LIFE SCIENCE
HEALTHCARE

Ageing populations, emerging diseases, climate change, rising costs, inequitable access, and an unenviable safety record mean that continued deployment of traditional healthcare methods between now and 2025 is not a sustainable option.

HEALTHCARE

Technology is a key enabler in the pursuit of safe and sustainable person-centred healthcare for all…

Access to safe, effective, and efficient health services is a fundamental human right, yet healthcare faces significant and deepening threats to its ability to meet the needs of humanity.

The development and adoption of technology, through collaboration between healthcare and life sciences, is seen as crucial to overcoming many of these challenges. Technology has the potential to reduce fragmentation, decrease costs, and improve the safety of the patient experience.

Key technology trends that will have significant impact towards 2025 include personalization of medicine, surgery based on genomic information, and the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) and nanotechnology to make cellular repairs or produce prostheses and organs tailored to an individual’s body and lifestyle. Furthermore, the spread of mobile health (mHealth) technology will improve access to healthcare, as assessment and intervention will be possible to access remotely.

The opportunity for technology to add value to healthcare is dependent, however, on its adoption being managed coherently. Grasping this opportunity demands a methodical approach that ensures that risks to the successful use of technology from a healthcare system perspective are identified and managed.

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QUI

Qui (59), who lives in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China, is an insulin-dependent diabetic, with a history of depression. 

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Basic info:
59 years old; widowed no children

Physical health:
BMI 27.6; smokes; limited exercise

Mental health:
Feels lonely; history of depression

Qiu lives in a suburb of Xi’an and has been an insulin-dependent diabetic since being diagnosed at the age of 4. She is overweight, with a BMI of 27.6. Qiu’s mother, who is 85 years old, suffered reduced mobility following a fractured neck of femur, and, no longer fully able to care for herself, moved in with Qiu. She has recently been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. Qiu is widowed and has no children and, since retiring, feels lonely. She has a history of depression, smokes 10 cigarettes a day (although she is trying to quit), takes limited exercise as she is afraid to leave her mother alone for long periods, and says that she “uses food as a comfort”. Qiu’s primary care worker is a community nurse based in a clinic attached to the District General Hospital in the centre of Xi’an.

  • Qiu’s blood sugar is monitored continuously through an implanted chip and the results are sent to her primary care nurse and endocrinologist.
  • Qiu uses an activity tracker to monitor her exercise levels and to receive automatic advice and encouragement.
  • Social media has opened up Qiu’s life – she is able to join online groups to make friends, receive peer support, and keep in contact with her primary care nurse.

 

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NIHAJ

Nihaj (81), lives in a remote village in the north of India.  He takes statins for cholesterol, plus an ACE inhibitor and diuretics for his blood pressure…

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Basic info:

81 years old; lives in remote village; married, 10 children

Physical health:

High cholesterol; raised blood pressure mild stroke, blood in stool

Mental health:

Good

Nihaj lives in a remote village in Rajasthan with his wife Eisha (76 years old) and has an extensive family support network. He takes statins for cholesterol, plus an angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitor and diuretics for his blood pressure.

Nihaj suffered a mild stroke 18 months ago, but has no remaining physical deficits. He recently noticed blood in his stool and an increased frequency in the need to defecate. Health facilities in his district are limited to a local health clinic with a health advisor and a weekly visiting assistant physician. The clinic is connected to the regional hospital through a telemedicine service for access to specialists, has a remotely controllable diagnostic robot (also connected to the regional hospital and used to support the assistant physician in taking samples and performing minor surgery), and has a supply chain that is serviced by unmanned aerial vehicles that deliver medication and equipment.

  • The local clinic is able to perform Nihaj’s biopsy using a robotic surgeon remotely controlled by specialists at the regional centre.
  • Nihaj’s doctors are able to monitor his stool for blood through remotely connected lab-on-a-chip.
  • Drones ensure that Nihaj receives a regular supply of his life-saving medicine.

