We're on the cusp of immense changes in our healthcare system.
New Zealand innovators are at the forefront of key trends reshaping the future of healthcare.
HealthTech Week, from July 1-4 in Auckland, has showcased the cutting edge of Kiwi technology for healthcare and it's been a blockbuster year for local innovation.
1. Greater adoption of artificial intelligence
The constant search to provide the highest quality care at the lowest possible cost means that Artificial Intelligence is already playing a role in the service patients receive at hospitals.
Artificial Intelligence has the remarkable ability to keep learning, not from a handful of patients seen in an exam room but from millions of examples - more than most specialists will ever see in a lifetime.
CB Insights reported that, over the past five years, healthcare AI start-ups around the globe raised over $4.3 billion across 576 deals, topping all other industries in AI deal activity. Last year, our Artificial Intelligence report predicted that machine learning (a type of AI) will drive faster and more accurate diagnosis of a patient's health. The growth of local innovation is breath-taking – this year Volpara Health Technologies has scanned more than 20,000,000 women for breast cancer in 38 countries.
AI has the remarkable ability to keep learning, not from a handful of patients seen in an exam room but from millions of examples — more than most specialists will ever see in a lifetime. What doctor could claim to have seen 20,000,000 patients?
2. Patients are co-pilots of their healthcare
The role of patients in health is changing dramatically. Patients will bring issues that matter to them — such as quality of life — to the forefront of conversations about how to evaluate the effectiveness of health care options.
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The advent of new technologies coinciding with changes in our expectations of how we interact with medical professional is driving rapid progress. We're seeing the rise of digital platforms that connect patients more deeply to health providers. New Zealand's Melon Health is helping medical practitioners re-engage and empower patients with their own healthcare, driving better behaviours.
Power has shifted to the consumer in nearly every industry, from transport to retail. Now, it's healthcare's turn. As patients can access more information, and produce more data about their own health, people will make health decisions with support that doesn't necessarily involve doctors.
3. Doctors go digital
We're seeing a shift away from place-based care (such as hospitals and clinics) towards constant health communication. One in four New Zealanders live in rural areas or small towns , and providing quality health services for these people is a priority for the Government.
In the future, doctors could have the ability to know how well their patients are doing without ever being in the same room as them.
This need drives a wide range of mobile health services, from the established mobile breast-screening services to current trials of a telemedicine clinic in Kaikoura for wound care. Kiwi business Doctor2Go has pioneered a remote doctor consulting trial at a Napier pharmacy, is working on a remote blood pressure testing trial, and also has projects to improve corporate workers' health through the use of telemedicine.
Digitally-led changes offer a personalised health system available to all. It will continue to shape the relationship between specialists, hospitals, caregivers and patients. We're seeing more and more Kiwi companies innovating in this space — businesses such as GoWell Health already provide individualised, care plans for people in their own homes. In the future, doctors could have the ability to know how well their patients are doing without ever being in the same room as them.
4. The blurring of health and wellness
Fitness trackers and sensors aren't medical devices, but they create data about our physical activity which feeds into notions of wellness. More of us are using technology to monitor heart rates and collect other daily health metrics. The Global Wearable Health Tracking Devices Market is anticipated to grow more than 14.63 per cent year–on–year over the next 6 years.
This wealth of health and wellness data offers incredible opportunities to improve our health. But how much data are we willing to share in return for a healthier life?
Callaghan Innovation's 2017 C-Prize competition focused on wearable technology to improve human performance and wellbeing. Since then, multiple New Zealand companies have emerged to serve this trend. Edison helps people monitor their health in an incredibly detailed way, blending wearable technology and proactive health care.
In September last year, US insurance company John Hancock Financial announced it would sell only interactive policies, which are adjusted in accordance to the data customers share with the company. Taking online nutrition classes, wearing fitness tracker and regularly visiting the doctor lead to discounts for the customer. This wealth of health and wellness data offers incredible opportunities to improve our health. But how much data are we willing to share in return for a healthier life?
5. A predictive health system?
Future healthcare isn't any one technology, and it's not driven by any one trend. But all the above trends show how more data and new tools enable us to be more proactive and mean we could prevent diseases instead of waiting for them to occur.
The integration of big data presents a massive opportunity and challenge in how to bring that all together and make it work for us. New Zealand is building capability in making sense of this unprecedented information through initiatives such as Healthier Lives – He Oranga Hauora and the V irtual Health Information Network . Of course, we'll need meticulous data management.
* James Araci is a future insights lead for healthcare at Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand's innovation agency