By Ngumbo Njoroge
Healthcare provision will become increasingly preventative, personalised and precise in the coming years, less focused on treatment and tailoring lifestyle interventions to manage health risks while avoiding diseases, new research shows.
Data gathered by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) involving 480 high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) in Africa and Asia shows how their current healthcare habits might lead to breakthroughs for society as a whole.
Supported by many of today’s innovations producing biometric data on an unprecedented scale, EIU observes that big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are leveraging large collections of information to provide powerful insights that help physicians and patients better target health goals and measure progress.
EIU conducted the survey among the wealthy because well-resourced and globally mobile populations are often the first adopters of innovations. “Their habits can point towards the future of today’s cutting edge technologies and exemplify how new solutions can be integrated into people’s lives.”
“The affluent are generally experts at managing risk. They identify and focus on a handful of key metrics, track them closely over time, and respond closely to trends,” said Dr Daniel Carlin, founder of WorldClinic and one of the contributors to the study.
The survey focused on changes in measuring health, delivering personalised medicine and mainstreaming new technologies.
Surge in data to measure health is being facilitated by many ways available to capture one’s health information through genetic testing, wearables, mobile apps and advanced screenings.
“Judging by the habits of the survey respondents, wearables are so widely accepted that they appear poised to eventually become a lifestyle norm,” the report said.
A majority of the respondents, 93 percent, report using wearbales, with 68 percent using them for multiple purposes. Adoption is also healthy across age groups, with both the old and young consumers incorporating them into daily lives.
IEU defines wearables as devices worn on the outside of the body to track body parameters that can be measured from the skin, such as heart rate, blood pressure and activity levels.
In the use of mobile apps, the data shows that there is a wide range of in the types of data that can be collected to impact people’s health. For instance, IEU notes that a mindfulness app can be used to track mental health habits.
Howver, reliance on mobile apps introduces risks of inaccuracies into the data because many mobile apps require manual input. “Daily data entry can also become onerous, leading many users to eventually abandon the effort.”
IEU said advanced medical screenings can offer deeper and more precise measurements of one’s current health status, complementing regular check-ups by expanding the scope of imaging and tests done for early detection and prevention.
Respondents ranked advanced screenings as the most impactful for improving personalisation of preventative healthcare and treatments, above big data. Data analytics and AI.
The Unit said the next changes in healthcare will come with the introduction of genomic sequencing into routine clinical practice.
“Genomic sequencing forms the basis for precision medicine, where a patient’s biological information at the molecular level informs clinical decision-making, for example, the choice of treatment,” said Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director, Biomecial Research Council Singapore and a contributor to the research.
The aim behind building future data ecosystems, IEU said, is to help people better prevent and identify diseases early, and drive more precise and effective medical treatment.
Respondents expect in equal measure the advances to increase speed and accuracy of disease diagnosis and improve treatment outcomes ahead of all other benefits.
“One already established way of using genetic information is through preimplantation diagnosis, a way to increase the speed and accuracy of disease diagnosis by identifying it at conception,” IEU said.
Advances in 3D priting are also driving personalisation in medicine by helping customise dental models, medical implants, hearing aids and other devices.
Dr Abed Al Llah, director at 3D Middle East in Dubai told IEU that 3D printers were in use in helping personalise the shell of a hearing aid and , in dentisty, to fit a mould to the shape of the jaw.
He sees the use of 3D printers in healthcare opening up new possibilities, particulary as the cost of 3D printer and scanners are dropping.
In addition, respondents were asked to make predictions on the future of immunotherapy. They ranked immunotherapy as the second most impactful therapy on the personalisation of preventive healthcare and medical treatments, just after precision medicine.
“There will be an increased ability to harness and enhance the body’s immune system to combat chronic diseases and cancer. The current focus on immunology research is immunotherapy for cancer, as well as identification and clinical validationof immune biomarkers to aid diagnosis, prognosis and treatment,” said Dr Seet.
However the findings reveal that adoption of today’s technologies faces greater barriers of mass adoption. Notwithstanding the state of readiness in gene therapies and immunotherapies, IEU said implementation will involve high costs, new and more robust training and a reimagining of how medicine could be practiced.
Respondents identified lack of physicians and other trained professionals to support personalised healthcare strategies as the most significant barrier to the adoption of a data-driven approach to healthcare.
When asked about their own mix of personal healthcare practices, majority of respondents indicated they seek a range of therapies from conventional and non-conventional sources.
The respondents were confident that good health will come from a variety of digital technologies such as wearables, mobile apps, AI, big data and analytics.
The future of healthcare, the findings observe, is in new diagnostics and treatments such as precision medicine, advanced screenings, gene therapies, immunotherapies and 3D printing.