The Digital-Health Ecosystem - Today and Tomorrow

By Srivatsan Krishnan, Head, BBRC Informatics/IT, Bristol-Myers Squibb

If one were to ask what topics are critical to the sustainability of humanity, topics such as healthcare, energy, water, climate and food security would surely come up on most lists. Healthcare for a growing and ageing world population is already causing tremendous stress to the ecosystem and the digital healthcare ecosystem is a leap forward in alleviating some of this stress.

Paper-on-glass
The health ecosystem is one of the main beneficiaries of technological advances made in areas of prevention, detection, diagnosis, maintenance etc. However, today's systems in healthcare are, relatively speaking, ‘paper-on-glass’ and is quite fragmented. Growing understanding of the science, tools and technologies in areas such as Genomics, Histopathology, drug formulation, IT, Informatics etc. have changed what is possible in terms of treatment for dreaded diseases such as Cancer and Hepatitis C. A great time to be involved in this multidisciplinary ecosystem! However, for much of the world, it is still a visit to one's personal doctor that triggers treatments. While the physician in a hospital or clinic environment may have technology aiding their diagnosis, other transactions related to prescriptions, payments, health records, insurance transactions where possible etc. are still predominantly paper-based. And challenges with compliance with treatment regimens and monitoring are a topic in and of itself. A case of translating technology-driven analyses and treatment processes and decisions onto paper ultimately.

So what are we missing because of a not-so-perfect ecosystem?
The ecosystem faces issues such as scalability, access, questions around privacy etc. as well as the very relevant question of “outcomes at what cost”. Quality of care is an important consideration as well. And there is very little that is ‘personalized’ from a patient’s perspective. Going digital is not the panacea to address everything but with the right framework in place addressing topics related to technology, Internet infrastructure, connectivity and privacy, digital helps move the needle in the right direction. And this needle is already moving.

What could the ecosystem look like?
Today’s ecosystem already includes devices such as fitness trackers, sleep trackers, blood sugar monitors, IoT sensors, wearable devices such as watches as well as channels such as social media, health networks etc. While these and other ‘successors’ will be great sources of data, the critical need is to ensure that this data can be analyzed and made available in the right format to the right audience and at the right time. It is also quite evident that Artificial Intelligence is driving the next best thing since sliced bread!

In today’s increasingly consumer-driven healthcare ecosystem, providing consumers with information related to their wellness is and will be a starting point for transactions within the ecosystem. Let us consider a few scenarios as to how interactions could potentially occur. It may not be long before such scenarios are more the norm than the exception and, on a large scale.

Robots aiding surgeons, nanobots for drug delivery and much more. These situations call for an elevated level of integration within the ecosystem missing in today’s milieu.

Ultimately consumers (patients) matter
The evolution of the consumerization of healthcare, a fairly rapid one, has been ongoing for some time. Digital technologies have clearly had and will continue to have an impact on this evolution. Companies, read service providers, will also have significant change management questions to be answered. Of course, critical to success will be the ability of service providers to provide the right level of technology to enhance the consumer experience. This needs to be backed up by a healthcare system/processes supported by appropriate regulations. As much as consumers have access to information more readily than ever before, service providers will have the ability to provide personalization options. This applies to the entire value chain in the ecosystem be it, hospitals, physicians, administrators, pharma companies, data scientists, consumers/the payers and everyone else in-between.

Getting right the mix of ease of use, quality of service and price point can only help accelerate further adoption of digital healthcare. The old adage ‘horses for courses’ applies and multiple channels and solutions may be required to satisfy a wide variety of needs. It is also quite conceivable to think that not only younger generations but also seniors could adopt the digital way for their healthcare needs.

A great way to address patient needs on an ageing planet! 

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