David A. Smith
Digital home health
During the COVID-19 outbreak, China moved at pace to shift half of all medical care online[i]. This move is likely to catalyse trends already underway, adding an impetus to the increasing technological capacity to shift healthcare models. For example, the Medwand, a diagnostic tool not much bigger than a computer mouse, can ‘...listen to your heart and lungs, measure respiratory rates and blood oxygen levels, take your temperature, scan your skin and even peer at your tonsils[ii].’ Such tools are likely to raise the efficacy, utility and attractiveness of digital home health. Were COVID-19 to become endemic, seasonal and remain without an effective vaccine, ongoing proof of health status, perhaps via an app could be required to participate in much of what we consider(ed) daily life[iii]. Absent such a scenario, lasting change is still likely.
5G is likely to underpin these developments, facilitating models that democratise and further the reach of healthcare, yet the providers of such models are just as likely to come from outside the core of the current healthcare ecosystem. Peter Diamandis suggests that ‘...we’re going to see Apple and Amazon and Google and all the data-driven companies that are in our homes right now become our healthcare providers[iv].’ The foundations for this model are already in place, with smart speakers already staking places in many families’ wellbeing management. Alexa, for example, is partnering with the NHS to field routine health questions, and being HIPAA compliant in the U.S, has forged partnerships with numerous healthcare insurers to allow patients to access health information. Apple’s HealthKit connects Apple’s products and electronic medical records with healthcare providers.
Increasingly personalised health interventions could also shift the nature of healthcare from curative to predictive, much as insurance is shifting from compensation to prevention. Interdicting illness will become key. The higher purpose of healthcare is to ensure health and wellness: allowing people to become sick and then curing them could one day be considered as unscientific or barbaric as using tapeworms for weight-loss. Is healthcare-as-a-service plausible given our rate of tech progress? Could our homes, replete with ambient digital health information, become our first line of defence and centre of healthcare efforts? And to what extent would such a system even be spatially limited? China’s COVID-19 response has seen numerous technologies prove their utility, with 5G thermal imaging now supporting contagion monitoring and accurately detecting a person's temperature in real-time as they move around a city[v]. The future of healthcare is increasingly decentralised, networked and likely features our home at the heart of our own personalised health ecosystems. The acceleration of this in the presence of COVID-19 ravaged healthcare systems could be sudden, far-reaching, and dramatic.
[i] https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-03-17/op-ed-as-a-doctor-i-use-telemedicine-with-the-coronavirus-threat-it-could-revolutionize-healthcare [ii] https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2020/03/18/coronavirus-tech-telemedicine-and-gadgets-war-against-covid-19/5058150002/ [iii] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/615370/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing-18-months/ [iv] https://www.fastcompany.com/90440921/amazon-and-apple-will-be-our-doctors-in-the-future-says-tech-guru-peter-diamandis [v] https://www.livemint.com/technology/tech-news/how-5g-can-help-fight-coronavirus-11584617010491.html