The Exponential Medicine Conference in San Diego last week provided a forward looking view on what health care will be like in the future, along with quickly evolving news on medical technology advances.
The conference, which featured insights from practicing physicians, leading edge medical researchers, biotech & health tech executives (including Craig Venter, Peter Diamandis, Robert Hariri, Vinod Khosla, Ariel Garten, and Jeremy Levin) highlighted several emerging themes in this brave new world of health care:
Theme 1: The Doctor’s Office Moves to Your Smartphone and Smart Home Devices
A robust ecosystem of mobile applications, personal health sensors, and consumer-ready diagnostic “lab in a box” products for the home are beginning to mature, and will move into the consumer marketplace over the next few years.
Scanadu Scout and Flow Health Hub are two examples of personal diagnostic solutions that can track a wide range of health biomarkers, including blood glucose and cholesterol levels, hydration and electrolyte balance, body temperature, respiration rate, and stress level.
Theme Implications: Health care knowledge and power will shift decisively to the educated consumer. Several layers of health care delivery services could experience abrupt obsolescence, especially through disruption to diagnostic laboratory companies such as LabCorp (NYSE: LH).
Theme 2: Smart Software Augments (Replaces?) Many Physicians & Nurses
Smart software, also known as artificial intelligence or machine learning, holds the promise of managing overwhelming amounts of clinical data that can also provide targeted, actionable insights to improve a consumer’s health outlook.
IBM recently announced a partnership with genetics company Pathway Genomics to create a Watson-powered app to provide personalized health information based on a patient’s genetic profile, data collected from personal health trackers, medical literature, and current research information. Called Pathway Panorama, the smartphone app will make it possible for individuals to ask questions in everyday language and get answers that reflect their respective health and genomic profile.
Theme Implications: Many physicians may become health coaches and advisors – where “bedside manner”, social skills and emotional connection are paramount over rote clinical knowledge. Medical office REITS and other health care real estate plays could be based on linear, faulty assumptions as “routine” office visits become more of a novelty.
Theme 3: Your DNA Data Becomes Standard in Personal Medical Records
As recently as 2007, it cost over $1 Million to sequence the entire human genome. In 2014 that cost has dropped to around $5,000. Within the next five years, sequencing a person’s entire genome could cost about the same as a day at Disneyland ($150-$200 with ticket, lunch, and a small toy).
Theme Implications: A complete personal genome record could allow for more accurate disease risk and prevention strategies, personalized medications (custom produced for every individual), optimal performance and longevity strategies, and much more. A long list of legal, ethical, privacy, and DNA data security issues will need to be addressed.
Theme 4: New Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s method of responding to changes in its environment (also known as learning!) A growing number of mobile apps and consumer neuro devices target the brain’s ability to grow new connections:
InteraXon Muse, Neurosky, and NeuroVigil provide neural activity recording (EEG) devices for neurofeedback and sleep analysis, while Ginger.io and PTSD Coach (Veterans Administration) are examples of targeted brain health mobile apps.
Theme Implications: If (and this is a *big* if) these new methods are clinically proven to offer positive outcomes, there could be a number of beneficial effects on an individual and societal level – falling rates of depression, reduced prescription and illegal drug use/abuse, better quality of life, better productivity.
Theme 5: BioPrinting for Replacement Body Parts Will Become (Almost) Routine
The first functional bioprinted synthetic thyroid to be implanted in a human being will be possible in the next few years, according to 3D Bioprinting Solutions, based in Russia. With bioprinters capable of using different kinds of “bio-inks” (cell-based hydrogels and tissue spheroids-based hydrogels) several medical 3D printing firms are moving quickly towards producing fully functional complex organs.
Theme Implications: Fully functional bioprinted internal organs could markedly extend the human lifespan, along with quality of life. A host of ethical, legal, and government regulatory issues will be present and unavoidable. There could be a new divide between the “haves” (people able to afford new bioprinted organs) and people unable to afford the newest synthetic organs.