If you were to pick a major industry about to see an incredible amount of change, you might choose health care. Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist, says technology could replace 80% of what doctors do within 10 years. And you can already see it happening. The burgeoning Quantified Self movement is using cheap sensors and apps to monitor health and moods. In the future, we may not need doctors for routine check-ups: all the information will be there on the smartphone.
The key point is that health care is no longer a specialists’ domain. The availability of cheap medical devices, like handheld ultrasounds and mobile eye exam machines, means citizens can take health into their own hands. Embedded sensors, on tattoos and subcutaneous chips, will soon transmit live updates to doctors’ tablets.
"Doctors are being disrupted in a very big way," says Sparks & Honey founder Terry Young. "And it’s being driven by the fact that traditional types of medical approach, where you go to the doctor and there’s one person who knows everything, is shifting rapidly."
In the future, we might get an app and sensor along with our prescriptions, Young says. Doctors could check up remotely to see how the drug is reacting with our bodies, and they’ll encourage us to follow along from our phones.
Personalized medicine is another big change. Rather than treatments for the masses, our medications will be designed with only us in mind. We’ll be tailored to based on our genetic profile, what microorganisms are floating in our guts, and our medical histories (which, of course, will finally be digitized). The report foresees "highly customizable individual health plans."
"The future of medicine is predictive, personalized, preventative and is moving from being episodic and reactive to continuous and proactive," it says.
Perhaps most encouragingly, Sparks & Honey says cheaper medical technology could be a big boon to poor countries. "If you think that urine analysis, fecal analysis, and blood work can now be done on your smartphone, and the price is coming down rapidly, in a very short period of time, you’ll be able to put diagnosis into the hands of the bottom billion," Young says.
Telepresence systems could help link up remote patients, while crowd-sourced diagnosis and disease-specific community platforms could bring specialist knowledge to more people. "I think you’re going to see a huge shift in the mortality rates in some countries," he says.
What’s certain is that the health care revolution will be disruptive to Big Health’s current ways of doing things. "I think for the majority of [companies] it’s hugely problematic because they have models based on linear processes and blockbuster drugs driven not by technology, but controlled by doctors and insurers. When we democratize, it’s going to sneak up on them."