I have read about and have listened to numerous hypotheses about the impact of technology and data on the face of health as we know it since entering the health and wellness space over four years ago. As I sat in the recording studio with three digital health experts debating its evolving trajectory for PN London’s second Future of Healthcare podcast, I found myself wanting to reflect on what tangible changes have happened in the last five years or so. Have 2010’s theories turned into realities? And can we be excited by the new digital concepts and overcome the next wave of challenges set out within the podcast?

Digitisation of the NHS
• In 2013, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt challenged the NHS to go ‘paperless’ by 2018. Half way through that timeframe, some NHS patients can now access their medical history online including information about illnesses, test results and medications. The next step is identifying how electronic medical records can be connected across the NHS’ array of different IT systems and networks
• Similarly, DeepMind Health and Google have partnered with the NHS through their collaboration with The Royal Free Hospital in London to produce a mobile app that can improve the identification and treatment of patients at risk of acute kidney injury. How can this solution be elevated from hospital-level use to widespread implementation throughout the NHS? And how can the safety of patient data be guaranteed?

The ‘Quantified Self’
• Despite their popularity today, wearables that offer health-related information on fitness, sleep tracking and more did not exist half a decade ago. In 2014, Apple introduced its first smartwatch, Apple Watch. In the same year, Microsoft announced the Microsoft Band, which incorporated fitness tracking and health-orientated capabilities. Fitbit, Garmin, Tom Tom, Pebble, Samsung and Jawbone should also get a mention. This brings us a new challenge – how do we maximise all this data collected?

Emergence of New Health Players
• Three years ago Proteus Biomedical’s CEO Andrew Thompson estimated that his company’s market opportunity with sensor-enabled smart pills was £770 billion. The technology (ingestible sensors, a small wearable patch and a mobile app) is now being combined with Otsuka’s anti-psychotic drug Abilify to measure medication adherence to the drug in patients with schizophrenia.
• In 2016, Novartis expanded its collaboration with Qualcomm to focus on building a module that could connect to its Breezhaler device and report inhaler usage and duration of the patient’s inhalation. Unusual marriages are becoming the norm.

Only five years ago we were starting many conversations in digital health with what if: what if we could digitise the NHS? What if we could build wearable health technology? We have now answered these questions – it’s possible! But this has opened a new and even more exciting stream of thinking, revolving around how: how do we roll out technology in the NHS? How do we use and protect data? How can we make the most of healthcare’s new tech players?
To answer my original questions – 2010’s conceptualising has resulted in many physical digital solutions and partnerships, and while it might take longer to address “how” these solutions and collaborations can be integrated into and used to influence healthcare, I’m excited and above all else confident that we can overcome the hurdles in our way.

Why not have a listen to PN London’s Future of Healthcare podcast to find out more about the new wave of digital challenges facing the healthcare industry today and what we need to do to overcome them? Listen here