The next big in health care: 4 emerging trends

At JP Morgan Week in San Francisco, a frenzied feed trough of expert panels, “fireside” chats (sans fireplace), invite-only dinners, receptions in art galleries and retail icons, and pitch deck PowerPoints in every square inch of hotel lobby, these were the hot topics being forecast as emerging in health care over the next 2-5 years:

#1 Convergence: Artificial intelligence, patient monitoring devices, wearables, and personalization are just some of the industry silos that are collapsing and becoming integrated into new modalities for treatment. At the Leaders Forum co-sponsored by McDermott Will & Emery and EY, attorney Vernessa Pollard laid out a vision for the near future, using the example of “Shayna”, a 14-year-old girl, who uses a smart wearable to monitor her diabetes. Data on her insulin levels are collected throughout the day, and are visible through a smart phone app, to be sent to her caregivers (her parents) and her doctor. Data are also used to automatically adjust dosing in her implanted device. Sophisticated technology accessed through a simple, accessible, user interface. Are we there yet?

#2 Big Data/Precision (personalized) Medicine: As the cost for sequencing the human genome comes down, we are only a few years away from having individualized sequencing available to all. This impacts health on a personal and demographic level. How will we use this new data, and how much of it is actionable? Once certain genetic markers are found, does that mean we are at risk for certain diseases, and what do we do with this information? And once we can crunch data for huge subsets of populations, what new patterns will we find?

Sumit Jamuar is the CEO of Global Gene Corp. (globalgenecorp.com ), a company working to collect genomic data on vast data sets of the Indian population. “60% of the world’s population comprises less than 1% of available genomics data” explains Sumit. If we learn more about individuals, we can see patterns across the population, that can lead to more targeted and effective treatments in this huge population.

Colon cancer, for example, is expressed very differently among Indians than among Caucasians. Sumit’s team hopes that by amassing genomic data about the Indian population, new therapies can be developed that are specific and more effective.

“The power [is] being able to create this data for every individual” Sumit exclaims. Indeed!

#3 The Biome: Scientists are just beginning to grapple with this newly emerging, relatively unexplored area in humans, animals and plants. How do we interact with our bacterial biome to maintain our health? How can our bacteria prevent or cause disease?

I had a chance to meet Heather Bessoff, a veterinarian who is working in this space. Heather’s company, Epibiome, (epibiome.com) is a “precision microbiome engineering company surveying bacterial populations and working to develop effective and sustainable FDA-approved therapies to combat infectious diseases in humans and in agriculture without the use of antibiotics.” They have also developed a platform, a bacterial profiling service, which uses next-generation sequencing genomic and informatics to create a “biogram”, a bacterial profile of a given sample. Exciting stuff.

#4 Empowered Consumers: While consumers have become accustomed to immediately accessing a world of information on their smart phones, health care is still in the middle ages. We are increasingly impatient with inscrutable or worse, blocked access to our own health data, the impermeable silos between providers, insurance, doctors and patients, and bone weary from just trying to navigate the whole exhausting system. Sophisticated and tech-intelligent consumers are demanding more.

One new company breaking out in this area is b.well, (icanbwell.com). B.well is an app which stores your complete personal health record in one place, allows you to share this data with others according to your preferences, and provides “concierge” services to access telemedicine, search for providers, and schedule appointments from your mobile phone. And it does more. It can help you explore your family health history, identify gaps in your current care, set up appointment reminders, receive alerts for missed medication refills, and track medication inventories in real time. They have even built in games that encourage healthy choices, which allow you to earn rewards for meeting personalized health and fitness goals.

When I heard about b.well, and how it makes health care so simple and streamlined, I almost burst into tears. Why don’t we have this yet? Or, in the words of  Kristen Valdes, the CEO and founder of b.well,  “Why does the healthcare system seem to work so hard against us?”

Being able to access our own data, and having a simpler, streamlined interface to manage our own or our loved ones’ care is too long coming. Our health care system was never designed for consumers and patients; we are the least considered stakeholder in the current stinking swamp of a “system”. It’s exciting to see consumers demanding more voice, and companies like b.well stepping up to meet our needs.

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