There have been many interesting articles and blog posts about the future of medicine, and specifically about the need to automatically monitor various physiological parameters, and, importantly, to start focusing more on health rather than disease; prevention rather than curing. The latter point has been stressed by Adam Bosworth, the former head of Google Health, in interviews like this one (audio) and this one (video, “The Body 2.0”). Bosworth is one of the founders of a company, Keas, that wants to help people understand their health data, set health goals and pursue them. He has a new blog post where he talks about machine learning in the context of health care. He (probably rightly) sees health care as lagging behind in adoption of predictive analytics. But he thinks this will change:
All the systems emerging to help consumers get personalized advice and information about their health are going to be incredible treasure troves of data about what works. And this will be a virtuous cycle. As the systems learn, they will encourage consumers to increasingly flow data into them for better more personalized advice and encourage physicians to do the same and then this data will help these systems to learn even more rapidly. I predict now that within a decade, no practicing physician will consider treating their patients without the support/advice of the expertise embodied in the machine learning that will have taken place. And finally, we will truly move to an evidence based health care system.
Along similar lines, the Broader Perspective blog writes about the “three tiers of medicine” that may make up the future healthcare system. The first tier consists of automated health monitoring tools that collect information about your health, The second tier is about preventive medicine and involves “health coaches”, who “…incorporate genomic data, together with family history and current phenotype and biomarker data into an overall care plan“. Finally, the third tier is the traditional health care system of today (hospitals, doctors, nurses).
I learned a new term for the enabling technology for the first (data-collection) tier: body computing. The Third Body Computing Conference will be hosted by the University of Southern California on Friday (9 October). The conference’s definition of body computing is that
“Body Computing” refers to an implanted wireless device, which can transmit up-to-the-second physiologic data to physicians, patients, and patients’ loved ones.
A new article about the future of health care in Fast Company also talks about body computing and predictive/preventive health care:
Wireless monitoring and communication devices are becoming a part of our everyday lives. Integrated into our daily activities, these devices unobtrusively collect information for us. For example, instead of doing an annual health checkup (i.e. cardiac risk assessment), near real-time health data access can be used to provide rolling assessments and alert patients of changes to their health risk based on biometrics assessment and monitoring (blood pressure, weight, sleep etc). With predictive health analytics, health information intelligence, and data visualization, major risks or abnormalities can be detected and sent to the doctor, possibly preempting complications such as stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease.
Although the article is named The Future of Health Care Is Social, it actually talks mostly about self-tracking and predictive analytics. It does go into social aspects of future healthcare, like online health/disease-related networks such as PatientsLikeMe or CureTogether. All in all, a nice article.
And finally (if anyone is still awakw), it has been widely reported that IBM has joined the sequencing fray and are trying to develop a nanopore-based system, a “DNA transistor”, for cheap sequencing. There are now several players in this area (for example, Oxford Nanopore, Pacific Biosystems, NABSYS) and some of them are bound to lose out – time will tell who will emerge on top. Anyway, the reason I mentioned this is partly that IBM explicitly connected this announcement to healthcare reform and personalized healthcare (IBM CEO also wants to resequence the health-care system) and partly because of the surprising (to me) fact that “[…] IBM also manages the entire health system for Denmark.” Really?
By the way, a good way to get updates on body computing is to follow Dr Leslie Saxon on Twitter.