Bringing you the digital health revolution in 2013

This article first appeared in the February 2013 edition of Pulse+IT Magazine.

The consumer, big data, personalised medicine and the convergence of science, technology and much-needed funds are set to be the big issues of 2013, and the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) is set to play its part in this digital health revolution. The rise of the #epatient is one of the big trends we will see this year, and many of these topics will be covered at HISA’s Big Data and HIC2013 conferences.

The start of 2013 saw a plethora of articles and blog posts proclaiming, in various forms, that 2013 is “The Year of Digital Health” and predicting digital health and big data technologies and systems will transform healthcare.

HISA has been championing the transformational role of technology and information in the business of healthcare for 21 years (yes, HISA celebrates our 21st birthday in 2013 – very exciting!) In 2013 we are delivering three national conferences that will bring together national and international experts and enthusiasts on eHealth, health informatics, big data and telehealth.

Here is my summary of some of the key issues and emerging technologies which are reshaping healthcare and which you will be hear more about in 2013 and beyond.

1. The consumer

It wasn’t so long ago that conversations about the role of consumers or patients focused on how of baby-boomers wouldn’t be prepared to settle for what their parents and grandparents did and would change healthcare delivery through their sheer numbers and their raised expectations of healthcare delivery. Now, the conversation has radically shifted. Thanks to technology, connectivity and information ubiquity, consumers of all ages and backgrounds are changing the nature of healthcare delivery.

Consumer technologies such as the internet, social media and self-tracking devices are empowering patients with information like never before. #epatients are leading the change and healthcare organisations and professionals need to adapt.

One example is crowdsourcing a cure for brain cancer. Consider the case of Salvatore Iaconesi. His response to his brain cancer diagnosis turns the ‘medical establishment’ on its head. He digitised his health record and put it online in various formats to seek advice and information from everyone and anyone. His website The Cure has had hundreds of thousands of visits and his treatment plan combines multiple contributions, across multiple disciplines. Mr Iaconesi will be presenting at HIC this year and promises a not-to-be-missed presentation.

Big data and using small data better

Healthcare is an information intensive industry. Healthcare providers are increasingly finding themselves needing to analyse the data they capture in order to produce the intelligence that determines the effectiveness of their interventions. Government and other funders’ needs for data will intensify as they determine where to invest their healthcare budgets. We need to use the small, localised data sets better, but the demand for data intelligence from increasingly larger datasets will continue to reshape healthcare.

Big data is big business. Projections are that, come 2016, half of hospitals will be using advanced analytics softwares. HISA’s Big Data conference is Australia’s first conference to focus exclusively on the issues surrounding big data and healthcare. Big data starts with small data, so speakers will address the issues of both small and big data in healthcare as they pertain to personalised medicine, biomedical informatics, health 2.0/participatory health, data governance and data analytics. Of course, the raison d'être of this field is the use of data to produce healthier outcomes – on both a personal and population scale – and the potential of this will also be explored at Big Data 2013.

Personalised medicine

Personalised medicine won’t just transform healthcare, it will transform how we live. Personalised medicine allows the medical care an individual receives to be tailored specifically for them. This includes the advance of genomics and pharmaceuticals so that the pill you take for condition X will work better for you than it will for others with a vastly different genetic makeup than you. An example of this is the discovery of blood biomarkers that could make personalised drug treatments for depression a possibility.

Whole genome sequencing – something we have heard very little about in Australia – is available to anyone. Companies such as 23andme are leading the charge and 2013 will see the cost of having your genome sequenced become an affordable service for many.

Wearable sensors in our clothes, sheets and shoes will also increasingly become available. Microchips barely detectable by the human eye will ride through your body using an ingested pill as their vehicle of choice. Sensors that monitor our biological processes from within our bodies and on our skin will soon become a given. A US company that manufactures ‘stretchable electronics’ that can stick on your skin and measure heart rate, brain activity, body temperature and hydration levels has just raised $10m in venture capital to bring these technologies to market.

Personalised medicine will be a focus of both HISA’s Big Data and HIC 2013 conference offerings.

Convergence of great minds

All great revolutions are precipitated by convergence, a convergence of forces that serve to make a time in history remarkable through the change it heralds.

In healthcare this convergence comes in the form of the rapid advancement in technological innovation that captures data produced by #epatients, by the healthcare system and by our own genome, and enables that data to be transformed into information, then knowledge, and then to use and share that information for the benefit of human health and wellness. This convergence is aptly shown in this infographic by Paul Sonnier, which is based on the work of Eric Topol’s Creative Destruction of Medicine.

The excitement is palpable and now is the time that those with brilliant minds – scientists, researchers, geneticists, technologists, engineers, informaticians, healthcare professionals, designers and others – team up to radically transform healthcare.

The sandpit of health IT innovation is attracting a lot of companies, from larger, established organisations to small start-ups. It is also attracting investment dollars. Almost $US3 million is up for grabs for developers to design innovations that meet healthcare challenges and needs. Included are games and apps that create data to improve quality of care and health outcomes.

In a nod to health IT ‘going mainstream’, the $US10m Tricorder X Prize was announced last year at the Consumer Electronics Show. The prize challenges researchers and innovators to devise a Star Trek-like device that can measure key health metrics and diagnose a set of 15 diseases.

It may not be Star Trek or $10m, but HISA’s Healthcare App competition proved to be very popular last year. We will be doing this again in 2013 and I invite you to contact Amanda Barbone at HISA if you have suggestions on how we can focus the competition this year to meet needs or challenges you are facing.

Many conferences and events globally are held which attract health innovators and investors. Some of these are listed here.

As always, HISA will continue to do what we do, to help you lead and shape our digital health future. It’s going to be an awesome year!

Dr Louise Schaper is CEO of HISA.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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