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A healthy outlook – healthcare technology is bringing the future into the present

Fri 14 Feb 2020 | Jorge Velázquez

BUPA-Sanitas Hospitals’ Jorge Velázquez believes we’re at the beginning of an exciting new era for healthcare – we just need to get creative

“As a society we are now experiencing a tsunami of new technologies,” says Jorge Velázquez, Director of Business Transformation at Spain’s BUPA-Sanitas Hospitals. From stem cell therapies to the bio printing of human tissues, exoskeletons to bionic implants, ‘Big Data’ to AI, a dizzying range of new technologies is coming to the healthcare sector. All these new technologies could help doctors and patients treat illnesses better.

While he acknowledges the sheer scale of innovation can feel overwhelming, Velázquez is confident we will be able to make the most of it: “humankind has been adopting technologies for millions of years”. What’s more, he reckons “those organizations that are able to understand changes in societies and create value with technologies will be those organizations in whom we will trust for our health care”.

Velázquez, who will be speaking at Smart IoT London about the intersection of AI and IoT with healthcare this March, discusses some of the key issues raised by this new “tsunami” of healthcare tech.

“It is already the present”

We’ve long been accustomed to talking about digitally enabled healthcare technology as if it will arrive at some point in the future. But, according to Velázquez, that’s no longer accurate: “this technology is not something to wait for, it is already in the present”.

When talking about ‘health’ technology, there’s a wide range of IoT devices which are already used near-continuously by large numbers of people. “People already use IoT devices for playing sports, going for a walk, feeding, mental health, etc.” He points to tech like “chest or wrist bands or mobile apps, all of them connected in real time with cloud algorithms”. And he reckons this kind of tech will only become more ubiquitous: “smart insoles, electrocardiogram bands, stickers that measure temperature, oxygen or sugar levels in blood and so on will be as normal as our mobile phones are today”.

That said, when it comes to medicine and medical treatments, the introduction of already-available tech will be slower. “Medical science needs scientific evidence, and this takes time” – medical trials need to be conducted and new medical treatments must be approved by regulatory boards. Velázquez adds that doctors “are still very cautious and in most cases are not natural believers in those technologies”.

Join Jorge at Smart IoT London, 11-12 March, ExCeL London

Connected Health — IoT and AI in health monitoring
11 Mar 2020

Nevertheless, trials are ongoing. He says that at BUPA-Sanitas’s hospitals “we have more than 1,200 patients monitored in real time while they carry out their daily lives”. These are existing “clinical patients with chronic diseases or severe problems such as heart infarction” who are connected to IoT platforms where their symptoms are continually being assessed.

A shift in the way we think about medical treatment

One of the most exciting transformations we can expect from this wave of new technologies is the way that we think about treatment. “Medicine and medical science will no longer be in 10 or 15 years what they are today,” reckons Velázquez.

Right now, he says, “we have a medicine ‘based on evidence’”. This means that when a doctor treats a patient, they will look through their medical history, assess the patient’s symptoms and see how these compare to the description of specific conditions. This is good, but it could be made a lot better with new technology. Velázquez believes “we will have a medicine based on ‘Big Data & AI’, and of course IoT will be the technology that will give medicine that information that, today, medical science lacks”.

Think about it like this. A patient today presents at their GP with some troubling symptoms, but these could be related to a wide variety of conditions – it could be harmless, or something very serious. The doctor would take some tests, perhaps prescribe some medicine and see how the patient responds over the next couple of weeks. But what if that same patient could be connected to a Big Data analysis platform that could monitor a greater variety of symptoms over time? This could then give the GP far more evidence to help them more accurately assess the patient.

This might also allow for much more thorough assessment of the health of each and every one of us. Pervasive IoT and AI could assess “our daily lives, habits and environmental context in real time to understand why our epigenetics expresses itself the way it does”.

How exactly this will all play out in terms of structure and funding is still unclear. Velázquez suggests that “health insurance companies must redesign the model of how society wants to finance their health, hospitals must redesign the way they offer medicine or healthcare and someone (who still doesn´t exist) must cover the gaps between our real lives and medical problems”.

Do no harm

Any new technology – and especially one that affects our health – raises a host of ethical and privacy concerns. All the same, Velázquez believes the advantages outweigh the costs. “Talking about ethics in IoT is the same as talking about ethics in scalpels, syringes or health data forms… there is nothing inherently evil in those tools – nor is there in IoT”. Ultimately, it’s what we do with the technology that matters – assuming it is used by people with the correct skills and training, there shouldn’t be any new ethical issues to concern us.

That said, he acknowledges that privacy concerns are legitimate. “With this technology we are able to gather humongous amounts of information about our health and habits, and that is part of our privacy. So, we must create the appropriate security guarantees against unauthorised access to that information.”

An opportunity to reimagine how we think about healthcare

Velázquez is certainly optimistic about the opportunities that all these new healthcare technologies will bring. The most exciting innovations, he believes, will happen when healthcare firms get creative and combine technology with other disciplines. He suggests that technologists should “look for applications that meet people’s needs”. What’s more, the healthcare industry as a whole would benefit from “welcoming this piece of the future in the present”.

Experts featured:

Jorge Velázquez

Director of Business Transformation
Sanitas Hospitals

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