 

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OLAF

Olaf (15) is from Svalbard, the remote Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.  He recently lost part of his left arm in a motorcycle accident…

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Basic info:

15 years old; lives with his parents

Physical health:

Crushed left arm; reduced functionality

Mental health:

Good

Olaf lives with his parents on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. On a family holiday in Spain 3 months ago he was involved in a motorbike accident. His left arm was crushed and had to be amputated above the elbow. Olaf remained in Spain for one month for his initial emergency treatment and the start of his rehabilitation. He is now at home with his family.

Olaf has a temporary prosthetic as his arm heals and his rehabilitation progresses. He is expecting a new prosthetic arm shortly, which will be custom-designed at a specialist hospital in Oslo before being printed locally at Olaf’s GP surgery. Once he has finished growing, Olaf will be fitted with a bioprosthesis that will incorporate organic tissue grown from his stem cells.

  • Records of Olaf’s care in Spain are transferred to Norway to enable shared care between his local GP and regional specialists.
  • As Olaf grows he regularly receives new prostheses tailored to his body and life-style.
  • Gene therapy enables Olaf to be fitted with a bioprosthesis that combines mechanical and organic material, and enables him to obtain realistic sensation and movement.

KEY TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

ACTIVITY TRACKERS:

Activity trackers enable people to monitor their lifestyles and optimize their exercise, sleep, and nutrition patterns. By 2025, their increasing interactivity and ability to process information based on personalized algorithms will alert people to the risks of their unhealthy behaviour and offer health coaching.

REMOTE DIAGNOSTICS:

Web-connected testing devices on smartphones enable individuals to capture personal health-related data and share that information with healthcare professionals. This allows for remote diagnoses and alerting healthcare workers to changing conditions as they occur, enabling earlier intervention. Lab-on-a-chip technology, integrating medical laboratory functions on miniature devices, will be available as clip-on sensors that can be attached to smartphones.

SENSORS:

Sensors offer health-monitoring opportunities ranging from wearable foetal monitors that track a baby’s heartbeat and movement, to sensors for remote patient monitoring that enable frail ‘at risk’ adults to remain in their own homes rather than move to institutional care. Sensors collect data about the physical and chemical properties of the body and local environment, and use it to feed algorithms that output relevant information. By 2025, there will be 3 billion wearable sensors available.

DRONES:

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones will be increasingly used to assist delivery of medical tools and supplies, such as vaccines and medications. to patients on offshore vessels, defibrillators to patients in cardiac arrest, and essentials to remote, risky, or challenging locations.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Patients can connect with other patients with similar conditions through social media, enabling them to share experiences such as the effect of a certain treatment and how it is to live with a condition, as well as accessing advice and support from professionals. Similarly, health professionals can use social media to network with colleagues to seek advice and share knowledge within the healthcare community.  Data generated from social media can also support in the prediction of patterns of disease-spreading.

ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS:

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have the ability to provide instant and secure information regarding a patient’s medical and treatment history. In 2025, it is anticipated that EHRs from multiple patients will be easily aggregated to provide decision support and enable healthcare clinics to optimize the integration of data for monitoring disease trends and clinical quality, and support risk management.

ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING:

Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is expected to revolutionize the capability to customize medical devices and products. Bio-printed transplant-ready organs have already been developed, and production of tissues that can be integrated into a human body should be realized in the near future. By 2025, it is likely that patients will have the possibility to obtain a heart, liver, lung or kidney on demand, instead of waiting for a donor.

ROBOTICS:

Robotics will impact healthcare in several ways.  Robotic carers, for example, will substitute care workers in residential facilities.  Endoscopy will be reduced, as patients will be able to swallow a micro-robot that can transmit pictures. Robotic-assisted surgery will become even more commonplace by 2025. Although technical difficulties and complications remain a cause for concern in 2015, these will be overcome through the effi cient application of risk assessment and the qualifi cation of new healthcare technology and its adoption from a systems perspective.

CLINICAL GENOMICS:

By 2025, it is anticipated that some babies and many adults will have their full genome sequenced, thus facilitating quicker and more accurate diagnosis, and the development of stratifi ed and personalized care. The molecular basis for all monogenic rare diseases will have been discovered and clinical research linking patient records to genomic sequences will explore the mechanisms of complex polygenic multifactorial diseases, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

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