The future of healthcare

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about consumer health products, and in the comments David Waxman pointed me to a Fast Company post on the Future of Healthcare.  The following is a summary of how it works in the future for a mythical ‘Susan’:

Using networked devices and tapping into net works of people, Susan manages her own health and the health of her family. Her health-care team is comprised of her friends, her husband, her parents, her siblings, her pharmacists, her traditional health-care providers, along with online "friends" from around the world. This broad team, coupled with more personalized data collected from mobile phones, wireless health devices, and ongoing information exchanges, will lead to better health for her and her family. Susan no longer has to rely upon the infrequent office visit to yield health information; instead, she can draw from a steady stream of useful and personally relevant data, some of which may trigger the need for an office visit.

To break it down, there are three elements to this future vision that are different from today:

  1. The social aspect – friends, family and a wider web community are seen as providing advice
  2. Better data gathered from general purpose devices like mobile phones and specialist wireless health devices
  3. Continuous information exchange replaces the periodic visit to the doctor presumably via a web platform

From the point of view of the patient this is a compelling vision, particularly the second and third pieces.  When it comes to thinking about illness running regular checks would enable early detection and treatment of issues when they are still minor resulting in higher levels of general health.  Further, these ideas quickly migrate from treatment of problems to general wellness management, covering physical fitness and vitamin supplement regimes.

From my position as a venture capitalist I see a requirement for a ton of innovation here that should lead to creation of some significant companies.

I’ve already talked about a number of companies in the second category on this blog, of which the Withings Scale is the one I am still using and in addition over the last couple of days I have begun playing with some of the iPhone apps from GymFu.  These examples all focus on physical fitness, but there is plenty going on in the medical side too, just yesterday I was hearing about an Irish company which is developing a blood monitor that works intravenously, i.e. it will sit inside one of your veins (albeit only for ten days).

In the third category the obvious areas requiring innovation are the middleware for getting the data out of existing medical systems (something which Seedcamp winner Patients Know Best is working on), and also consumer services to support the collection and analysis of data and over time to connect with healthcare professionals (DailyBurn is a good example here).

It is extremely early days for all of this stuff.  Many of the products and solutions out in the market are very niche and often hard to use, and the traditional healthcare value chain is heavily regulated and will be slow to change – but I suspect the potential here is enormous.  As sensors and networks get cheaper and medical science advances at an exponential rate we could see some pretty amazing stuff emerge over the next few years.

Or will we?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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