Digital boost health care

Digital boost for health care

3:26 PM, 12th November 2018
Digital boost for health care

Technology is slowly engulfing the health care system to make it better, faster and more effective.

By Debarati Das 

In an age, when artificial intelligence rules every activity in this digitized world, medical fraternity is not far behind. Today, the role of healthcare is not limited to falling ill, going to the doctor and taking pills to get better. It is much bigger. Artificial intelligence is transforming health care from ‘treating a disease’ to ‘disease prediction’ and ‘preventive care’. From body sensors, e-health records, health apps, etc, digital health care is being extensively used to assess the health of a person, diagnose ailments and track patients’ progress.

Even in this 21st century, healthcare system across the globe is riddled with many issues. Many developing nations still do not have access to health care facilities; in countries like United States the cost of health care is sky high; research activities are costly, and so on. Healthcare industry can take full advantage of the digital technology to resolve many of these issues to provide sustainable healthcare to everyone. While doctors can digitally reach their patients in any corner of the world, small towns and villages with lack of infrastructure and healthcare professionals can have access to medical care, a person with chronic issues can be constantly monitored by doctors while researchers can take advantage of these cutting-edge technologies to make clinical research faster, cheaper and more effective.

“There is a great need for digital technologies in emerging economies, especially when you consider the high wait times due to the shortage of primary care physicians. We now have technology that can enable telemedicine for example, and allow patients greater access to healthcare,” said Nik Leist, senior director, ingestible sensor manufacturing and site leader, Proteus Digital Health.

According to Transparency Market Research (TMR), the global digital health market was at $179.6 billion in 2016 and is anticipated to rise at a CAGR of 13.4 percent between 2017 and 2025, to become a $536.6 billion industry by the end of 2025. This market will be supported by technology advancements in the medical and healthcare infrastructure.

The digitization of medical science is undergoing a complete transformation. New age imaging tools, mobile device laboratory capabilities, digital clinical trials, telemedicine, are just some of the marvels that are making their ways into transforming the way a person is treated.

Technology giants including Google, Apple, Samsung, LG are coming up with revolutionary technology to take health care system to the next level. The industry is talking about telehealth, EHRs/ EMRs, population health management, clinical decision support systems (CDSS), computerized physician order entry (CPOE), mHealth, etc. These are some of the technologies which will dominate the global healthcare market.

And that’s not it. Wearable technology devices, such as fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart clothing, smart eyewear, skin patches, headphones and more are being customised to suit the need of various segments including healthcare & medical, fitness & wellness, professional sports, military etc.

Talking about the technology leap of medical science, Leist added, “The manufacturing elements for digital medicines are leveraged from current technology practices for the semi-conductor, electronics, and pharmaceutical industries. Proteus Digital Health’s ingestible sensor, the size of a grain of sand, is made of small amounts of silicon, copper and magnesium, all commonly found in our regular diet. Once the sensor has been formulated, it can be integrated into various solid oral form factors, some of which can be enabled on existing equipment in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and some of which will require feed system integration.”

Making way for R&D

Digital technology is also taking medical research to a new level. With AI and cognitive computers, researchers can now gather a huge amount of information every second which can help run cognitive trials in seconds instead of decades used in traditional methods. Hence making clinical trials less expensive and faster availability.

Emulate Inc, which develops organs-on-chips human emulation technology, recently published its study demonstrating its Blood Vessel-Chip which can accurately model and predict thrombosis, or clotting of blood. “These results are a prime example of how our Organs-on-Chips technology can identify safety and efficacy issues earlier and more reliably in the drug development process, enabling the design and selection of drug candidates that have a higher potential of success in human clinical trials,” said Geraldine Hamilton, president and chief scientific officer of Emulate.

Programmes like diabetes prevention program, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer etc are getting a boost from the digital technology making clinical trials much stronger and accurate.

