Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Technological disruption in health

Salvador Casado

We all talk about the technological revolution being witness about how it is transforming our environment. First there were the travel agencies, then the taxis, later the tourist apartments rental, o online shopping, online education...

However, one question remains to be answered: how will health disruption affect health systems and their professionals and users?

From my point of view we can know something: the change will be progressive and will come from the successive implementation of technologies that provide advances in different aspects of clinical practice, management and organization of resources. We also know that health systems are huge organisations with high inertia and that health professionals tend to have a conservative profile when it comes to incorporating new technologies. Before we adopt them we need to have scientific evidence that is both useful and beneficial to the patient and society. The problem is that scientific evidence is costly and very slow. The average time for a new molecule to become an accepted drug is about ten years, which is unreasonable for products and services in the digital sphere.

Perhaps it can be said that the disruption of healthcare technology began a few decades ago with the introduction of electronic medical record systems that allowed health services to begin to be digitised. The growing volumes of data favoured the creation of information and management systems with which to get to know what was being done and establish roadmaps towards the organisation's objectives.

At present, there is a lot of recorded information that is not yielded and a lot of free text that remains qualitative and unusable. What will happen when there are semantic algorithms that can quantify both the information written in history and the information spoken in consultation?

Another advance front will come from the 5G mobile telephony technology that will generalize immersive virtual reality scenarios that will allow health professionals and patients to interact remotely in high quality teleconsultations. It will also be possible to interact with bots or artificial avatars that will allow increasingly purified degrees of conversation.

The advances in wereables will also allow an increasing number of variables to be recorded: temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, arterial oxygen saturation, physical activity, sleep... which, when added to the facial analyses, can make inferences in emotional states, quantification of pain and functional impotence and many other possibilities.

With this amount of information it will be necessary to create personal artificial intelligence units to guard, analyse and manage all the biometric data that each individual produces, connected in turn to those of their responsible health professionals who will look after them. Just as the progressive introduction of autonomous cars will completely modify mobility as we now know it, the implementation of personal health assistants will do the same with the provision of health services.

The revolution will be led by the citizens themselves by having better technological services that will progressively generate more biometric information. They will know how they sleep, how they move and how they should move, they will know their degrees of cardiovascular risk, they will detect early arrhythmias, hypertensions and diabetes, they will have alerts of possible incipient pathology... all of which will produce a foreseeable exponential increase in the need for health services to check or act on the data presented. Against all odds it will not be the chronically and complex patients who end up dismantling the current health systems, it will be the healthy citizens eager to enjoy better health.

The hypothesis presented here attempts to help generate a global reflection in health professionals and at the social level. Given that it is the advances and proposals of the market, led by the increasingly powerful technological companies, that seem to be taking the initiative to develop knowledge societies, what role should professionals play with technical knowledge?, what courses of action would produce more social benefit?, will they coincide with those that produce more personal benefit?

It would seem clever for health professionals to play an active role in the design and development of the new tools and the new digital architectures that will be built. The conversation with computer engineers, developers and designers should include healthcare professionals, patients and managers. In order to be able to create social value, it is intelligent for us to add to the strength of the market itself a plus of collective intelligence based on the best possible scientific evidence and on values such as justice and social solidarity. It is true that everything in health is going to change, but it is also possible to work together so that this change would be oriented towards an scenario that benefits us most as a society.

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