Technology will heal you

Posted by kdow on Dec 27, 2017 11:29:39 AM

Photo by Piron Guillaume on  Unsplash

It’s Christmas time, and we’re nearing the New Year celebrations where we’ll ring in 2018. Everyone will join gyms, diet and try to reach the same level of health & fitness they were at in November. In the near future, though, all of this health stuff will be a lot easier to deal with.

Take, for example, Apple’s ongoing studies into heart defects. They’re using Apple Watch owners as the testbed of people who will willingly submit their heart rate data to Apple’s servers. Apple, in turn, could be able to detect issues much earlier than a doctor would today.

Similar studies are being conducted by all of the tech giants and a plethora of startups (a trend I suspect will accelerate in 2018 as funding catches up to the trend). A quick search on Crunchbase resulted in ~38,000 companies listed in the medical field (when I removed hospitals, etc.).

The near-future is pretty interesting. Instead of my brain making a connection to something in my body gone awry resulting in me consciously deciding to go to my GP (whom I see sparingly, like most adult males I know), an app/service will let me know I should book time with my GP. At my appointment, I’ll simply tap my phone/watch as if I was buying a coffee so she can get the details required for my visit. The idea is to use data accrued over time, benchmarked against all of the other users who submit their data in similar means to decide when someone appears to be ill. The real idea is that we can prevent a lot of illness in people if they get ahead of the problem. But our brains aren’t great at deciding what’s a real problem versus a temporary niggle. Or worse, our GP’s don’t have that much information on what we’re feeling, so they don’t treat us properly.

Realistically this is just using machine learning to analyse vast amounts of data on various cohorts to decide what sickness looks like based on our vital signs. A computer system can do all of that number crunching activity far better than we can as humans. Even more, a computer can describe the problem to a GP better than we can.

The human problem today is simply that we don’t trust companies to do the right thing with that data. Apple & Microsoft’s business models lend themselves nicely to this. In most respects, I trust that their goals with my healthcare data is altruistic. Moreover, I know they’ll probably get to a point where they charge me €5/month to use these health services. It’s an obvious piece of commerce. Whereas Google will be shady, offer the service for free and if I have issues refer my browsing experience to Pfeizer ads everywhere I go. And that’s a shame because Google are best equipped to offer the best service right now!

Nearly $3bn has been spent on healthcare acquisitions and equity purchases from the top tech companies in 2017 alone. So the healthcare revolution is coming. And it could be a huge boon to the economy (especially in the bloated fat-cat health care system in the US). Imagine if everyone visiting a doctor only went when they needed to? And when they visited they were routed directly to the specialist they needed, cutting out the middle man nurse who needs to run the same arbitrary diagnostics on every patient. Queues gone, cost could lower and patients might survive for longer because errors were reduced.

What’s funny is that just two years ago I was working with someone in the US who wanted to found a medical tech company that simply referred people from their primary care centre (GP) to specialists, and track those interactions. We struggled to get the funding needed. But this year he’s managed to raise a bunch of cash to prototype the system. The revolution isn’t en route, it’s here — we just need to catch up to it.