WIRED Health 2015: Key themes and takeaways

Blue Latitude Health|14th May 2015

James and David from the Blue Latitude Health Strategy team attended WIRED Health 2015, and reported back on what they thought the most exciting and relevant takeaways were for Pharma and marketing.

First Impressions: A multidisciplinary approach works

When asked about the conference as a whole, something that stood out to both consultants was the overarching emphasis on collaboration. The products and technologies being demonstrated and talked about at the event were developed in multidisciplinary teams in a collaborative way. Cross-functional teams of designers, technologists, and scientists were coming together to do exciting, innovative work outside the traditional silos so often seen in pharma and medical technology.

Bureaucracy is a hurdle to innovation

Another recurring theme at the conference was the tendency for innovators to opt out of the rigorous testing and certification process applied to medical technology in favour of going straight to the consumer market. Rather than applying for NHS approval, companies like Galvanic have turned to crowdfunding and are working directly with consumers to deliver a health and wellness product as opposed to a medical device that would be prescribed via the health care system.

Rise of the ‘quantified self’

Related to the shift toward ‘health and wellness’ devices rather than medical devices, a trend toward the ‘quantified self’ shows no sense of slowing down. There are a huge number of devices and apps that track and feedback personal data sets around DNA, activity, stress, sleep, and neurological patterns. For example, Oxford Nanopore is looking to connect the quantified self with genetic data, using their pocket-sized DNA sequencing device MinION.

You can now measure almost every activity you engage in, your feelings, your patterns, and your behaviours through technology – but the key question that hasn’t been addressed is “so what?” What does all this data mean on an individual level? The logical next step would be to work on apps and devices that promote behavioural change as opposed to tracking.

Democratised health: value and ethics

The innovations coming from the straight-to-consumer health and wellness market also flag a shift in attitudes toward healthcare. For example, it’s now possible to get a full body MRI for £249 through Klarismo. However, it does raise some important questions around the ethics of giving uninterpreted results to a layperson, and whether something like this adds value to the patient experience. The cost savings have been achieved by rewriting hospital protocols to be more efficient, and the results are given in a way that negates the need for a radiographer to explain the scans.

While the savings to the healthcare system are irrefutably positive, what happens when the scans show an abnormality that the patient doesn’t possess the skills or knowledge to understand? Ethically speaking, is it a good idea to give potentially negative feedback to a patient without the support of a healthcare professional who can give context to it? And is value actually added for a healthy person whose scans do not show any abnormalities?

When examining the democratisation of healthcare and the slew of information that will soon be readily available to patients, it’s important that we ask whether these “innovations” are providing something that will improve patient experience and outcomes.

“Make progress profitable”

Mark Koska of Lifesaver created the K1, an auto-disabling single use syringe with the intention to save lives. 1.3 million people die every year due to the use of contaminated syringes. He thought it would be a no-brainer for the medical industry, but syringes were a loss-leader and manufacturing more of them didn’t make financial sense. It took 14 years and a massive policy change to get the syringes into action, requiring the assistance of the Head of the World Health Organisation.

The effort paid off, because the K1 is now credited with saving 10 million lives worldwide, as well as showing an ROI of $20-30 per syringe (owing to a reduction in burden on healthcare systems). To effect major change in a market (e.g. the production of syringes) to change the industry requires an enormous effort that acknowledges not only lives saved, but also policy, profits, and productivity impacts. It’s important to have that impact data ready before entering the market, or you will likely face the same challenges and objections as Koska.

Technology of note: Neurolectrics and neuroplasticity

The star of the show at WIRED Health 2015 was the winner of the BUPA Start-up Stage pitch sessions, Neurolectrics, with their brain monitoring headgear. The wearable head piece measures brain activity in real time, and can stimulate specific areas of the brain. It’s currently being used to treat neuropathic pain in Barcelona, and has use cases for degenerative neurological conditions and neurological damage. Through an innovative use of gaming technology (not to be confused with gamification, which is a technique and not a technology), they have created immersive experiences to stimulate damaged or under-stimulated parts of the brain as a type of psychological therapy to improve performance.

Tech and Pharma: an opportunity to change lives

Where health and wellness devices are great at gathering and tracking personal data sets for ‘quantified self’ type applications, there is room for pharma to take those devices further. By contributing its expertise in medical solutions, pharma can ensure they go deeper, developing solutions for behavioural change, which will make a difference in patient outcomes.

For example, we are already seeing moves from health systems and pharma to tackle disease prevention rather than just treating chronic conditions. Pharma could partner with tech companies to add to these types of initiatives beyond creating another tracking device. Looking at the Apple research kit, it’s clear that wearable technology and personal data tracking has a place in medical research. However, in spite of the impact wearables have had on improving access to research subjects (both in terms of number of subjects and ability to capture data), there are definite limitations to what they can currently do.

Pharma’s strong knowledge of disease areas and the regulatory environment, partnered with Tech’s data and user-centric approach means a great match for developing patient-centred devices and applications. There is an opportunity to create valuable, exciting technology in the medical space that does more than deliver customer satisfaction – real patient outcomes and real progress can be achieved.

After WIRED Health 2015, there are five clear takeaways to us:

1. There is an opportunity for pharma to partner with technology companies to create exciting, valuable devices that go beyond tracking to improve patient outcomes.

2. There is still a focus on generating data for the ‘quantified self’, but we need to shift that focus toward doing something with that information and eliciting behavioural change.

3. There is a lack of outcomes around the health and wellness technology/applications beyond customer satisfaction.

4.Solving problems in the real world means thinking about the money and where a solution is cost-saving or profit-making in order to get it to market.

5. The process of getting a medical device approved and available on the NHS is a bureaucratic nightmare. In order to progress and make the exciting innovations that already exist available to real patients, something needs to change.


You can read more about wearable technology in Senior Associate Consultant Stuart Goodman’s blog post, Evolution of the Wearable Tech Revolution.

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