The future of healthcare will be transformed by global megatrends such as population growth & aging, and an increasingly global population. These trends will only increase pressure on health systems that are already facing tough challenges today.
For instance, every year in the UK some 62,000 people die because their blood pressure is not properly controlled.
Another example is diabetes. In 2012 there were an estimated 382 million adults globally living with the disease. By 2035 that figure is expected to reach 592 million, according to Diabetes UK.
Both of these are examples of unnecessary suffering, at a high social cost. But technology can play a key role in improving both health outcomes and efficiencies.
Data is the lifeblood of future healthcare
For once, it’s no exaggeration to say that IT can change our lives radically for the better.
The looming explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) promises connected sensors which can monitor every conceivable health metric.
There are devices such as tiny, wearable accelerometers that measure movement and orientation that have already been released. Others, such as wearable blood glucose sensors are in the advanced stages of development.
Already, small wearable and wireless blood pressure monitors can collect blood pressure data and then send it to central servers in real time. The data can be analysed with no perceptible delay and, if necessary, action messages can be sent to the wearer or their doctor.
Being able to detect falls in the elderly and frail is another example. Homes can be fitted with ambient sensors that monitor patients for the abnormal movement patterns associated with injuries. Detection can be almost instantaneous for clinical purposes.
It means that acquiring, securing, understanding, and acting on the huge quantities of disparate data is critical.
A further challenge is the establishment of standards for the format data is stored in. The data is only useful if it can be accessed, interpreted correctly and acted upon with confidence.
Taking this further, the possibilities offered by massive sets of health data from large population samples across global geographies are almost limitless. How we structure and analyse the data is vital to unlocking the potential.
At Fujitsu we’re using Hadoop distributed computing technology to manage large, diverse health data sets – but the development of data standards across healthcare will help everyone make sense of data faster.
By properly harnessing this data through the Internet of Things, we could see big health benefits across the board for all.
Genomics – living data we can act on
In the years since The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, the cost of sequencing an individual genome has plummeted. The very first genome took thirteen years to be sequenced at a cost of £2bn. Today, the same sequencing can be performed in two days and costs around £1,000.
Together these cost and time reductions mean a highly valuable database of human genetic information is becoming a reality. The days of massive, undifferentiated programmes of medicine development worth billions of dollars and spanning decades are long gone.
Today, more focused developments of treatments for single patients are becoming possible, costing far less and with much greater efficacy.
The 100,000 Genomes Project has identified a patient with a long history of high blood pressure leading to kidney failure, connected this with the patient’s family history, and pinpointed a gene responsible for the condition. This patient is now being treated with exactly the right medicine – and his family is also being tested and treated.
The future will see therapy targeted at patients whose genetic makeup indicates their suitability.
And let’s not forget 3D printing
Meanwhile, 3D printing technology is set to revolutionise joint replacement therapies, and even organ replacements. The result is more personalised solutions for patients, with the benefits of closer adaptation, better function and reduced recovery time.
It also signals a radical change in the surgical supply chain. With clinics able to fabricate parts at the time and place of need, fewer resources will be tied up in generic stock.
Better health together
Healthcare has a great deal to benefit from IT. Technology offers a key means of extending medical knowledge, intervening in patients’ treatments, improving outcomes, extending services and reducing costs.
Advances in sensor technology, the application of massive, cheap computing power to huge amounts of data and the amazing possibilities offered by genomic research all combine to create an attractive proposition for government, patients and IT providers.
At the same time the mass collection of disparate, personal data presents practical and ethical issues which must be solved through the active collaboration of all the parties involved.
We may also see premature or misjudged applications which fail to offer long-term value. Decision makers need to prioritise high-value needs and outcomes – and ensure they are exploiting the technology for real business ends, rather than reacting to a vendor agenda.
This reinforces the importance of close cooperation between government, industry and patient groups, and of course the patients themselves.
This blog is based on a white paper by Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer Tim Chapman. Read more on our website.
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