By Gloria Lombardi

Healthcare is undoubtedly one of the most crucial sectors for any nation, and obviously a matter for governmental and the private sector’s focus. The healthcare system is tasked to ensure that society stays healthy at a reasonable expense. The way healthcare organisations are managed impacts the professional growth and satisfaction of doctors, nurses, counsellors and other healthcare professionals. Yet healthcare is often under resourced; can innovations within the industry reduce costs and improve outcomes?

Profile PictureA4Emerging technology is completely transforming the business models of hospitals and health providers, changing the work of care professionals forever. Most of these innovations support and complement healthcare workers. “None of these technologies will replace the jobs of medical professionals at any point in time,” says Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan, Arjunvasan Ambigapathy (pictured right). The global research and consulting firm has just conducted critical analysis on the future of healthcare. “Healthcare workers will need continuous training and adequate understanding of meaningful use case during the adoption of new tools to stay relevant and be successful in their respective practices.”

So, which emerging technology is radically transforming the medical profession? MARGINALIA spoke with Ambigapathy to understand the future of healthcare. In this wide-range interview, the analyst describes the latest tech developments applied in medical sector, the key players and markets, and the tremendous opportunities as well as challenges such changes bring to workers.

Gloria Lombardi: Which emerging technologies will impact on the work of medical professionals in the next decade?

Arjunvasan Ambigapathy: Among the technological advances that will have a big affect on the quality of work of the medical professionals are brain-computer interfaces, wearables, robotic exoskeletons, cognitive computing, predictive modelling, 3D printing, natural language processing, telemedicine, mixed reality, and big data analytics.

Most of those emerging technologies, apart from brain interfaces, are currently in late stages of commercialisation or in early stages of wide-scale adoption among hospitals and other healthcare agencies across the world. Their impact is likely to drive the growth of the global healthcare industry from $1.575 trillion in 2015 to reaching $2.69 trillion by 2025.


GL: How are those innovations changing the medical profession?

AA: The application of cognitive computing in early diagnosis of cancer, targeted cancer drug delivery techniques such as nanobots, 3D bioprinted organs such as artificial skin for effective wound care, and stem cell therapies, will enable the transition toward value-based personalised medicine. Value-based healthcare has physicians assume the role of healthcare advisor to patients, thus informing them of the outcomes, the value of the diagnosis, and the treatments that are best prescribed for improving the quality of life.

Big data analytics will play a huge role in shaping healthcare organisations and their financial forecasting. For example, real-time data analytics can predict unnecessary treatment costs across areas of the organisation or in certain populations of patients.

Predictive modelling will play a key role in using large sets of population health records to identify the risks of a disease, thus helping doctors exclude unnecessary treatments that are likely to reduce the quality of life of patients, or have no effect at all.

GL: Could you share some examples that show the concrete applicability of some of those technologies?

AA: A team of doctors at Fortis Hospital in Mohali has just performed a landmark robotic surgery on three women using the da Vinci Surgical System a multi-armed robot that provides the operating surgeon with a 3D view of the patient and precision movements.

Caregivers at SickKids Hospital in Toronto attach biosensors to infants in the neonatal intensive care unit that collect data many times per second. The hospital processes the bio-signals with big data analytics in real time. Infections are now spotted 24 hours sooner than by using conventional biometric monitoring, and so treatments can start earlier.

Columbia Asia Hospitals in Bangalore will be using AI algorithms powered by Cardiotrack, an India-based startup, to predict heart diseases.

Rush Foundation Hospital is another good example. They are the first hospital in East Mississippi and West Alabama to use robots to eradicate hard-to-kill germs, bacteria, and superbugs in hard-to-clean places. The robots use ultraviolet light to quickly kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

In the wearable market, Abbott has a glucose monitoring patch called FreeStyle Libre. The system consists of a patch for the arm with a filament placed underneath the skin. The patch transmits data directly to a doctor for monitoring and alerts.

GL: Who are the pioneers in the development of those emerging technologies?

medtechAA: Cognitive computing platforms, such as IBM Watson for Health, are changing the technology roadmap for medical devices as well as pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Software developers are also designing cloud computing platforms specifically for healthcare applications. For example, Dell joined forces with Zebra Medical Vision to combine the Dell Cloud Clinical Archives (containing more than 10 billion medical images and 150 million medical studies) with Zebra‘s imaging analytics algorithms and research platform. Ultimately, this helps physicians provide more personalised care.

