Wearables for disease detection, smarter digital infrastructure and more connected devices are among the technologies members of Protocol's Braintrust are anticipating.
Chief Digital Officer at GE Healthcare
Virus surges and the global socioeconomic and political implications of COVID-19 permeate nearly every conversation in the health care industry today. Despite telemedicine now being accepted as an essential service, overall sentiment around the future of the health care industry remains uncertain — in part due to questions around the current financial viability of health systems. This isn't just about telemedicine. This isn't just about digital transformation. We need to create something new to drive the future of health.
Building the intelligence-based health system requires a complete modernization of current infrastructure to enable virtual hospitals, greater access to care and lower costs of care delivery. With this new connected enterprise, operations within a health system – whether processing imaging results or managing lab tests — can be collocated with population cohorts. To ensure providers and patients can receive the most value from data, data repositories will need to move out of the provider boundaries and into the "public domain." The public domain can be thought of as secure and compliant data vaults – where health systems, imaging centers and outpatient clinics escrow patient data. Patients would hold the key or access token to their individual data, giving them greater control and flexibility to move between providers of their choice.
This requires increased support from technology solutions, the full power of which have yet to be used across the health care spectrum. Artificial intelligence, analytics, cloud and connectivity are becoming more central than ever to capturing, storing and analyzing the vast amounts of data to deliver better patient care.
VP, Research at Fitbit
There is a significant acceleration of the potential for wearables when it comes to early disease detection. Not only do wearables enable scientists on the forefront of COVID-19 research to reach more people and gather more data quickly, they also track key health indicators like resting heart rate and heart rate variability, which could be important in identifying COVID-19 before individuals show symptoms.
At Fitbit, we've launched a COVID-19 study seeking to build an algorithm to detect COVID-19 before symptoms start, and we're on track to hit 100,000 participants within just two months of launch. We've seen signals such as subtle changes in breathing rate or heart rate variability one to two days before symptoms are reported by the user. These indicators may help provide earlier insight into changes in someone's health. This is important because the CDC recently estimated that 40% of coronavirus transmission is occurring before the onset of symptoms.
It's also been encouraging to see tech companies focus their talent and resources on innovations outside of their traditional business. At Fitbit, we developed a high-quality, low-cost, easy-to-use emergency ventilator, Fitbit Flow, which has obtained Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for use during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Other companies have launched similar initiatives, and I hope we see more companies continue to focus their support like this as we continue the fight against COVID-19.
EVP and Chief Digital & Technology Officer at Novant Health
To understand who will be the winners in both the conventional and experimental post-pandemic landscapes, it's important to understand the current fragmentation of health tech solutions and the reasons why it's been difficult for new entrants to gain traction in the space. Consumer wallet share typically fizzles out when the next shiny app launches. Employers are inundated by point-specific solutions that can't be proven to have a significant impact on health care costs. And health systems — and smaller physician practices — have historically lacked the ability to plug and play solution sets that are not part of their EHR vendor roadmap. Winning in this landscape is usually a short-lived experience for health tech companies. Funders have difficulty making money in health care, and so health tech advancement stagnates.
For things to be different this time, we need more than a flurry of investment into new solutions. We must strengthen the ecosystem, and health systems have a critical role to play. This crisis may be the catalyst, as health systems recognize the need to adopt the philosophy we at Novant Health embraced before COVID-19 hit: Your ability to thrive in many possible futures is always dependent upon the sophistication of your technical capability, the diversity of your partner network, and your general appetite for change.
For the few health systems that had no issues supporting thousands of physicians conducting virtual visits, producing advanced real-time views of COVID-19 responses and co-creating everything from physical supplies to cognitive computing solutions, the advantage was in their modern approach to technology, data and creation. That allowed them to flex as circumstances changed around them without a massive outlay of cash. Less prepared systems took notice.
If, as a result of this crisis, more health care systems start optimizing for flexibility, scalability and innovation, and open themselves up to unconventional partnerships with inventors, researchers and startups, then health care will remain interesting to investors over time. Winners in health tech will be those who co-create with health care systems, unencumbered by the artificial constraints of the past.
