In The Future We Won’t Be Sick, But We Won’t Be Healthy Either

There are two types of medical tech companies.  Those working to improve current medical practice, and those working to repair it.

The former develop methods and devices that enable better monitoring, diagnosis, treatment and/or rehabilitation of a patient.  Using 21st century technology, these companies find ways to solve age-old problems and to update traditional medical solutions with faster, cheaper and more efficient machines.

The latter focus on fundamental flaws of the system – human error, lack of information, negative patient experience, conflicts of interest – and create data analysis tools that are applied across the profession to overcome these problems.  These solutions use technology as well as scientific techniques to redefine the roles of the doctor, the patient and the computer in healthcare.

It’s the second category that I’m interested in.

In 2013, Indian-American billionaire Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, released a 79-page masterpiece he called, “20-percent doctor included: Speculations and musings of a technology optimist” in which he offered “more-true-than-not speculations” of the future of healthcare.  In it, he laments its current inadequacies, and then goes on to predict a gradual, but eventually full overhaul of the way we approach the wellness of the human being.

In Khosla’s essay he describes his vision of life in two decades from now, with numerous studies and examples to back up his observations, while stressing all along that his forecasts are only “directional guesses” based on experience and the progress of technology today.

Arguably the core claim of his entire thesis is that the trajectory that we are following is leading us down a path toward holistic medicine.

That’s it?  That’s the big prediction?  Well if you think about it, ironically, a holistic approach to healing is typically associated with non-western, “alternative” medicine, whereby scientific methods are disregarded and technological equipment is often viewed as detrimental to one’s health.

That’s nothing like what Khosla has in mind for our future.

Rather, holistic, in that all aspects of our lives – and I mean ALL – will be taken into account when diagnosing, treating, and even predicting our health issues.  Of course the obvious factors like family and personal medical history are significant.  But what we’re talking about is accumulating information such as personal physiological data taken throughout the day and night (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, hydration, blood oxygenation, cardiac output, glucose levels, etc.), behavioral and emotional patterns, environmental parameters (e.g. home neighborhood surroundings, office atmosphere, vacation spots, etc.), and even the food we consume.  Everything will be collected, processed and analyzed, and their impact on our physical and mental health will be quantified.  All this, in exchange for the most highly individualized therapeutic recommendations.

Fascinating.  But where is all of this personal data going to come from?  In a word: Wearables.  Sure, there may still be a need for the occasional blood test or medical monitor that can’t be wrapped up in a package small enough to carry around with us, but the vast majority of our lives will be digitized and wirelessly stored in our Electronic Health Records.

To be clear, the wearable device is only one piece that will comprise the holistic medicine puzzle of the future.  It is the Artificial Intelligent Deep Learning computers that will provide the analysis of the big data accumulated in a planet-wide cloud of medical knowledge comprised of the records transmitted by our very own wearables.

Eventually, our wearables will use all available data to predict in advance the likelihood of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and many other medical conditions and diseases, as well as the most effective treatments and possibly even ways of preventing their onset, based on analysis of millions of data points.

At that point in time, our wellness state will mostly be categorized in terms of somewhere between healthy and sick.  Given the seemingly infinite number of factors, many of them harmful to our health, that will be considered when determining our condition, the chances of receiving a “clean bill of health” would seem near impossible.

But before we get anywhere near there, we must go through the natural process of technological development of these wearables, starting at infancy before maturing to adulthood.

Indeed, the process is well underway.  The early iterations of wearable technology are available today.  They are the watches, wrist bands, body patches and fitness belts that connect with our smartphones to monitor and transmit the information about us that will enable the holistic healthcare of tomorrow.

Israel’s Medical Tech ecosystem is already flooded with companies that have entered this space.  Here are just 9 examples:

Eco-Fusion turned a smartphone’s built in camera into a biomedical sensor that reads biosigns from the finger, which, along with other wearable devices track nutrition, physical movement, stress, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, medicine adherence and other metrics in order to manage and treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stress and other chronic diseases.  Personalized treatment protocols are created for integration it into the user’s daily activity.  All data points are saved.  Over the course of time trends and patterns are revealed, and dynamic treatment algorithms are created to optimize the solution.

BandManage is a personalized, early-detection and prevention health-management solution, particularly geared for seniors and their care circles. Making use of smart wearables and machine learning algorithms, BandManage tracks individual physiological patterns, notifies caregivers about changes, and even predicts health events about to occur.  The technology can be utilized to detect and prevent falls, identify abnormal physiology, detect early dehydration signs and detects flu symptoms early.

Oxitone developed a wrist pulse oximeter without the fingertip probe clamp, for monitoring pulse and oxygen levels, and providing a realistic record of a person’s state of health during normal daily and nightly activity. The technology tracks, manages and identifies issues for early intervention and to avoid hospitalization.

ChroniSense Medical wearable medical-grade devices monitor vital signs and other health factors, allowing patients and healthcare professionals to manage chronic disease without interfering with the patient’s everyday activity – in or outside the home. Their sensors measure medical data from blood oxygen and ECG, to blood pressure, cardiac output and vascular resistance, and communicate that data to caregivers in real time. As opposed to other technologies that measure data from small vessels at the back of the wrist that limit attainable information to mainly pulse rate, ChroniSense’s optical sensors measure at the blood-rich radial artery which, along with an ultra-sensitive electrical sensor, serve as a source for high quality multi-parametric data.  It is effectively an ICU monitor on your wrist.

Elfi Tech is a watch-style wearable sensor for measuring skin blood flow, blood velocity, coagulation, vascular health and fitness assessment applications in addition to standard heart rate and motion parameters for the remote monitoring and diagnosis of chronically ill as well as health conscious individuals.

SleepRate is a mobile health app that connects with any off-the-shelf Bluetooth heart rate tracking device to monitor and analyze your sleep patterns to reveal how long and how well you slept, gaining insight into the detailed structure of your sleep cycles and making you aware of sleep issues you may not have even been aware of.  It then provides a custom-tailored therapy program to improve your sleep, walking you step-by-step through your personalized sleep improvement plan.

BioBeat developed a non-invasive small sensor that may be placed anywhere on a user’s body and reports health data back to an analytic information system (e.g. a smartphone.)  The sensor measures vitals such as consciousness, saturation, pulse, blood pressure, stroke volume, cardiac output, and body temperature and perspiration.  The data received is constantly compared to a person’s individual normal sign levels, and the system automatically raises alarm in case of abnormalities or life-threatening situations.

ATLASense Biomed developed a wearable device that senses an array of physiological signals and body position parameters, providing remote, continuous monitoring solutions in a hospital setting as well as at home.   Pharmaceutical companies can use the device to continuously monitor for physiological changes and trends in patients taking their medications.

The Myndlift headband records brain-wave activity along the scalp and translates it to feedback shown as a mobile game.  Users learn to regulate their brain activity using neurofeedback which leads to improved cognitive abilities.  The technology is intended for people with hyperactivity, professionals in demanding careers, as well as students, athletes or anyone concerned about brain fitness to effectively improve their concentration abilities without prescription drugs

The areas of application for many of these companies overlap noticeably.  This attests to the fact that they all recognize that the future is in medical wearables.  Some companies will die out early; others will last longer; and new companies will likely join the process at some point in the middle.   The race to the finish line has already begun.  May the best man (company) win!

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