The magnitude of opportunities to innovate and deliver quality care, has driven non-healthcare companies and healthcare experts to collaborate and create new products and services.

There are multiple start-ups spinning off from universities, working to improve genetic testing and the software needed to extract information and value from massive amounts of data. For example, Pathway Genomics raised $130 million from IBM Watson.

The University of Chicago Medicine and Google have also joined forces to research how well historical data can predict future medical events. The results should improve early intervention for a range of issues, such as unplanned hospital readmissions — a problem that costs the US as much as $17 billion each year.

Researchers from the University of Rochester, New York, are working toward using a patient-specific 3D model of aortic aneurysm, which is a life threatening condition arising from the swelling of the main artery in the body. The 3D model, being so accurate, reduces costs and avoids reliance on animal testing.

The market for medical wearables, which is led by popular names such as Samsung Gear Fit, Apple Watch, Fitbit, Jawbone, BeWell, Monsenso, and Mindset, is expected to grow by 65%, netting $6 billion in 2016 alone. Of course, some of these wearables are personal fitness tracking devices, rather than professional medical wearables.

Companies, like InTouch Robotics, are pioneering automation in healthcare by using telepresence robots. These robots allow doctors to be ‘physically’ present and interact with patients while actually being in their office. Such telepresence brings specialist expertise directly to the point-of-care regardless of the expert’s real-life location.


GL: Which countries are leveraging those technologies most rapidly?

In our recent analysis of the future health index, we measured the perceived readiness of countries to realise the benefits of integration and connected care. The study includes most of the technological developments we have just discussed, which have an adoption time-frame of 2019-2020.

At the top of the list, we found UAE (scoring 65.3 out of 100), followed by the Netherlands (58.9), China (58.1), Australia (57.9), Singapore (57.7), and USA (57.4).

We found that a significant share of the trillion internet-connected devices is expected to be in North America.

Latin America could increase GDP by $1 trillion (by 2025) by increasing participation by women in the workplace. This could boost the demand for private healthcare services, especially with the rising proportion of women as decision-makers.

Smartphone penetration in Latin America, currently at 2-5%, may rise to 30% and mobile penetration is likely to exceed 90%. This will present new opportunities for mobile-health (mHealth) applications in African countries as well.

In Europe, the use of telehealth for elderly care (telecare) will become commonplace. Patients and health-conscious people are likely to engage in reference pricing for patented as well as off-patent drugs – meaning they will set the price for drugs, rather than the suppliers. We are already seeing market forces shaping prices, and significant cost impact can be expected.

The medical device market has the potential to grow to $50 billion, contributing 31% to the global medical devices industry, with the participation of large global corporations that research and manufacture in India.

GL: With all those developments in technology, what challenges are medical professionals facing?

d3AA: Among the top challenges facing the medical professionals is the need for continuing education to keep up with the latest treatment methodologies. Healthcare professionals will need expert judgement as to when to opt for ultra-modern technologies, considering the patient’s requirements and wishes. The digital age has made patients refer to websites, forums, and social media groups for self-diagnosis and remedies, often challenging physicians by questioning their diagnosis.

Many medtech companies deliver innovative medical products but don’t provide the necessary training programmes. Technology providers need to distinguish product marketing from education. Doctors should be certified or properly trained; it’s a moral imperative. Further, medical professionals need tech companies to provide adequate clinical evidence that demonstrates efficacy and value.

Since the majority of patients worldwide are covered through insurance, professionals need to understand the larger benefit that technology brings to the society as a whole in reducing expenditures. The ethics of charging for better services cannot be ignored.

GL: As many tech providers do not offer training, who is helping professionals to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to stay relevant at work?

AA: Hospitals and universities play a key role in developing programmes that help doctors gain first-hand knowledge about the latest clinical and technical developments. Such programmes bring colleagues and peers together, connecting experienced tech users with those exploring the possibilities.

We ourselves at Frost & Sullivan, deliver a unique programme for hospital administrators and decision-making executives. Our services are utilised by hospitals, clinical research institutions, corporates, and universities in taking timely decisions for business growth and transforming operations.

The programme is run every quarter and covers global technological innovations, including advanced medical tools, their operating principles, key benefits, and their clinical results. We cover the economics associated with the procurement, demonstrating how such investments enhance the value of care for practitioners and increase operational efficiency, which is vital to setting sustainable practice. We pride ourselves in providing a springboard to the future for the global medical community.