October 16, 2017

The Changing World of Digital Health

Organized through its Kirkland, Wash. office, Nan Hai, a Millbrae, Calif-based company that produces tech and business conferences to facilitate cross-border collaboration between companies in the U.S. and China, held its annual Seattle Biz-Tech Summit in Bellevue, Wash. on Sept. 30, 2017. The theme for this year's summit was "Innovation meets Connection," which continues the summit's focus on technology innovation and business exchanges between the Pacific Northwest and Asia. This post focuses on the presentation, "The Changing World of Digital Health," I gave in a breakout session titled "Technology & Innovation in Healthcare." The content of my presentation is primarily derived from three articles published by The Economist.

What Role Will Technology Play in the Delivery of Primary Care in China?

Starting with an article, "Shod, but still shoddy," published on May 11, 2017, I focused my discussion on the assertion that "many people who seek medical help in China bypass general practitioners and go straight to hospital-based specialists. In a country once famed for its readily accessible 'barefoot doctors,' primary care is in tatters."

In presenting the current conditions in China, the article explains:
It is not just long waiting-times at hospitals that necessitate more clinics. People are living far longer now than they did when the Communists took over in 1949: life expectancy at birth is 76 today, compared with 36 then. People from Shanghai live as long as the average person in Japan and Switzerland. Since 1991, maternal mortality has fallen by over 70%. A growing share of medical cases involve chronic conditions rather than acute illnesses or injuries. GPs are often better able to provide basic and regular treatment for chronic ailments. The country is also ageing rapidly. By 2030 nearly a quarter of the population will be aged 60 or over, compared with less than one-seventh today. More family doctors will be needed to manage their routine needs and visit the housebound.
Whether it is through wearables, telemedicine or other technological hardware or software platforms, what role will technology play in the delivery of primary care of China?

How Hospitals Could Be Rebuilt, Better Than Before

Referencing an article, "Prescription for the future," published on Apr. 8, 2017, I highlighted The Economist's observation that:
Today, hospitals are where patients go for consultations with specialists, and where specialists, with the help of medical technicians and pricey machinery, diagnose their ills. They are also the main setting for surgery and medical interventions such as chemotherapy; and where sick people go for monitoring and care.​ But high-speed internet, remote-monitoring technology and the crunching of vast amounts of data are about to change all that. In the coming years a big chunk of those activities—and nearly all the monitoring and care— could move elsewhere.​
I also explained that "technology firms are already playing a bigger part in health care as phones become more powerful and patients take control of their own diagnosis and treatment." Furthermore, "the more far-sighted hospitals are hoping to remain at the center of the health-care ecosystem, even as their role changes.​"

The following text from the article provided the central thesis of my presentation:
Picturing what hospitals could be, if the various obstacles are overcome, means abandoning long-held assumptions about the delivery of care, the role of the patient and what makes a good doctor . . . . Just as online banking made life more convenient for consumers and freed up branch staff for complex queries, online health care could mean fewer people need to come to hospitals to be cared for by them. Last year half of consultations ordered by Kaiser Permanente, an integrated American health-care firm that runs many hospitals, were virtual, with medical professionals communicating with patients by phone, email or videoconference.​
Mark Wen and Aaron Rose
at the 2017 Seattle Biz-Tech
What is more, as "more sophisticated diagnostics, including blood tests and virtual imaging, become available remotely, more patients could receive hospital-quality care without leaving home . . . . And with better remote monitoring some chronically ill patients who now need to be in hospitals will be able to stay at home, only coming in when their conditions deteriorate. Moving care outside institutions will both save money and raise standards, by making patients more comfortable and reducing infection rates."

The article is correct to forewarn that "for all this to happen, primary care and home support will need to improve." Technology will play a significant role in such improvements.

In the future, the article suggests, "rather than checking patients' vital signs only at intervals, or parking ICU-nurses next to beds, live data-streams from medical machines and wearable devices could ow straight to such command centers, where supercomputers could screen them for anything worth bringing to the attention of medical stations. Doctors in the command center, or even in their own homes, could be at patients' bedsides virtually with a swipe of a touchscreen. All this would not only make the hospital safer and more efficient; it would also give medical staff a more complete record of patients' progress."

Moreover, "A command center could watch over patients not only in hospitals, but also at home. Wearable devices that track vital signs, contact lenses that monitor blood-sugar levels and smart-stitches that measure the pH level of fluid in wounds would all mean fewer patients in hospital for monitoring."

On the topic of robotics, "The surgeon's job, too, could be transformed. Today, the use of robots in the operating room is limited because they must be steered manually with a joystick. In future robots might be able to carry out some standard procedures such as hip replacements autonomously, with a surgeon getting things started and the robot doing the rest."

In addition, more complex operations via "a supercomputer linked to a real- time virtual-reality (VR) machine could help walk surgeons through their operations. It could, for example, highlight where a tumor sits in the liver and warn a surgeon about impinging on an artery, just as a satnav warns of traffic jams ahead."

The article accurately the discusses the world's growing need for healthcare workers. "The World Bank," notes The Economist, "estimates that by 2030 the number of health-care workers will need to double, compared with 2013—an extra 40m workers globally." Additionally, "High rates of stress and burnout are already a problem in health care; if workloads continue to increase they will only rise further. But if medical staff are made more productive with the help of computers, monitoring devices and robots, they can be freed up to do the work that only humans can do, and helped to do it better and more happily."

China's Audacious and Inventive New Generation of Entrepreneurs

My presentation then focused on the wave on new Chinese companies that are transforming the digital economy domestically and abroad. According to an article, "The next wave," by The Economist, "China's nimble new innovators are using world-class technologies from supercomputing to gene editing. Having established themselves in the cutthroat mainland market, many are heading abroad."

China's health industry "is antiquated and dysfunctional," the article claims. "Long queues are common at state hospitals and access to drugs is complicated by an opaque system of dispensation." This, however, has provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs and well-established Chinese companies alike. "AliHealth, an arm of Alibaba, is now a leading online pill-peddler. WeDoctor helps patients book medical appointments using smartphones. Venus Medtech has invented a retrievable heart valve intended for patients with high calcification in their arteries."

The Sept 23, 2017 article further says: "The best example of a local health-care disrupter with global potential, however, is iCarbonX, a health-data analytics firm from Shenzhen, a metropolis near Hong Kong. It is the brainchild of Wang Jun, who is a picture of the active health he wants to encourage with his startup. He formerly ran BGI, one of the world’s leading genomics-research firms. The Chinese company was involved in the global race to decode the first human genome and at one time owned half the world's gene-sequencing equipment."

ROI3's English Language Learning for Medical Terminology​

I concluded my presentation with a discussion about a mobile app my colleagues and I at ROI3 developed to help medical doctors and healthcare professional in China to learn English language medical terminology. Not only does our app correspond to the growing international presence Chinese companies are experiencing, but many studies suggest that over 90 percent of global medical research is published in English. Chinese medical universities and research institutions have recently made significant investments in building their research and development programs with the aim to share their innovation with partners and customers worldwide.

I want to express my appreciation to the panel's moderator, Dr. Mark Wen, Vice President & Director for Seattle Children's Hospital Global Business Development and International Medical Services, for inviting me to speak at this year's summit. In addition, a special "thank you" to my colleague, Jingyan Zhang, for her help with creating the PowerPoint presentation, which may be downloaded via SlideShare.

What are your predictions on how technology will change the global healthcare industry?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

No comments:

Post a Comment