The past decade has seen innovation and disruption spread across sectors as diverse as banking, tourism and retail, with long established players overtaken by plucky young upstarts doing things a different way. Alongside these startup businesses has been the corporate behemoths, growing, learning and innovating through acquisition as well as in-house development. Each of their industries will never be the same again.

Many analysts tip healthcare as the next major bastion set for disruption and change, with Jeff Elton, Ph.D., of Accenture recently stating:

‘We are facing seismic shifts in the fundamental forces driving the healthcare industry. Socio-economic changes, scientific breakthroughs and digital and technological advances are converging to create a catalytic moment of change. The healthcare industry is being disrupted—new business models and strategies are emerging and companies are stepping up to take their place in the new landscape.’

While there is a multitude of incredible developments in nanotechnology, holographic diagnosis tools, robotics and more, this article looks at those that have a chance to bring both positive change to patients, as well as reducing costs to healthcare systems.

Digitisation

The road to digitisation has been a long one. Back in 2013, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt announced plans to have a paperless NHS by 2018. That deadline has now been pushed back to 2020 and another £4bn has been allocated to address slower than expected progress.

Though cumbersome and costly, digitising patient information has enormous benefit. Imagine a road traffic accident victim, met by an ambulance, with the paramedics on board having already read his history on a tablet en route. Immediate digital access to reliable information will save time, money and ultimately lives.

Remote Monitoring and Devices

What started as a basic feature on mobile phones and step counting wrist bands has now become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Wearable devices are here to stay and are no longer simply a vanity metric tracker. Devices such as those created by Apple, Fitbit and Jawbone offer tracking of not just steps, but blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, temperature and more. With platforms such as Apple’s HealthKit and now CareKit, we are beginning to see huge potential for ongoing remote monitoring of patients’ conditions.

In his recent update on a ‘Paperless NHS’, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt stated that patients with conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cancer will be encouraged to monitor their health from home. Mr Hunt said that by 2020 a quarter of people with long-term conditions will be able to send their health data to doctors and nurses over the internet. Imagine the cost saving implications for a GP surgery when you are able to assess a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate remotely, eliminating the need for a consultation. Not only does this provide better convenience for the patient, it gives a far more reliable ongoing picture of health.

Data Intelligence

This heading is as deep as it is wide, and the possibilities of better understanding data, both qualitative and quantitative, are enormous. There are impacts for patient care, drug research, diagnosis and more. For physicians, access to collated patient data can help create an evidence-based approach to medicine rather than ‘cookbook’ treatment. For pharmaceutical companies, the ability to develop more effective drugs through predictive modelling of biological process, or to monitor trials in real-time, will create an opportunity to save costs and lives.

The organisation I represent provides data intelligence on healthcare professionals’ online conversations, and we have seen first-hand the benefit of collecting and analysing datasets in the launch and adoption of new treatments.

As technological developments around machine learning and neural networks continue to evolve, understanding of the data that is collected will continue to grow in speed as well as depth. We have barely scratched the surface of what ‘big data’ can offer.

The innovation is there, the access to healthcare systems is not (yet).

At the beginning of this article, I mention industries that have already seen disruption and change. One of the key differences between those mentioned and the healthcare industry, is that to achieve success, new innovations from startups need to enable change, not disrupt it. Access to healthcare professionals, NHS buyers and approval regulators mean that the time from inception to adoption in health can be heavily protracted.

Initiatives such as DigitalHealth.London, a collaboration between MedCity and London’s three Academic Health Science Networks and NICE’s Medical Technologies Evaluation Programme will, in theory, connect the dots between innovators and buyers, which should in turn make it easier to bring devices, diagnostics, services and software to the market.

‘Patients are now demanding from the NHS the convenience and connectivity they have in the rest of their life. It is exciting to see NHS organisations embracing digital technologies that are giving patients improved care and experience of services, whilst improving efficiency of services’ says Anna King, Commercial Director at DigitalHealth.London.

However, changing slow moving systems, including the NHS, will be a significant challenge and one that will take time before benefits are seen.

Editors Note: This post originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of PME Magazine, which can be read at this link.