What developments are shaping the interactions between technology and health? A look at how the rapidly growing E-Health space is advancing human welfare
Health and medicine specifically, have always been a domain at the forefront of human technological advancement, as motivated by the need to survive and adapt to infirmity.
The field is then understandably flourishing more than ever upon exposure to the new levels of innovation that the digital age brings, as evidenced by the rapid emergence of eHealth as a definitive startup category in its own right with an industry valuation of just over $85 billion in 2014.
This new wave of healthcare tech has naturally also been accompanied by high investor interest, increased community dialogue and discussion in the public forum, attested to by significant press coverage. In response, we have seen dedicated accelerator programs, special purpose venture capital funds like Triventure and numerous industry events such as DigitalHealth.il conference and the SOSA Future of Digital Health Panel.
So what pioneering developments does eHealth herald and what categories hold significant future potential? By the same token, what barriers to growth do they face and what steps are being taken to overcome these?
The applications of AI in eHealth have been demonstrated most visibly by IBM’s Watson healthcare system which enables much improved digital image processing, genetic profiling and treatment personalization to name but a few potential capabilities.
In the same way AI machine learning has been benefiting cyber security and chatbots, ehealth startups stand to gain massively from the technology, with many, especially those with rehabilitative, diagnostic and lifestyle monitoring purposes, already making use of it in some form. Nutrigenomix, a notable startup in this space, customizes nutrition plans for users as based on data extraction and DNA analytics.
Virtual AI assistants are also making substantial headway in the AI ehealth space, with Babylon, the mobile-based app, dubbed the “AI Doctor”, attracting investment from major AI companies such as Google DeepMind.
The ability to be able to monitor patients continuously, with multiple inputs and when needed, from afar, is invaluable in a healthcare context. Allowing for this to occur are startups that leverage the Internet of Things to create a connected and integrated interface which practitioners can access. Innovative solutions to this end have been Adheretech, which tracks patient adherence to medication and Israeli startup EarlySense, which is a multi-sensory device designed to alert of patient deterioration to home care personnel, medical staff or emergency services.
Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR/MHR)
On account of the sheer volume of paperwork that passes through the medical databases worldwide, issues of management of these documents will inevitably arise. EHR/MHR startups seek to rectify this issue by digitally streamlining the process, usually by way of cloud-based storage. One such startup, ElationEMR, achieves this goal through visualization software which permits a physician to simultaneously view all the electronic information on a patient, better enabling them to make a holistic assessment of their condition.
Telehealth and global regulatory developments
Amongst the most highly regulated of fields within digital health is that of telemedicine, problematic because of the unprecedented nature of the remote diagnosis and treatment methods which practitioners using this technology employ. The International Organization for Standardization defines Telemedicine as “the use of advanced telecommunication technologies to exchange health information and provide health care services across geographic, time, social and cultural barriers.”
The technology complicates matters for medical insurers who usually provide reimbursement at different rates to regular healthcare, negatively affecting the widespread adoption of such technology. Other regulatory roadblocks are licensing requirements, standards of care protocols and secure medical record storage. To the extent that these have been addressed, policymakers have made efforts focused on clarifying the ambiguity around its definition in an attempt to afford it benefits as equal, if not more favorable, than conventional medical methods.
Considering the newfound and ongoing health burdens of contemporary society such as obesity and an increasingly aging population, ehealth will, in all likelihood, continue to gain traction as it strives to meet these challenges unsolvable by traditional medical treatment.