Could data-driven health tech save lives and cut waiting times?
With an aging population comes a rising pressure on healthcare services to provide urgent care to a large community of vulnerable people. It’s a situation that can lead to ever expanding waiting lists and patients being treated for emergency care later than necessary.
Healthcare IT expert and entrepreneur Harry Glorikian argues that if people listened more and tracked what was going on inside their own bodies, it would lessen the pressure on healthcare providers.
In Glorikian’s new book The Future of You he makes the case for patient self-management using digital technology which can be used to provide preventative healthcare to reduce wait times and detect illnesses before they become too serious.
The healthcare expert adds that it also gives people more agency over their own bodies.
Currently, Glorikian serves as a general partner at Scientia Venture, a VC firm focused on levelling up companies that have the potential to transform healthcare.
He also holds a couple of board positions: at StageZero Life Sciences, a publicly traded healthcare and technology business dedicated to the early detection of cancer and other diseases; and at DrumRoll Health, which develops AI technologies to foster closer partnerships between patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare companies.
He claims that he wrote The Future You to encourage patients’ trust in AI and to demonstrate how AI is contributing to the digital transformation of healthcare.
“Data-driven healthcare tech is here and it has the power to save lives if people know how to leverage it,” he writes.
“AI and big data are preventing disease, finding new treatments, tailor-fitting drugs to treat individuals, helping people live longer, warding off global outbreaks and teaching us all how to stress less, get leaner and be healthier and happier. And we’re only at the beginning,” he enthuses.
Glorikian tells TechInformed that his own personal experience of using health tracking tech began when his Apple Watch detected that he had sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that disrupts your breathing rhythm.
Although it was something he had already been diagnosed with, it forced him to realise how many people could be made aware that they had the same issue if they trusted AI.
Big Tech in Healthcare
Several of the world’s top tech giants are now involved in the monitoring and forecasting of patients’ future health including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon.
“Today, every major tech company worth its digital salt is trying to find a way to grow its data and get or expand into the healthcare space,” Glorikian writes.
“Healthcare spending currently accounts for 17.7% of the US’s Gross Domestic Product, and these tech companies all want a piece of the pie.”
He explains that in 2014, Apple launched its AI-driven Health app, which now comes preinstalled on all iPhones. The app links to the Apple Watch, which can provide various services such as take an ECG, alert doctors if you fall, tell you when you’re most fertile, read your blood oxygen levels and donate all your personal data to science (with permission).
Also, Amazon has quietly been working on an app that could sell you medical services like doctor’s appointments, virtual telehealth visits, and pharmaceuticals as easily as it sells you books and other products on its existing website.
The retail giant has also recently launched its Amazon Halo health band, a screenless health and fitness tracker.
Microsoft meanwhile launched “AI for Health,” two years ago – a $40-million programme to help hospitals and healthcare providers improve patient care using AI and big data.
Currently, Microsoft already has 169,000 contracts with different healthcare organisations globally.
But how does Glorikian persuade readers to trust these tech giants? His answer reveals something of a blind faith in Big Tech that doesn’t consider the data leaks, the fines and the evidence presented by whistle-blowers such as Cambridge Analytica’s Christopher Wylie and Facebook’s France Haugen have attested to.
He says: “If people are using Facebook, they are already giving away a ton of data and don’t think about the implications.”
“People already trust Facebook to keep their information private. With big companies, such as Apple their whole mantra is ‘privacy, privacy, privacy,’ which should be trusted.”
He adds also that there is some regulation protecting citizen’s health data. By delving into healthcare in the US, companies need to prove that their medical devices are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so that they are safe for use, which should provide users with some extra reassurance.
The savings of preventative healthcare
If patients can see past the potential data issues, there’s no doubt that AI-driven healthcare devices such as smart watches and implants that measure blood glucose levels can provide dashboards so that users can manage their own health more effectively.
“When I go to my doctor and hold up a chart of the last six months of my data, he doesn’t have to guess how I’m doing. He can just look at the squiggly line and see if anything looks incorrect, and then can intervene in that moment,” Glorikian explains.
By keeping track of your own health through health tech AI, “you could almost stave off certain diseases because you’d see them coming before they become full-blown problem,” he claims.
This, in turn, reduces wait times in A&E as people have been given the power and knowledge to manage the issue before it becomes an emergency situation. Glorikian argues that this not only saves time but also money, especially for the NHS in the UK.
According to Glorikian, there are other ways in which AI benefits the healthcare industry financially.
One example is in clinical testing: 90% of all drugs currently fail in clinical tests before hitting the market and AI saves time and money in clinical testing by allowing pharmaceutical companies to develop statistical models that can determine “whether a drug will work before the treatment goes to trial,” he claims.
Smartphone medicine and electronic health records are also making it much easier for drug manufacturers to not only find the right patients, but also receive continuous, accurate and reliable feedback which short-term trials do not commonly provide.
For the future, Glorikian is most excited about seeing these AI-driven products becoming more available, as his book The Future You suggests.
“I see these technologies every year and they do more for the same price or less. So, I see a large deflationary effect on these high-quality products becoming available to the average person.”
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