How smart tech is injecting new life into healthcare
Startups are taking the strain off the NHS and other healthcare providers by implementing efficiencies across the healthcare system with the help of smart technology and rich data.
Giving consumers control back over their health is the mission of a new wave of startups, who are using smart technology to disrupt the healthcare industry and drive better health.
While helping consumers is the central goal, the disruptors are also working to free up time for doctors and implement efficiencies across the healthcare system.
A notable example is New York-based AdhereTech, one of the healthcare brands chosen as one of Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands 2017. Founded in 2011, AdhereTech partners with large pharmaceutical companies who sponsor programmes for patients, usually those suffering from cancer, to receive their medicine in a smart bottle.
While it looks just like a normal medicine bottle, the AdhereTech bottle contains a number of sensors which feed data into the company’s system 24-hours a day. By comparing the patient’s actual behaviour to their prescribed dosage, AdhereTech programmes the bottle to flash, play a song or send automated phone calls or texts if the sensors detect that the patient has made a mistake with their medication.
As well as helping the patient stay healthy, the smart bottles ensure users take their prescribed medication and therefore do not put additional strain to the healthcare system by their condition getting worse.
“Adherence is literally one of the biggest problems in healthcare, arguably the biggest, and in the US $300bn in increased costs are attributed to patients not taking their medication as prescribed,” explains Josh Stein, CEO and co-founder of AdhereTech.
The idea is to take things out of a doctor’s workload that could be done better by machine
Richard Guest, Babylon Health
Stein believes this kind of smart tech has a huge potential to change lives in the healthcare space, especially if patients consider the level of analysis that goes into every other aspect of their lives.
“If you drive a new car there are all these sensors making sure everything operates correctly. There is nothing like that for the human body, but there should be because it’s a lot more important,” he argues.
“It is also important that the product evolves to meet the needs of your users. If you look across different sectors beyond healthcare, the reason why new companies can capture a large percentage of the market is because they know what users want. And if you want to build a tool patients will actually use you have to fit into their life.”
This opinion is shared by Richard Guest, CMO of fellow healthcare disruptor Babylon Health, who argues that as society faces an ageing population with chronic health conditions, we need need to get significantly better at preventing health issues.
Aiming to connect patients to doctors in a fast and seamless way, Babylon offers a variety of services including a health advice chatbot, GP video chat function, prescription delivery service and health tracker.
Over the past year the company has beefed up its data science and engineering team in order to tap into the opportunities of artificial intelligence. Guest believes Babylon’s on-demand services will save doctors time and thereby free them up to have more in-depth conversations with patients.
“The idea is to take things out of a doctor’s workload that could be done better by machine, thereby allowing them to talk to their patients and spend time in that interaction,” Guest explains.
“Once you get into the predictive space you can help people stay fitter for longer, so it’s really disruptive innovation waiting to happen.”
Treating data with respect
In the wake of the recent malware attack on NHS operating systems in England and Scotland, which saw operations cancelled and services come to a standstill, it is clearer than ever that healthcare data is precious and should be treated with respect.
This is the philosophy at Thriva, which is founded on the principle that customers own their own data and therefore any personal information must be stored with a high degree of integrity.
Thriva aims to simplify the blood test process by sending patients a finger-prick blood test kit they can use at home. The blood sample is then analysed by one of Thriva’s NHS certified labs and the results reviewed by a qualified GP, who creates a bespoke report for the patient.
If you drive a new car there are all these sensors making sure everything operates correctly. There is nothing like that for the human body.
Josh Stein, AdhereTech
The context and insight into data offered by the doctors is another crucial element of the way Thriva approaches data, explains co-founder and CEO Hamish Grierson.
“The big thing when we think about data is that in isolation it’s pretty meaningless. It needs to have an intuitive context, so its about how you use it to enrich an experience for a consumer. We’ve only just started down that path, but ultimately we want to use our data to provide insightful analytics to help users meaningfully connect their day-to-day actions with their results,” he adds.
German startup Xbird has a similar interest in using data insights to improve long-term patient health. Founded in 2015 by an inter-disciplinary team of mobile data experts and doctors, Xbird is hoping to save one million lives by 2020 using data captured via smartphones to monitor behaviour on a day-to-day basis.
Once the Xbird algorithm is installed on a phone it plugs into motion sensors so precise they can detect whether the user is walking, cycling or running. Known as continuous activity monitoring (CAM), Xbird enables the user to build an automatic passive activity diary using their monitor sensor data. This data becomes even more precise when applied to wearable tech.
The automatic collection of activity data is, for example, helping diabetics adjust their insulin dosage and then use the data to have more relevant conversations with their doctor.
“Early detection is the key to saving lives,” explains Xbird chief medical officer Jonas Harder. “In many cases when you go to the doctor it’s already too late. So the idea is to correlate the data of huge cohorts of people and use machine learning to detect specific behaviour patterns that lead to specific health events.”
Concentrate on the reality, not the hype
Using artificial intelligence to analyse vast amounts of scientific data is helping speed up the pace of scientific discovery.
London-based Benevolent AI uses deep learning linguistic models and algorithms to analyse huge volumes of unstructured and structured data from textbooks, scientific literature and clinical trial information. The AI system translates what it has learnt into unique hypotheses, which are then tested by scientists.
Since it was founded in 2013, Benevolent AI’s system has already validated 22 hypotheses which are being applied to the development of drugs for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
Benevolent AI vice-president of corporate affairs, James Chandler, believes that the next five years will see more transformation in healthcare than the previous 50.
“Much of that transformation will come from technology that will be AI driven – everything from dramatically faster drug development, democratised healthcare, monitoring, diagnosis, advice and personalised medicine, to more sophisticated mobile health, remote clinical consultation and better, closer and more effective patient and machine interaction,” he explains.
However, despite the potential for AI and other emerging technologies, Chandler believes healthcare disruptors must avoid the hype and concentrate on accurately communicating what they are doing in order not to let patients down.
“In healthcare you are dealing with people, and in our case patients, who are waiting for drugs to be discovered for their particular condition, so we have a responsibility not to over promise,” says Chandler.
“Equally, we have to make sure we create awareness that we are pushing boundaries of what is technologically and scientifically possible so that patients have hope and know there is ambition to find a cure.”
By combining rich data and insight with artificial intelligence, these disruptors are not only improving the lives of patients, but saving time for strained healthcare providers like the NHS so they can focus on driving better health.