Every week, news stories are published about new technologies that have the potential to transform and reshape healthcare. But discriminating applications with real promise from hype, and knowing which products will stand the test of time to actually transform healthcare is difficult at best.
A few trends over the past several years offer a glimpse into what healthcare of the future might look like. The key to making that future a reality lies in leveraging existing and newly-obtained data to create new insights about how healthcare can be delivered, how pharma can develop new medications less expensively and faster than today, and how health systems and insurers can work together to reduce healthcare spending and improve patient outcomes. Overwhelmingly, that future includes digital health—the intersection of technology, data, and healthcare.
Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring are two of the technologies already playing a much bigger role in healthcare delivery. Where once only a few companies offered telemedicine as a way to connect specialists with patients in rural settings, more health systems and insurers are expanding telemedicine and video conferencing services.
One of the more widely publicized examples of this is the Cleveland Clinic’s partnership with American Well, which brings on-demand telemedicine visits with Cleveland Clinic providers to some CVS stores.
Insurance giant Aetna began to offer its members access to expanded services for behavioral health, dermatology, and caregiver services through the mobile app Teledoc in late 2017, adding to other uses of the service.
Just a few months ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2018. In this document, CMS finalized several billing codes associated with delivery of care via telemedicine for specific health indications like health risk assessments and chronic care management. Notably, the Agency indicated a desire to expand coverage of telemedicine services within the extent of their statutory authority, a position that could open the door for future expansion of these services.
With major health systems, insurers, and the government behind telemedicine, it’s no wonder the market is expected to reach a value of $113.1 billion by 2025, presenting a significant opportunity for startups and existing companies alike to expand their services.
Telemedicine is just one method of patient care delivery that will increase in the future. Remote monitoring is already being used after some orthopedic surgeries. Claris Healthcare recently launched a new device that allows doctors to remotely monitor a patient’s recovery from knee replacement surgery.
The lightweight sensors attach above and below the patient’s knee, and can monitor the patient’s position and whether they are adhering to movement and icing schedules, sending that information to the doctor wirelessly.
Combined with telemedicine, it’s not farfetched to imagine most post-op check-ups in the future being done without the patient having to travel to their provider’s office, unless there is a problem.
Other manufacturers, like Sotera Wireless, have developed mobile continuous vital signs monitoring equipment that perform comparably to conventional, more expensive equipment. For health systems, this portability can reduce capital costs by eliminating redundant purchases and make it easier for systems to share equipment between satellite offices.
As technological advances have continued to shrink the size of components, it’s become easier to move some procedures entirely out of the hospital or acute care setting.
Numerous companies, from healthcare device giant Philips to startup Butterfly Network, have developed ultrasound devices that link to a smartphone for analysis. These ultra-portable ultrasound devices have tremendous potential in the provider setting, but also fill an existing unmet need: a lack of timely access for patients to some specialists in rural settings, low-resource areas, or places where natural disasters have occurred.
Imagine being able to provide improved maternal care in places where there are few obstetricians or check a patient for an aortic aneurysm when they come to the doctor’s office without sending them to a hospital, which could be miles away.
In addition, handheld ultrasounds and telemedicine-enabled robots could be used in nursing homes or to monitor patients recently discharged from hospitals. With health centers under increasing pressure to reduce preventable readmissions, Claris Healthcare’s device and others could fill the need to monitor patients effectively without a return trip to the hospital.
Especially for frail patients, the ability to better monitor in place could reduce hospital-acquired infections, hospital-induced delirium, and complications resulting from transport—all the while collecting data continuously or for a greater number of timepoints than currently done.
The end result? A better picture of patients’ health and the ability to monitor them more completely, in lower-cost settings, the generation of a data stream that can be analyzed and managed with the aid of artificial intelligence, and ultimately, better patient outcomes.
But medical devices are moving far beyond ultrasound technology—they’re beginning to look a lot more like science fiction brought to life.
The winner of the Sensing X Prize in 2013 was the Nanobiosym Health Radar, an iPad-sized tool that can identify presence of infection in bodily fluid samples. The Nanobiosym device was granted FDA Emergency Use Authorization to detect Zika in the 2017 outbreak.
Basil Leaf Technologies, winner of the Tricorder X Prize and Dynamical Biomarkers Group, the runner-up in the competition, both created handheld all-in-one devices that evaluate vital signs and analyze blood and urine samples, going beyond the capabilities of the previous XPrize winner.
As with handheld ultrasounds, these tricorder-like devices could dramatically alter triage after natural disasters, reduce the burden on patients to travel to other locations for basic lab work, and expand the types of places patients could receive healthcare services. The outcome? Less expensive healthcare costs and better outcomes for patients.
The healthcare industry is changing now faster than ever before, largely due to technological advances and a growing appreciation for the intersection of data, technology, and healthcare.
Existing diagnostics like ultrasound and technologies like videoconferencing are being expanded beyond the hospital or the boardroom. Patients can now see a specialist virtually at their local pharmacy and then pick up their prescription in the same trip. Doctors everywhere can perform quick ultrasounds and have them analyzed via an app on their smartphone instantly—instead of sending the patient elsewhere for another appointment. These are just a few of the reasons why digital health is future of healthcare.
By Harry Glorikian, M.B.A.
General Partner, New Ventures Funds
Harry is currently a General Partner at New Ventures Funds (NV). Before joining NV Funds, he served as an Entrepreneur In Residence to GE Ventures –New Business Creation Group. He currently serves on the board of GeneNews Ltd. He also serves on the advisory board of Evidation Health (a digital health startup launched with support from GE Ventures), and several other companies. He is also a co-founder and an advisory board member of DrawBridge Health (a revolutionary diagnostics startup launched with support from GE Ventures). Harry holds an MBA from Boston University and a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University. Harry has addressed the NIH, Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference, World Theranostics Congress and other audiences, worldwide. Harry is the author of two related books: Commercializing Novel IVD’s; A Comprehensive Manual for Success and MoneyBall Medicine: Thriving in the New Data-Driven Healthcare Market. He has authored numerous articles, appeared on CBS Evening News and been quoted regularly by Dow Jones, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, London Independent, Medical Device Daily, Science Magazine, Genetic Engineering News and many others.