Medicines beyond doctors
Health will no longer be the sole preserve of healthcare practitioners
Disruption through innovation is the norm today, and healthcare is no exception. On the one hand we have new technologies in genomics that enable prevention and optimised treatment options. On the other hand disruptions in mobile technologies and social media are impacting the health industry as well.
Technologies such as socialised healthcare, wearable technologies, and personal genomics have accelerated the pace of growth. With this growth, there is an unprecedented amount of data for protection, analysis and communication. Healthcare informatics as a science has to tackle the big data challenge.
It’s translational: Recent history shows that innovation does not happen in silos. We can consider this the paradigm of modern science. X-ray diffraction studies by Maurice Wilkins contributed significantly to Watson & Crick’s double helical structure of DNA. Today, the pace of technological innovation is faster. Value contributions from other fast-growing fields have paved the way to the growth of translational healthcare, where the health and wellness industry is no longer the forte of healthcare practitioners alone. In addition to inter-departmental cooperation in hospitals, we have experts from domains such as robotics, mobile technology, software development, genetics and bioinformatics, and even imaging and publishing, which are all part of the healthcare ecosystem.
It’s personalised: Several experts have predicted that user-centric healthcare will be the norm in the future. Lee Hood, a systems biologist, had first laid the foundation for this as ‘4P medicine’, which is predictive, personalised, preventive and participatory. Based on the emerging trends in the last decade, some had predicted a confluence of personal genomics, wearable technologies, and social media in healthcare.
In the two years since we at Mapmygenome started offering personal genomics, we have seen several success stories of people using knowledge gained from their genes to prevent disease, improve health, and build healthy habits. The increasing number of players in this domain and interest shown by healthcare providers indicate that this technology is here to grow.
The last year has also witnessed tremendous growth in smart wearables in healthcare. In the beginning, they functioned like pedometers, but today they read heart rate, sleep quality, and more. Some even connect to nutritionists and personal trainers. A recent report by a Swedish research firm suggests that nearly 5 million people have been remotely monitored by healthcare providers, where patients’ smartphones became their health hubs. Big players in cancer research such as MD Anderson are all set to use Apple Watch to track statistics such as heart rate, sleep quality, and activity levels.
It’s genomical: A recent article in PLOS Biology suggested that genomic data is all set to beat astronomical data in terms of volumes and growth rate.
With the growth in technology, there has been a corresponding growth in data. Once upon a time, all healthcare providers were focused on symptomatic treatment — patients would go to hospital with symptoms and doctors would offer treatment. Today, the focus is on prevention and early detection. Health history is collected and analysed. Electronic health records are being used to digitise consumer data. Physicians can access these records whenever required. Medical images are also part of these records and the growth in imaging informatics has been phenomenal.
And if we add data from genetic testing to this, we get big data in the true sense. The human genome has 3X109 bases, of which 1 per cent codes for protein. The amount of data generated from next generation sequencing technologies calls for terabytes of storage space, complex computational analysis, metadata, etc. This is overwhelming IT support teams.
It’s private: Consumers’ health data is private data. A common question asked to us at Mapmygenome is data privacy and confidentiality. De-identification, security, and confidentiality are associated with the credibility of an organisation. Secure tools ensure these measures.
It’s futuristic: With growing competition, every entity in the race is forced to think of value additions that will retain customer loyalty and increase market share. Any design in the system should be future-ready. This is a strategic mantra for any organisation in this space.
It’s knowledge: Finding and retaining resources with the right mix of skills to work successfully as a team is an HR challenge. Genomics is a niche space where a handful of talented freshers are churned out every year. With some training, they become industry-ready. Talented professionals are always sought out with better offers and perks. Strong measures by the HRs and the management to protect the knowledge base come in handy. The trick is to overcome challenges such as data space and security, while developing a futuristic model.
The writer is co-founder and CEO of Mapmygenome