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Ideas that change healthcare: Genomics and futuristic technologies

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By Jennifer Billot

The King’s Fund “Ideas that change healthcare” conference provided some enlightening visions for the future. With the NHS approaching its 70th birthday, the eruption of digital technologies and the health challenges we face, I can’t think of a more exciting time to be working in the healthcare sector. It’s time to strap ourselves in and adjust to a world of exponential medicine that could one day be used to allow us to live on Mars!

By the end of 2017 there will be more people aged over 65 than under 5 years of age and they will have on average 8.7 co-morbidities. In the 1800’s it was beneficial to conserve energy and having the attitude of ‘one gin for me and one for cholera’ meant you were more likely to fight off water-borne diseases. It now appears that the abundance of food together with more sophisticated water treatments and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle has resulted in adverse side effects from history. Obesity is associated with a vast array of medical conditions and with 75% of over 65-year olds overweight or obese it is a non-communicative epidemic that cannot be ignored. If we can curb the rise in BMI, improve patient outcomes with personalised medicine, and realise the full potential of technology we can reduce the incidence of co-morbidities in later life, taking the pressure off the ever-strained healthcare system. 

There is no doubt that personalised medicine holds the future for disease management. Having an insight into our personal predisposition for certain conditions could allow us to mitigate their influence later in life. Understanding the genomic pathway behind disease can allow for greater efficacy rates from clinical trials and consequently more treatment options for patients. One genomic sequence takes up 200GB of data, the capacity of a modern computer. Big data doesn’t just lie in genomics. Tapping into unregulated health forums and wearable technology can give us greater understanding of the most complex technology around; the 21st century human body.

Forget about the Internet of things, it’s time for the Internet of me. Technology can be low cost with high fidelity, continuously tracking various valuable health metrics. It is allowing us to put healthcare in the hands, or more accurately on the wrists, of patients and the next stage is for health services to utilise this data. Remote monitoring of vital signs via a wearable device could flag up warning signs for acute and costly illnesses, such as heart attacks. Wearables can also invigorate the most important polypill available, exercise. Having access to our own metrics is the key for engaging patients in their own health story and soon continuous monitoring will become ambient.

It is more important than ever to work with the engineering sector to shine a light on new innovative ideas that can be used across the health service. From 4D printing of organs which are capable of mutating and adapting to the environment to molecular targeting to cause tumour cells to fluoresce, allowing the surgeon to ensure complete resection.

So, as we celebrate the movement into the 8th decade of the NHS it is encouraging to see the take up of new technologies but there remains a huge task to incorporate all of these fast-moving developments into a large and financially constrained organisation. The conference left us hoping that future healthcare will allow for greater patient responsibility. It’s time for workplaces to hide the lift, not the stairs and to follow the lead of OPEN Health’s Wellness Week to promote healthy living for all employees in order for us to live longer lives free of ill health.

Jennifer Billot is a Market Access Graduate at OPEN Access Consulting, a market access consulting and communications agency. For more information, please get in touch at JenniferBillot@openaccessconsulting.com

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