Tech and Innovation

This article is part of our collection on Tech and Innovation

What’s next in health tech?

Four innovators in the field share their visions for a tech-enabled, healthier future.

Last updated: 27 Nov 2020 7 min read

Share This

© Getty Images

On the cusp of greatness with wearable technology

Jacob Skinner is CEO of Thrive Wearables, a design and development consultancy that employs cutting-edge tech to solve health and wellness problems.

“We’ve been through a lot of false starts, hype and disillusionment in wearables, but I think we’re now on the cusp of greatness. We’re entering a very interesting period in which several key things are coming together. Sensor technologies are now better developed than they were a few years ago, and things are progressing rapidly; meanwhile, data processing is coming into its own with machine learning now able to target specific health issues. Five years ago, the big players were creating technologies that were all-singing and all-dancing, but we’re approaching an era of much more niche, wearable solutions – it’s less about creating gadgets and more about actually solving problems.

“We’re also starting to put the data we can collect from wearables to better use. Rather than measuring movement with an accelerometer and seeing how many steps people have taken, we’re going further and taking data to look at someone’s walking quality – maybe looking at how a change in their gait means they are about to suffer a fall. I think we’ll increasingly be able to predict things, and that’s going to have a huge effect on people’s lives.

“The big challenge for the medical profession is that the information people will be able to gather will soon be better in some cases than that which can be provided during a seven-minute consultation in a GP’s surgery. We need to embrace this because there is an abundance of opportunity in self-care and the care of others that we can use to create a data-driven step change. For the NHS, it all adds up to reform as we move towards more informed patients and predictive and preventative healthcare, stopping people from ending up in a hospital environment in the first place.”

The need for systems that will talk to each other

Dr Anas Nader is co-founder and CEO of Patchwork.Health, a digital company built by doctors in partnership and used within the NHS to connect with flexible workers.

“The challenge for many innovators coming into the healthcare space in the UK is trying to build digital products that are interoperable with incumbent systems. It’s important that all systems reflect the same, single set of data, which will mean consistency across healthcare and reduce errors. It will also help end the enormous admin burden on our healthcare system.

“Interoperability is being taken very seriously – the ideas from within the NHS that are coming from managers and doctors are being designed to ensure they speak to other systems. There’s also a top-down approach, where Matt Hancock and the Department of Health insist on interoperability as a key requirement for procurement teams when looking at new tech. It’s a topic at every medtech conference right now, and I think the next few years will see some critical developments.

“For patients, it will mean they can move from one healthcare provider to another with their data being accessible across multiple systems, leading to optimal care. For healthcare professionals, it will mean they’ll be able to move around different hospitals and clinics more seamlessly and without having to spend weeks going through repeated compliance checks. The latter is a dream for many people who work in healthcare. Moving between the admin systems of different hospitals is one of the biggest challenges for many healthcare professionals, who currently have to carry a briefcase full of documents from one employer to another.

“It’s important that all systems reflect the same, single set of data, which will mean consistency across healthcare. It will also help to end the enormous admin burden on our healthcare system”Dr Anas Nader, co-founder and CEO, Patchwork.Health

“The interoperability of HR systems will support passporting of clinicians and better facilitate flexible working across healthcare organisations, which is something workers have increasingly been required to do over the past decade. Tech systems that speak to each other will dramatically improve patient care and the day-to-day-lives of health workers – and it will also enhance our efforts to recruit and retain them.”

AI will pave the way for personalised treatment

Dr Mark Ratnarajah is UK MD of C2-Ai, which provides artificial-intelligence-based software to medical professionals to help them understand each patient’s individual risk as they undergo treatment and reduce avoidable harm.

“When we look at things using conventional methods, a 90-year-old woman with diabetes who is about to have an operation has a higher risk of harm than a much younger person – but what if the older patient looks after herself, sees a doctor regularly and takes her meds, while the younger person doesn’t do any of these things? When we drill down into the data, we can identify risk on a specific patient, based on their unique physiology, and tailor treatment accordingly. Artificial intelligence can help us understand and make the most of this data, and in medicine, it will have a big role to play in optimising patient care and reducing costs.

“I am a practising clinician, and when I trained it was all about standing on the shoulders of giants – being taught by master clinicians and spending time in hospital and reading multiple case histories and research papers. Essentially, though, that is something of a ‘one size fits all’ approach. What has happened recently is that tech has allowed us to reframe this and see each patient as an individual; it can show how different people with the same condition may respond very differently to the same medication under different circumstances. At present, we very rarely take these factors into account, but in the coming years we will start to do so more and more. Our understanding of genomics and epigenetics – how our environment and other factors impact on our genes and the expression of those genes in terms of disease – will also improve, and we will employ AI to include these determinants to create better outcomes for patients.

“The point we are at right now is that we’ve ‘opened the box’ on this new tech – the next step is to understand and predict individual risk to tailor treatment, and once we’ve done that, the third step is to one day stop people getting diseases in the first place through prevention.”

5G and telemedicine are changing the landscape

Dr Floyd Pierres is chief medical officer and co-founder of The Moment, whose award-winning first tech-enabled device helps people with Parkinson’s disease.

“Telemedicine – being able to diagnose and treat patients remotely using telecommunications technology – is still in its early stages, but there are lots of areas in which it presents exciting possibilities. A decade ago, the main driver for telemedicine was trying to enable a timely intervention for members of rural communities who didn’t have easy access to healthcare. But there were problems with connectivity, and the technology doesn’t always work as it is meant to. 5G will change that – although rural areas are probably still going to be under-provided in terms of coverage – and it will increasingly enable people to receive care and communicate with healthcare experts from their own home.

“Take GP appointments. If you can get a diagnosis easier and earlier through telemedicine or even augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR), it can make the patient journey much more enjoyable, accessible and efficient, and I know lots of people think telemedicine will take the burden out of healthcare visits. A GP will often make one or two home visits a day, possibly taking an hour or so for each: with better communication, the time taken to ‘see’ people at home could be greatly reduced.

“Faster network connections will also greatly improve the flow of patient data between hospitals. I’m currently working at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, which is where patients are often sent for specialist opinions and care, and the quality of data we receive is obviously really important. Improvements in technology will mean that things like image files – which can be huge – will be able to arrive much quicker, which is vital in time-critical situations.”

Share This

Tech and Innovation, Healthcare