Data, Prediction and the Future of Healthcare

Guest post by Ted Spooner, CEO of RespondWell.

Ted Spooner
Ted Spooner

Anyone who grew up playing video games ought to have a greater appreciation for the future of healthcare.

When they moved out of the arcade halls and into living rooms, video games became more accessible to more people. And when a wave of fitness-related console titles were released in the late 1990s and early 2000s — Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy: Kinetic, and Yourself!Fitness/My Fitness Coach — women joined in the fun. By 2014, a study by the Entertainment Software Association revealed that women represented 48 percent of the gaming population in the United States, and the addition of this untapped market allowed the gaming industry to make the pivot that would eventually merge gaming with healthcare.

The title character of My Fitness Coach was Maya, a virtual personal trainer. Maya was the agent who coached couch potatoes and weekend warriors alike to reach whatever fitness goals they might have. A doctor, similarly, knows what’s best for patients and has a reason behind every instruction — and the difference between the virtual video game trainer and the Ph.D. isn’t the vast ocean it once was.

With innovations from FitBit and Jawbone for wearables, Biosensing to Augmedix and Entrada for electronic health records (EHRs) and clinical workflow apps, as well as direct competitors such as Doctors on Demand and TeleDocs, traditional healthcare institutions are facing consumer-direct competitors whose products and services are almost exclusively based on the use of self-care technology. A new wave of innovation is coming soon. Venture funding of digital health companies surpassed $4 billion in 2014, nearly equivalent to the previous three years combined.

So, what’s next?

Self-care apps like FitBit, RespondWell, Caremerge and others that feed a patient’s data into a cloud have the potential to enrich clinical observations in ways that the occasional hospital visit cannot. If you have a device producing conclusive data that says “your heart rate is higher than it should be,” “you’re taking too many pills,” or “you’re walking with a gait,” a physician can say with confidence “something bad is going to happen to you.” Predicting a person’s proclivity for injury and illness is more of a science than ever.

The need has never been greater. Baby boomers are living longer, driving up the demand for major surgeries like total joint replacement. Meanwhile, the supply of physical therapists is increasingly struggling to meet the need for in-person care. This confluence of events is driving the demand for healthcare technology that allows a patient to be both educated and capable of providing an increasing degree of self-care. The power of cloud-based data collection could act as a force multiplier for existing care-giving assets, not only allowing fewer experts to oversee more patients, but also acting as a predictor of illness or injury.

Already, we’re seeing the reach of this technology expand through digital tools like MouthWatch, a smart toothbrush that connects to your dentist; CarePredict, which provides home health sensors for seniors; AdHereTech, a pill container that collects real-time data about intake; BabyScripts, an app and blood pressure monitor for pregnant women; and Clariflow, an in-home prostate health test with a free app to input the results.

Given the rate of innovation and willingness of venture investors to fund these innovations, the issue facing the healthcare system is not whether it’s possible to build technology to address the needs of consumers, but rather how quickly healthcare institutions can transform their care delivery philosophy while adapting to the demands of a changing business model.

In a way, the coming years in health tech might resemble the generational move from arcades toward personal gaming devices: From on-site care in hospitals and medical buildings to remote data collection in the patient’s home — a shift that will, in turn, make quality care more accessible to more people.

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