Health care’s future: digital, democratic and DIY

Companies are open to attack from malicious rivals and other nations seeking to steal valuable data, but it is possible to secure your information with the right approach.

Only one person attends every patient’s GP visit, hospital consultation or physio appointment, and that’s the patient. So it makes sense that “the only person who should be holding all that data is the patient,” says health care entrepreneur Dr. Mohammad Al-Ubaydli.

Freeing patient information from the clutches of discrete health care providers will create more personalized, cheaper and better care, he argues. It is a goal many health services are aiming for globally, some with more success than others. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has spent billions of pounds, with mixed results so far, trying to link various NHS computer systems to create a holistic patient-centric service.

Dr. Al-Ubaydli thinks he has found an answer in patientsknowbest.com (PKB), the online service he founded that allows health care professionals, with the patient’s permission, to access and update their health records. So far, 20 UK hospitals have signed up, along with four international pharmaceutical companies. PKB has spread to the US, Holland and Hong Kong, and Dr. Al-Ubaydli sees PKB as a global proposition.

Dr. Al-Ubaydli is one of a growing number of “doctorpreneuers” creating this brave new world of health care. Other innovations include DocCom.me, a cloud-based system that aims to make health care safer and more efficient by allowing clinicians to find, share and collaborate with each other, and the online GP service Dr.Thom.com, where patients can receive an online consultation and prescription medicines.

Such personalized medicine, where clinicians can tailor care more closely and where the patient may take a more active part in their own treatment, even to the extent of taking responsibility for monitoring their own health and crunching their own data, is going mainstream. “Most physicians in the United States and Europe expect personalized medicine to become routine in their own clinical practice within a few years,” says Stig Albinus from APCO Worldwide’s health care practice in New York.

Health care innovators are also developing technology to help patients and clinicians monitor vital signs and symptoms with wearable gadgets, a market that is projected to exceed US$2.9b by 2016, according to ABI Research.

Products under development include smart clothing that embed vital signs-monitoring systems, a headset and patch to monitor brain and heart activity, or a chest sensor that transmits data, including ECG, heart rate, respiration rate and activity levels via a mobile phone.

One off-shoot of all this monitoring is the amount of patient data being generated, allowing trends and traits to be analyzed. IBM is helping health care providers use data to see which other types of patients were similar to a given patient – in characteristics, treatments and outcomes – for the purpose of identifying the most appropriate physician and treatment plan for a particular condition.

These are innovations, says Dr. Al-Ubaydli, that the world must exploit if it is to prevent the cost of health care from spiralling out of control. “It’s the only way we can get out of the health care crisis that every country is going through in terms of cost, as well as outcomes.”

The article was written by:

  • Philip Smith

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