In the summer, I gave a keynote speech at the Roche Days “Diagnostics in Dialogue”. Afterwards, I wrote down some very basic considerations about the future of healthcare. They just appeared in a Roche publication. This is the first part of the slightly shortened text.
The feeling that the world is turning faster and faster is not deceptive. The familiar linear and controlled pace of development is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Our environment is changing exponentially – one could actually say that our world will never again develop as slowly as it does today. This development will be driven by the large amount of data available – also in the future of healthcare.
Internet of Everything
Today’s idea of data composition and data quality is generally too narrow. Technology experts confirm: By 2020 at the latest, thoughts and sensations will also be part of everyday data. Even today, electrodes can read brain waves used by paraplegic people to steer their wheelchairs. In a few years’ time, electrodes will no longer be attached directly to the patient’s head, but sensors will read our thoughts from a meter away.
Every object of everyday use will potentially be connected to the Internet and networked – the chair on which we sit, our refrigerator or our car. In the so-called Internet of Everything, not only computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones are connected to each other, but also intelligent machines that generate additional data. For tomorrow’s children, the phrase “I’m going online” is incomprehensible, since it would mean that they were offline before.
Networking large amounts of data leads to highly adaptive products that can adapt to the individual, changing needs of people. This especially applies to the future of healthcare: Recorded data from smartphone apps, sensors from smart homes and wearables open up new possibilities for individually adapting health services to each patient.
Personal health networks
This form of personalized medicine is therefore data-centered medicine. Data about a patient is already numerous today, and continues to increase exponentially. Where yesterday perhaps a laboratory value and an X-ray image were the basis of a medical decision, in the future a multiparametric overall picture will be created for the medical recommendation of action. This will also change structures and processes in the context of patient management. Patient data assume the leading role in the entire treatment chain. The data-based knowledge of a patient’s condition and the potential diagnoses, therapies or preventive measures derived from it are also driving the increasing specialization of professions in the future of healthcare.
New health providers
Dynamic healthcare networks will emerge around the individual, whose nodes will be both the traditional players in the healthcare industry and new providers: companies in the food industry, sports and fitness, medical technology or the IT sector. The pace of decision-making for preventive measures or therapies is increasing, as is that of new developments for products and health services. In addition, this form of personalized medicine offers the opportunity to find new places for health and to place health topics flexibly, for example at home, in the car, in a restaurant or at work.
Data Interpretation and Data Sovereignty in the Future of Healthcare
When patients have more and more information, this does not mean more knowledge or understanding at the same time. This is why the explanation and interpretation of data and the communication of risks, for example, are becoming increasingly important. Patients need experts to advise them. However, this role will no longer automatically fall to the family doctor in the future. On the contrary, different players in the healthcare industry are competing for this function, which is usually limited in time. These can be contact persons for certain clinical pictures – for the cancer patient the oncologist, for the woman who wishes to have children the gynaecologist – or contact persons who are important in a certain phase of life, e.g. a caregiver for an elderly person. There will be competition for the control function. Because whoever plays this role will have a decisive influence on the other players in the network and their care tasks.
Blockchain as key
Of course, all these predictions only occur when people release their personal data for medical analysis. Data protection of the future must therefore mean that the patient has sovereignty over his or her data. He determines how they are dealt with. They must be able to rely on the fact that their data is available at all times. At the same time, he must be protected against access by unauthorized third parties.
Blockchain technology plays a decisive role in this context. The best-known and oldest blockchain application is the digital currency Bitcoin. In the blockchain, information is not stored on a single server, but rather decentrally on different computers in a network. In order to falsify information, it is no longer sufficient to hack a single server, but every single computer in the blockchain. This makes the technology particularly secure. It is thus also suitable for the exchange of sensitive health or disease data in the future of healthcare.
Read in part two of the text how data-centric medicine leads to a new picture of disease and health. Digital communication is fundamentally changing the future of healthcare.