The healthcare industry faces a seemingly endless and escalating range of challenges, ranging from an inability to cope with demand, constant political fights that never seem to get resolved, funding restrictions to data security and sharing knowledge in a specialized environment. Fortunately, bit by bit, a broadening array of diverse start-ups are helping to ease some of these problems by improving knowledge sharing and reducing the reliance on legacy systems.
In this POV, we’ll look at how two start-ups are transforming how we can approach healthcare to boost outcomes and support providers’ operations to meet the needs and demands of patients better.
Medopad—Using wearable technology to provide doctors with accurate reports on a patient’s condition
Innovations like the Apple Watch and Fitbit have given the average individual the ability to monitor basic elements of their health such as heart rate and sleeping patterns. This can be useful on a basic level; it is important for us to understand our health and these wearables could alert us to any issues. London based start-up Medopad has developed this idea even further. Since being founded in 2011, Medopad has developed a series of apps for existing technologies (like the Apple Watch) that will allow patients to record their vital signs, log symptoms, and share information with care providers (see Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: Medopad mobile phone interface
At the outset, this might seem like a glorified version of the Health app Apple already offers, but the 400% year-on-year growth in project value and the $28 million Medopad has raised in Series A Funding suggest there is more to this than meets the eye.
Increased detail and a diary-like interface allow patients to provide quickly their physician with a summary of the problem, complete with a list of symptoms and the exact times they occurred. In theory, this could solve one of the biggest problems with local physicians’ offices—waiting times. If a patient has a prepared summary of their condition to give to the doctor, engagements are likely to focus more on delivering medical services and less on exchanging information. A second benefit is the quality of the information provided. It’s often not possible for patients to immediately describe their symptoms in medical terms or for doctors to hit the nail on the head with every diagnosis. Indeed, previous studies have shown that one in six NHS patients are misdiagnosed, illustrating the extent of the challenge. Armed with an accurate log of the patient’s symptoms, however, doctors are far more likely to make the right diagnosis using impartial and clear data sets that help them understand and triage the patient’s illness or injury.
Another key element of Medopad’s success is its investment in building large quantities of patient data and building this into sub-solutions and services. For example, Medopad has been working with clients to support clinical trials and supplement them with additional data. An example of this is with the Capital Medical University’s Geriatric Center where Medopad has been brought in as a partner to collect data on patients with Parkinson’s. By continually analysisng and evaluating data at scale, Medopad hopes to spot health complications before they arise but for now, it is using analytics to help doctors make quick and accurate diagnoses. Earlier this year, the company announced a partnership with John Hopkins University that will focus on predictive healthcare and health monitoring. This endeavor shows Medopad’s ambition to continue innovating the healthcare profession using emerging technologies. The provider is already onboarding clients, including a private London hospital, The Harley Street Clinic, which has begun using wearable technology combined with Medopad’s app for children who have cancer. It allows parents to keep doctors updated on their child’s medical condition plus track all medication usage and any side effects the child experiences. If this concept is successful, it is likely that other hospitals, and perhaps even the NHS, will begin utilizing this piece of new technology.
This technology could become incredibly controversial, depending on its application. John Hancock, a US life insurance company, has partnered with Vitality which also offers basic health monitoring through wearable technology. By offering a discount on premiums and other rewards they hope their customers will be incentivized to improve their lifestyle. However, problems could arise if this model is adapted as a condition of all insurance policies it could lead to connotations for individuals if their lifestyle choice, or unknown underlying conditions hamper their ability to access services. Not to mention myriad privacy concerns. In many ways, manifestation of these concerns are already seen in the motor insurance industry, where telematics devices have received a somewhat muted response from drivers, despite the promise to lower premiums.
There are further potential challenges for technology like Medopad—patients might worry about their health data falling into the wrong hands, so information security is a major concern and one that’s already recognized by the healthcare profession. There are also infrastructure challenges for many healthcare providers to overcome, such as data storage and processing and handling connectivity issues. Some situations might require a device to constantly transmit information, and a challenge is ensuring that connectivity lags are not enough to distort or halt the transmission of valuable data. Nevertheless, even with these challenges, it’s clear that the healthcare market is ripe for disruption when it comes to new techniques information sharing. Medopad is just one of many players looking to drive better outcomes by intelligently applying data analytics.
Babylon Health—Applying AI technology to provide high-quality medical advice
Our second start-up seeking to revolutionize the healthcare profession is Babylon Health. Babylon Health’s goal is to make accessible and affordable health services available worldwide by combining AI and medical professionals’ knowledge. This combination disrupts healthcare delivery models and processes from booking appointments to initial health advice and triage. Babylon Health developed an online platform that allows consumers to seek medical advice from a cognitive assistant that medical professionals trained to understand symptoms and provide quality medical advice. In addition to this innovative idea, Babylon has also developed a service that provides access to fully qualified doctors 24/7 through an audio or video call.
Exhibit 2: Babylon Health mobile phone interface
Source: Babylon Health
The ramifications for this technology are considerable. Healthcare providers worldwide are spending vast amounts of resources manning helplines such as the UK national non-emergency medical helpline, NHS 111. These helplines take millions of calls every year—in March 2018 alone, NHS 111 took 1,564,236 calls; 7.2% of calls which took more than 30 seconds to answer were abandoned.
The promise of disruptors such as Babylon is huge and could eliminate wait times for assistance by providing instant support while driving down the reliance on human support and freeing healthcare professionals to focus on delivering medical services and solutions.
There are other powerful implications for this technology—particularly accessibility. There are areas of the globe and segments of society that struggle to access healthcare services or are reluctant to do so. These people may be more keen to discuss ailments with an AI platform that guarantees convenience and anonymity. Convenience is an important factor; often people simply cannot find the time in their workday to visit a local healthcare practitioner. AI-focused platforms also have the added benefit of offering scalable, always-on services.
This form of healthcare solution also comes with challenges. Babylon has partnered with Amazon Web Service (AWS) to support infrastructure-related problems—scaling the solution to cover less-developed areas of the world where healthcare challenges are acute is part of the firm’s ethos. So, building a foundation that can support breadth and scale is key. Babylon also faces the same data and security challenges that face any enterprise looking to provide health services, but when they are managed carefully, the benefits can considerably outweigh the risks. But, in the healthcare industry, the risks are considerable. For example, it is entirely possible that similar services could offer incorrect medical advice. There are countless examples of chatbots and cognitive assistants providing bad or incomplete advice but in somewhat less impactful situations such as IT Self Service advice – while the ramification for someone acting on poor health advice are likely to be far greater. And while Babylon’s model is about bringing patients closer to practitioners, it will still need to introduce safeguards into the initial triage phase to mitigate risks.
Bottom line: The opportunities are endless for patient outcome-oriented start-ups, in an industry rip for disruption
Babylon Health and Medopad are just two of the businesses tackling significant challenges that plague the healthcare industry, bringing in digital business models and emerging technologies to disrupt the market. This isn’t happening without challenges—start-ups need to consider how their services will make a noticeable difference in the space and ensure they have ample solutions in place to mitigate and overcome the risks.