Hospitals and healthcare clinics are full of expensive technology used by top professionals. At the same time, many functions that were only possible in hospitals and with expensive clinical devices have become consumer devices. This year’s CES event in Las Vegas demonstrated that technology development is changing what can be done at home and what kind of data is available, while data analytics and AI can increasingly handle more and more demanding tasks.
Wearables have really come to our lives during the last five years. First, we had cell phones, smart watches, and smart rings to measure basic things like heart rate, steps and sleep. But then we started to get more specific devices to measure, for example, blood pressure, glucose, and different bodily functions more accurately.
At the same time, we have seen the arrival of more digital services, new ways to handle remote treatments and data analytics services to really help to analyze health issues, enable better self-care and offer more advanced analyses and treatment in telemedicine.
We can compare the situation to many other services that technology has enabled for ordinary people. Just think of navigation and maps in mobile phones, video conferencing from anywhere, or sharing videos with your friends in real time. All of these were more like tech dreams just twenty years ago, and now anyone can use them, often for free. Now the personal digital health services we imagined years ago are also becoming reality.
Healthcare examples from CES 2023
Let’s take some examples from this year’s CES. Personal sensors and wearables are everywhere to help analyze our bodily functions 24/7. It is possible to monitor blood pressure, glucose, heart rates and sinus rhythm, and build applications for self-care and early warning systems while services experts can analyze the data remotely.
This doesn’t sound very unique anymore, although we are still in the early phase to enable health care services to utilize all this data. But when it starts to happen soon, it will fundamentally change healthcare.
And those are just some easy examples of the data that can be used. At CES, I saw a device (Smartooth) to analyze your teeth and their cavities. It is still an early-phase product from Korea, but it gives an idea how you can have at-home devices that provide the same end results as the expensive equipment at your dentist. That was one of many examples of how the functionality of expensive professional devices is appearing in home electronics.
We can divide the technology into at least three layers:
- Sensors and devices to collect data, e.g. heart rate, glucose, blood pressure or tooth cavities
- Services to aggregate data and analyze it for a certain purpose and offer results and predictions for the user or other systems
- Services for treatments or promoting a healthier lifestyle, e.g. helping a patient better manage their health issues, providing preventive actions and early warnings about potential health risks.
Those categories are simplified, but they illustrate the typical functions of digital health services. The first two categories are often done in devices (e.g. wearables) and their corresponding mobile apps, but the third category consists especially of disease- or health issue-specific services. For example, Diampark showcased at CES a digital service for Parkinson’s disease patients to help them better live with the disease and also find new treatments. Sanno offers a similar service, especially for gastrointestinal disorders.
In the future, we can expect that categories 1 and 2 will also be less linked to each other. When we are wearing many more sensors, it doesn’t make sense that each sensor or device should have its own independent data analysis and use only its own data. There will be data platforms (for healthcare services and also for users’ personal data) that can aggregate data from many devices, and it will be possible to build apps on that rich combined data. For example, Prifina offers this kind of platform for user-held data, while health record companies and even data giants like Google are targeting a position in this market.
Healthcare complexity requires cooperation
Digital twins are now a gimmick that many health tech companies want to use in their marketing. It is not yet reality as such, but it illustrates the idea of what healthcare and self-treatment can look like in the future. It basically means that the digital twin collects your health data and combines it with data models to analyze your health, potential health issues, and how different treatments could help you. For example, if the digital twin knows details like your high blood pressure, weight, exercising, eating habits and other health issues, it can recommend the best treatment for you, including lifestyle changes and drugs to manage your blood pressure.
Digital health services are often divided into two different categories: 1) user interface services to make health services more accessible to anyone, and 2) services that make healthcare more effective. Both of these components are important and should help all people in the world to get better healthcare services for a reasonable price in the future. Healthcare costs is now one of the biggest issues for many societies and individuals, and better technology could really improve the situation.
But of course this is not automatically guaranteed. It also requires governments, health care providers and insurers to drive the development in a direction that offers benefits for everyone, not only for best-paying customers.
CES panels talk ‘digital health equity’
At CES conference panels there were several discussions about future health services and how it would be feasible to offer better services to more people. ‘Digital health equity’ is a term that is now used to describe access to these services. The idea is that digital tools can improve equity by increasing healthcare access, addressing unmet needs and personalizing care for patients, while also considering the historical context within the communities served.
Another common theme was the importance of cooperation and partnerships in healthcare services. The healthcare sector is perhaps the most complex industry in the world . It includes a lot of complex science, technology and top competence needs. Funding is also a big global and political dilemma. There are also many ethical questions.
Navigating all of that requires cooperation among many parties. Even people from giant companies like Pfizer and Google admitted that they could cover only one part of the healthcare ecosystem. And it is not enough to have just the usual tech and healthcare giants in the business – innovative startups are also needed to bring new things to the sector.
Panelists also concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the use of telemedicine and digital services for heathcare service providers and ordinary users alike. Even as we move to a post-COVID era, we can assume that this decade will be a really important time for further development of health tech and digital health services. They will impact us all, and hopefully, they can help us live better and healthier lives, and they will be accessible to many more people.
In case you were wondering, I didn’t see anyone at the show who offered blockchain or cryptos as the solution for healthcare or other significant needs.
Related article: Wearables are evolving fast – is the healthcare space ready?