Portfolio Leader, Post Acute & Home at Philips
This pandemic has shown that traditional models of health care delivery are upended in a time of crisis, particularly when hospitals are faced with a surge of patients. The U.S. health system wasn't designed for chronic care management even before COVID-19, and our current situation has only magnified this issue. The reality is that today's hospital-centric model must adapt. Telemedicine familiarized consumers and clinicians to that adaptive force, helping increase acceptance of new forms of health care delivery and serving as the changing force in how care is administered.
Through digital technology, connected devices, and artificial intelligence, we will be able to strengthen tomorrow's health care by better communicating with patients at home, optimizing hospital operations and harnessing the power of AI. At Philips, we understand the importance of implementing the seamless infrastructure of communication, device management and intelligent monitoring.
Improvements in operations, such as automating administrative tasks, can help improve performance and patient satisfaction. Technology will also drive clinical improvements. Wearable sensors can support bedside care and may provide predictive data sooner. Finally, AI can enhance clinician decision-making with the goal of improving patient care. This pandemic has forced hospitals to reconsider how they provide care, manage operations and use resources — spurring technology investments that they otherwise would have overlooked.
Chief Technology Officer at One Medical
We've seen a marked change to the health care technology landscape in response to COVID-19, and expect that many of those changes will be ongoing through the pandemic and some will help to bring health care into a technology-enabled future.
COVID-19 brought us the first truly widespread use of telemedicine for routine and urgent care, but I believe it's only the beginning for telemedicine, remote monitoring and other care pathways that are not disruptive to patients' lives. We're starting to see patient care move smoothly between virtual and in-person care, and technologies that can help expand the capabilities of virtual care, such as automatic collection of patient-provided health data and connected devices.
Similarly, a need is emerging for widespread screening and testing to support return to work and school. At One Medical, we're supporting these organizations to incorporate COVID-19 prevention into existing processes through flexible testing options including integrated home testing, as well as mobile screening and "risk factor" digital badging to help them keep employees and students as healthy as possible.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a growing need to address deferred care needs — from delayed preventative care to regular check-ins on chronic conditions. Technologies that can detect care gaps, and effectively reach out to patients to prompt engagement to address those care gaps, are uniquely important at this time.
Chief Commercial Officer at Color
This pandemic has shown that the country's infrastructure for health care delivery is not built for the scale of a public health crisis — or public health in general.
When we mobilized to help support the COVID-19 crisis, it was clear that we had areas of experience that could be put to work for the collective good: namely, a technology-driven approach to access and deep experience in high-throughput lab automation and innovation.
In late March, after we had started COVID-19 testing access with public health partners, the CEO of a major U.S. health system called us to request we not provide testing in their state — because their health system should be the one to provide testing. This was a wake-up call illustrating how ineffective traditional health care would be in responding to the crisis.
The U.S. health care system is almost entirely built around acute care, with incentives designed around billing for moments of interaction with care — not to deliver high-quality clinical services efficiently across full populations.
Since March, the pandemic has revealed the reality of this broken and misincentivized system. Counties and cities are providing public infrastructure for testing. Testing is available without needing to visit a doctor in-clinic. Organizations like our own can provide a high-quality clinical service with speed, reliability and clinical quality without waiting rooms.
The gating of health care services by traditional health care will have to change, particularly for important, broad-based services like infectious disease testing, preventive services like mammograms or vaccinations. What may change most will be the country's expectations of health care delivery — not only that it be available, but that it actually be accessible.
Co-Founder/Co-CEO at GoodRx
I think live, ongoing, engaged, feedback-driven health care will be a much greater driver of care in the future. During the pandemic, remote temperature sensors, daily symptom checkers and other monitoring devices will quickly become commonplace.
Post-pandemic, it's not hard to imagine these kinds of devices morphing to general health feedback loops, with the aim of affecting longer-term health goals. The question is: Who's going to pay for it?
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Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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