Countries around the world are grappling with aging populations, increasing incidence of chronic diseases, and spiraling costs of healthcare. It is essential that we develop more efficient, scalable and less costly systems of care and that we begin to focus on wellness and prevention as much as disease and treatment. Clearly we need a more patient-centric approach to health and healthcare. It is also clear that technology, while not enough by itself, will play an ever increasing role in delivering health information and medical services to our citizens.
As we conclude 2011 and enter into 2012, here are my thoughts on some of the most promising technologies and solutions that will help transform health and healthcare in the years ahead. Among the leading trends for such transformation is the so-called “consumerization of IT”. Powerful consumer technologies like social networking, smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, digital media, and gaming are opening new platforms and channels for delivering innovative health solutions. Let me therefore offer 4 solution areas that I believe will deliver real impact for better health in 2012 and beyond.
Broadband internet, computers, gaming systems, and digital television merge to become a platform capable of delivering on-demand health information, instruction and medical services into our homes. Much of this has already happened. In other words, the platform and technology already exist. What’s needed to make it mainstream are the business drivers and incentives that will bring it all to life. Federal health and insurance reform mandates will help pave the way with models of care that become far more patient-centric and accountable. Regulatory and reimbursement reforms will stimulate the market to deliver more cost-effective modalities for both preventive services and care. That will increasingly include the delivery of health information and medical services directly into the home whenever possible. So much of what healthcare providers do is focused on the analysis of signs, symptoms and results, dissemination of information, and prescriptions for treatment . Much of this can, and increasingly will be done, “virtually”.
Remote Monitoring and Mobile Health
Everywhere we turn it seems there is a “new app for that” including thousands of apps related in some way to health. I’d be the first to admit that many of these are superfluous, and only a few will be significant money-makers for their developers. Those that do sell in significant volume will largely be apps related to “vanity health” – diet, exercise, fitness, weight loss and beauty. While cleaver apps for patient education and chronic disease management will flood the market, none will get much traction until the business model of healthcare creates the necessary incentives for consumers (and providers) to engage. However, I expect one aspect of mobile health to gain traction much faster. Remote monitoring with advanced sensor technologies coupled with mobile devices and services as outlined above, will make it possible to care for more patients in less acute settings, including the home, and to do so at scale with fewer staff. I am particularly impressed by companies that are working with regulators (such as the FDA) to develop approved medical devices and secure gateways that facilitate clinical information exchanges.
The Kinect Effect and Health Gaming
It’s not enough to have technology that works, it also has to be intuitive, easy and fun to use. No wonder there is so much excitement about new user interfaces and advances in video gaming. We’ve already seen how Kinect is revolutionizing the way we play games. Getting people off the couch and into the action is just the beginning of a revolution that goes far beyond playing games. It is also part of a digital platform that may very well enable the services and applications suggested above. Never have I seen such excitement from partners and customers about the possibilities for this technology to transform the way we get health information, collaborate with experts, and receive certain kinds of services. One day we may even participate in virtual classes and group counseling using this technology. It’s not only quite practical, but once again a way to scale services while lowering costs, not to mention increasing convenience for everyone.
Big Data, Cloud and Analytics
Some people might say our problem isn’t a paucity of information it is too much information. What we lack are the tools to put all that information to good use. Cloud computing and connected devices give us the means to access the information we need, whenever and wherever we need it. Smart devices and powerful software give us tools to make sense of it. Throw in a modicum of artificial intelligence and machine learning and you have a recipe that finally releases us from the jaws of too much data into a world of understanding and wisdom. There are already terrific examples of companies delivering solutions that combine public health data in the cloud with geospatial information and data sources on environmental contamination. The result is new insights into our risk for disease. Similar analysis provides greater insight to more targeted cures for cancer or approaches to population health. I’m also impressed by real time location services technology (RTLS) that when combined with software, is helping healthcare organizations reduce medical errors and wasted time while markedly improving business operations and patient satisfaction.
So those are my hot trends, technologies and predictions for 2012 and beyond. Change is likely to be iterative rather than revolutionary. After all, we’re talking about the health industry here. None-the-less, disruptive innovation is happening on many fronts and change is inevitable if only because we can’t afford to keep doing things they way we’ve always been doing them.
On behalf of all of us at Microsoft, I’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday and Happy New Year. I’ll be back in the saddle January 3rd with more insights on how information technology is transforming health and healthcare around the world.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft