and digital health, conform to PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) study. From non medical companies like Ford Motors – working on connected sensors, embedded in seats and wheel that can monitor drivers’ health status or alcohol levels – to big retailers such as Walmart, Caremark and Verizon, as a Telehealth provider.
Not only large corporations, but patients too, are eager for changes in healthcare. More than 60 percent of the patients said they prefer, home or online consultations – for minor health services – rather than visiting a GP or a hospital, according to the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) study.
More than one-third consider online or home medical services. Market research shows that patients expect an “Amazon.com” healthcare type of digital platform. An unified platform, a single source for all healthcare informations; health insurance, doctors “on demand” services, prices and availability, the report said.
Say Telehealth or digital health; disposables and supplies are still needed. Amazon is a natural fit for a consumer or a patient rather than trying to work through the traditional, medical technology distributor.
This is not a prediction based on a dream I had last night. Far from it. In August, following in the footsteps of Apple and Google, the e-commerce giant met with FDA officials.
Taking that as a jumping off point, Frost and Sullivan healthcare experts, Reenita Das, senior vice president and Venkat Raja, principal analyst, predicted that Amazon and the Chinese e-commerce corporation, Alibaba, will launch “dedicated services targeting the healthcare sector, serving a range of customers from facilities to individual customers”. Interesting and very logical at the same time, isn’t it?
The world is changing. Established healthcare providers are no longer, de facto suppliers of care. New entrants, ranging from digital health startups to telecommunications companies, retailers, fitness companies, big data, “connected world” businesses, have all joined the digital health revolution.
Will Amazon become the new digital health “retail platform” or…is there a new “Uber” in Digital Health, raising as I write this?