Reflections on the Exponential Medicine Conference

To capture the main highlights of the 4-day event in a nutshell, Roberto Ascione provides a summary and share some of his thoughts

by Roberto Ascione

Reflections on the Exponential Medicine Conference
Reflections on the Exponential Medicine Conference

In the recent interactive Exponential Medicine Conference Report, we shared our observations of this exciting event. To capture the main highlights of the 4-day event in a nutshell, I have decided to provide a quick summary and share some of my thoughts.

The Exponential Medicine or XMed event aims to bring together leading thinkers and innovators to share with the world the future of healthcare in the context of the current explosions of digital information and technological advancements.

The key areas addressed this year include the following:

  1. Patient Centricity: A constant theme throughout the event was the importance and rise of the patient voice from the famous e-Patient Dave sharing on the importance of the patient perspective in healthcare to Nigel Ackland, a.k.a. the man with the bionic arm, speaking from an amputee’s standpoint and helping to impart compassion and incite even more innovation and access to a much needed area in healthcare. Exciting progress has been made in areas such as clinical trials and research where patients are being involved much earlier during the design and review processes rather than limited to mere passive participation.

  2. Gamification: One of the more fascinating sessions was about the exponential advances happening at the crossroads of neuroscience and gaming where several video games aimed at testing or improving cognitive function were featured. Project: Evo by Akili Labs is an interesting example where games have been designed in efforts to detect early indicators of Alzheimer’s or even test for ADHD. I cannot agree more on how leveraging the principles of gaming makes absolute sense in healthcare given how they can motivate positive behavioural change through engagement and incentivisation, but is sadly as of now, still an area that has yet to be fully exploited by the sector.

  3. Artificial Intelligence (AI): Rather than thinking of AI as a separate component to human intelligence, the esteemed speakers such as Neil Jacobstein and Daniel Kraft regarded AI more like IA – Intelligence Augmentation – where human intelligence is augmented though the power of technology. Great examples such as how IBM Watson technology is being applied in hospitals to assist oncologists in their treatment path decisions were also shared. Wired UK also featured an interesting article on how IBM’s Watson is better at diagnosing cancer than human doctors. At the end of the day, viewed from another angle, it is almost as if AI is able to boost human brains with a "software upgrade" and assist the healthcare community in making better and unbiased decisions.

  4. The Pharma industry vs digital disruption: Several speakers sounded the alarm on how technology is disrupting and reshaping the traditional pharma space. The average lifespan of Fortune 500 companies has decreased almost five-fold over the past century. If pharmaceutical companies do not remodel the way they operate and do business, they may soon be rendered obsolete. While pharmacos are organically not structured to be as flexible as the new start-ups of today, great advice was provided on the small steps of change from within they should take - such as creating separate components to stay abreast of the exponential technologies and innovations happening especially around the start-up space – if they want to stay in the game.

  5. Future of Health: The vision is that the physician-patient rapport will continue to shift in power dynamics in favour of the latter where their relationship with healthcare providers will be more collaborative rather than passive. As a result, personalized health care, geo-medicine and preventive health will also continue to gain traction until they become the norm sooner rather than later. In the not-so-faraway future, beyond the prescription of pharmaceutical pills, I envisage doctors prescribing digi-ceuticals or ‘pills of health info’ where digital health tools will help both patients and their doctors constantly monitor and manage their health and progress.

  6. The proliferation of start-ups: It is no news that there has been an explosion of capital investment in healthcare technology start-ups (over $5 billion USD in the first 3 quarters of 2014), and this trend is not looking to buckle any time soon. With notable VC firms like Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures, and technology heavyweights like Google, Apple and Facebook betting heavily on healthcare start-ups, this is an area to watch for the up-and-coming innovative and unique offerings. Speaking of unique offerings, for me, this represents something which is truly disruptive and consumer-oriented. A mash-up of multiple existing technologies in order to solve or alleviate current consumer healthcare challenges . This would be a winning formula.

  7. Bio-crime: What with the latest news on security breaches such as the Community Health System hospital network hack (where 4.5 million patient records were exposed) and the Sony data breach (where personal information such as email exchanges, employee salaries and health information were published online), the burgeoning threat of cyber-crime cannot be ignored. Marc Goodman, the founder of Future Crimes Institute Chair at SU, addressed the implications of bio-crime where one’s medical identity is stolen and easy-to-follow advice on how to guard against it. It is interesting to note that the average identity theft is worth about $2k but the average medical identity theft is worth $20k.

In light of the above learnings, critical insights that all companies – not just those in the healthcare sector - need to bear in mind in this era of Exponential Technology is that it has been and will continue to disrupt almost all dimensions of society whether we like it or not. So either you embrace it and disrupt your current model and/or products OR be rendered a casualty of the digital movement. Especially in the healthcare sector, where there is still a great delta between technological possibilities and its current applications and usage, pharmacos must hop onto the innovation bandwagon and focus on the ultimate consumer of health - the Patient.


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