Introducing new disease-modifying therapy, from research to launch, is a complex process, lengthy and expensive process. And even though clinical trial designs have improved, the failure rate is still very high. This is especially true in the area of neurology where studies have found that approximately 99.6 percent of drug trials in Alzheimer’s disease fail. This is because of the heterogeneity of the disease, and how it is different for every patient, making it difficult for pharmaceutical to demonstrate drug efficacy.

GE Healthcare developed a new predictive analytics tool to facilitate the identification and selection of appropriate subjects for these clinical trials. This digital biomarker app can help pharma companies improve the selection process of choosing patients. The digital biomarker app also makes it possible to combine patient data from imaging exams with clinical information such as psychometric test scores, demographics, and genetic testing, helping to predict disease progression with accuracy.

A Neurology scan taken using GE’s PET/ MR technology. Source: GE Healthcare

Similarly, BenevolentAI announced its plans to utilize its artificial intelligence capabilities to find a cure for blindness and help develop an intervention that stops people losing their sight from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the main cause of sight loss in developed countries. Many more older people have early AMD which does not affect their sight and hence finding ways to detect and treat the disease before it causes sight loss is vital.

“BenevolentAI’s deep learning linguistic models, knowledge graph and algorithms will be applied to create a better understanding of AMD, generate new insights and identify promising new research areas for treating this devastating condition,” said Dr Jackie Hunter, head of clinical development at BenevolentAI.

Body sensors

People today are more aware about their health than ever. And what better than taking charge of your own health with body sensors? Smart wearable devices are becoming more and more popular not just to track various parameters of a patients’ health, but it is also increasing being used by people on a daily basis to track their step count, calorie intake, etc. The trend of people using body sensors is more in line to monitor and track their fitness and health to achieve their health goals.

Body sensors have also become an interface between the patient and health care professional where a patient can be remotely monitored, diagnosed and treated. Doctors can remotely support their patients by monitoring their patients’ health stats like blood sugar levels, blood pressure etc and effectively alter the medication as and when needed to achieve better outcomes.

Body sensors can also track complex human physiologic systems to generate a huge amount of data via algorithms, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. They can bring in the answers to the most complex questions of how human body work and react giving a headway to medical science.

Body sensors come in various forms like integrated body chips, wearables, digital tattoos, mini robots etc. Many such sensors can obtain the information of the patient’s body and directly send it to healthcare professionals. It also gives a detailed minute to minute data about the patient which can help doctors take informed decisions.

These body sensors also play a major role in clinical researches where detailed data can provide accurate analysis of any ailment. Body sensors are more widely being used in critical ailments like cancer, etc giving researchers and product development scientists a wide array of data to predict human response to drugs.

Personalised health care

The use of digital tools has undoubtedly upgraded medical practise. It has also made health care very individualized where every patient can be treated not with generic medicines but based on their personal medical history. Personalized medicine will soon become the norm of the day where every critical case will be treated will be needed to be treated personally rather than generic treatment. This will require gene therapies, cell therapy technology, single use research etc. The cost and accuracy of these processes can be effectively minimized with digital technology.

Last year, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies built UK’s first single-use biopharma facility to increase production capacita of biopharmaceuticals in order to accelerate the availability of treatments for some of the toughest diseases –from diabetes to cancer to autoimmune diseases. With hundreds of drugs in the last stages of clinical trials, Fujifilm Diosynth experienced increasing demand from their global customers for additional production capacity in multiple markets and in meeting international regulatory requirements. Single-use technologies allowed them to efficiently flex and future-proof their production for batches of different biologics. “We decided to replicate our single-use facility in North Carolina, USA to Billingham, UK and it paid off,” said Nick Martin, head of operations, Billingham, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies.

All this is just the beginning of how healthcare can transform in the near future. At one level, it is mind boggling how everyday gadgets and technologies like cell phones, smartphone sensors, cloud storage, and data analytics can play such critical role in healthcare today. But if you think about it, why not?

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