I expected the 2017 Wired Health conference to be a showcase and celebration of the mind-blowing convergence of health and technology. And it certainly delivered on that. But it was also a provocative, passionate and incredibly important call for collaboration and co-creation to drive continued innovation.
While many speakers laid bare sobering statistics around ongoing high mortality rates in cancer, HIV and of course the growing ‘epidemic’ of chronic diseases in the global ageing population, the conference vividly highlighted that we are on the edge of radical change that will help address these and many more health challenges.
Daniel Kraft of Exponential Medicine predicted “More is going to change in health and medicine in the next 10 years than happened in the last 100 years.” But how do we unlock the full potential of disruptive change in health and medicine from where we are today?
A recurring theme at the conference was a question around how we democratise the health data from our own genes, together with data from wearables, implantables, patches and sensors, etc. to improve prevention and help move us move from “sick care” to health care? In other words, how do we ensure that data is accessible, digestible and actionable to drive improvements in health.
“Genomics will save people from cancer but we will need to build trust and share data” said Jurgi Camblong, CEO of Sophia Genetics. This was wholeheartedly reinforced by Dame Sally Davies, CMO of the Department of Health, “If we want to get a great outcome, we must share our data and we need all members of the NHS to understand its value.”
The point was repeatedly made that ultimately we need to be crowdsourcing genomic and other health data so that once a patient’s disease is identified, a physician can be confident that the treatment they prescribe will work because they’ve seen the same genetic mutation in another 10,000 patients who responded well to the same medicine. Kraft quipped, “Let’s move from being just organ donors to being ‘data donors.’” From there we can move into an era where artificial intelligence can use this data to improve health outcomes for us all, through better detection and better personalised treatment.
The conference highlighted the need for us to be open to these and other brave new approaches. For example, Marko Ahitsaari from the Sync Project is attempting to fight opioid dependency with the natural high triggered by music. Several studies have shown that music offers pain reducing effects and the Sync Project is collecting data with the goal of turning music into a precision medicine. The aspiration is that ten years from now, we will be asking, “Isn’t it absurd that we weren’t using non-drug modalities with drug-like effects to help people?”
Mental health strategist Khaliya bravely spoke of her personal experience of successfully using psychedelic therapy to heal mental injury. She challenged us to help bring this treatment out of the shadows and into mainstream care to help improve mental health and save lives.
Other innovations included Galvani Bioelectronics who brought to life how electrical stimulation of nerves through miniaturised implantable devices are already helping people with rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. While neurotechnologist Dr Aldo Faisal from Imperial College blew us away with the potential of next generation brain controlled prosthetics - 'wearable augmentations' such as six digit hands that are fully integrated with our minds and our bodies.
Wired Health made clear that our life span is longer than our health span. But we will only truly innovate if we create a brave convergence of technologies and experts, from clinical research right through to A.I. analytics. We must work together, across borders beyond the sharing of resources, data and funding.
We must also be pioneer enough to fight for acceptance of new approaches. Only then can we grasp the full potential of tomorrow’s healthcare. As Daniel Kraft concluded, “Let’s not predict the future, but let’s go out there and make it together.”
David Berkovitch is Head of UK Healthcare at 3 Monkeys Zeno: a mid-sized integrated agency with expertise in contemporary health communications - creative, compliant, complete.