⇒ Read another medical student’s perspective on the same event here.
Technology, and the innovation that drives it, will be the future of healthcare. As the world sees an exponential growth in transformative ideas in this field, there is hope that we will see marked improvements in patient outcomes. We can now collect more data than ever about patients and health systems, allowing us to better personalise care and find ways that technology can aid this.
It’s no secret that I find the field fascinating, with many previous posts discussing it, and I went along to the 2017 MedTech Conference to delve deeper. Organised by UCL’s Medical Society, there were workshops and talks by industry experts to give us a comprehensive insight.
Innovation and the NHS
The first talk of the day was by Harry Thirkettle, a medical advisor at my mhealth. Although he went to medical school and is an A&E registrar, he does this part time as he is part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme. This was quite interesting to me, having not heard of such bridges between clinical practice and entrepreneurship before. It’s great that the option exists and, as he says, they provide a wide range of support systems like mentoring, training, flexible job planning and maintaining a network of like-minded people.
The take-home message of the talk was clear: he stresses that the NHS needs innovative companies that are willing to tackle issues through technology. My mhealth hopes to provide ‘integrated long term condition management’, specifically for conditions like asthma, COPD and diabetes. These have a high prevalence within the country, and the strain on primary care can be reduced via self-management. This is aided by a system which can track patient data, improve the way they adhere to treatment, and allow remote access by specialists.
A better Dr. Google
With a growing population in developed countries and a severe lack of medical professionals in developing ones, it’s clear that we need solutions to address accessibility. With 40% of the world having access to the internet (and therefore unimaginable amounts of knowledge), it’s no surprise that there has been a surge in searching Google for medical information. Of course, there are many reputable sources of information, but search results prioritise sites with most traffic. This is very far from personalised medicine.
Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of Your.MD, hopes to channel these users towards his company’s chatbot. It is accessible through the web/apps and allows you to speak to an AI assistant. Once you talk about the symptoms you are experiencing, it will draw upon information from trusted sources (like NHS Choices) and guide you towards the next steps. It is a convenient, innovative solution that has the potential to positively impact anyone with an internet connection.
There are also innovations less drastic than a full-fledged AI assistant. For example, Telemedicine allows patients to see their GP over the internet, like video calling. This will allow appointments to be more efficient (so doctors spend more time speaking to the patient) and happen at more convenient times for the patient. They therefore don’t have to fit this into busy schedules, which is seen as a major obstacle at the moment for primary care reaching the working population.
The talk by Barry Shrier, Founder of the GiantHealthEvent, emphasised the importance of creating partnerships in the Health Tech Industry and working together to create better solutions. As the saying goes, “You can have everything that you want, if only you help others achieve what they want”. He is the CEO of HTI Labs, which aims to incubate startups and innovation. Similarly, the GiantHealthEvent aims to connect like-minded people and showcase developments in the industry. I attended last year and hope to once again this year as a Junior Ambassador. Do let me know if you want to get involved!
Overall, the different speakers and workshops at the conference showed that the industry is brimming with ideas. It needs more people who are ‘disruptive’ and find new avenues for growth. There is no dominant company in the field, yet, and it is the smaller companies that really drive innovation. This great post about a recent conference in Orlando shows that it is very much an international effort, and that the enthusiasm is shared by everyone. Organisations such as Doctorpreneurs and MedTech Engine are facilitators which can help you get involved right now.
The next talk addressed the ways computer systems can directly improve patient outcomes. It was given by Thomas Balkizas, executive lead at IBM Watson Healthcare, who I had the opportunity to listen to at a previous conference. This time round, the talk was more orientated towards the end-result of Watson, rather than its intricacies. IBM, being a data company, sees many current obstacles in healthcare as a ‘data problem’. It’s efforts are towards large-scale analysis of data: analysing genomics, drugs and using troves of data in the past to put the current patient into context.
Watson for Oncology, a flagship product, aims to summarise unstructured data in hospitals / research papers to figure out the best option for a patient. A confidence % is allocated to treatments and specialists can use this as a trusted second opinion. The overall theme here is to supplement doctors and perform tasks which they cannot do, either due to lack of time or ‘computing power’. When Watson sees a patient, it can analyse various data points and account for them in the final score, whereas a doctor may overlook these factors and give treatment they’re most accustomed to. It also provides novel ways to connect with the patient through emotional analysis. For example, in GP waiting rooms, you can screen to judge how a patient feels (e.g. anxious) to address their concerns, as this may not always get across to the doctor.
I think the prediction that medicine will become a data analytics industry is justified. All the data we purposely and passively collect from individuals can be used to improve patient outcomes. There are useful insights to be found from patient portals (self-tracking), biosensors placed on the body, and even social media. Data on drug efficacy can now be sourced from simulations of the human body, which are better than ever before and may be revolutionised with the advent of quantum computers. The biggest challenge however, is restructuring our healthcare system to adopt these changes smoothly.
The last talk, after an informative panel on how to get involved with health tech, was given by Dr Jack Kreindler, who graduated from UCL medical school and is the founder of Sentrian. The company aims to use remote patient intelligence to detect deterioration much earlier, through the power of biosensors and machine learning. A charismatic speaker, he focused on how medical technology is evolving and how we can leverage its power. A lot of the technology exists already, he says, and is already being used in top athletes to monitor their physiology – but this needs to trickle down to the average person. It was an eye-opening event overall. Networking with, and hearing from, experts helped to further immerse myself in a field I may someday be involved in.
Feel free to comment / get in contact if you have any thoughts or ideas about health tech!