By Prof. Dr. Koen Kas, CEO, InBioVeritas
Medicine, as you know it, is about to change dramatically. The next few years, we will start to experience an evolution from a medicine that only tends to intervene when we’re already sick to one that tries to keep us healthy and even wants to make us ‘better’, to improve us.
In large parts of historical China, doctors used to be paid to keep people healthy. If you got sick, you no longer had to pay. This is where we are going…
Radical technological developments – the use of our personal biological DNA code (our genome) and other biomarkers (like our microbiome), visible and invisible sensors (so-called wearables and dermals), smartphone apps, smart social media, games and the internet – will start to keep an eye on us, like guardian angels. Technology allows us to predict the asthma attack I will have on a school trip the day after tomorrow. My smartphone knows that I should visit a dermatologist to check out the suspicious brown mark on my skin. I use virtual reality glasses to treat chronic pain patients, use a headset measuring my brainwaves to tackle stress or anxiety. We experience a growing Internet of Things (IoT), whereby things are connected to people and every other possible process and form of information. The fact that a fitness armband is connected to the internet might sound pointless, but in the foreseeable future, it’ll be the most normal thing in the world for your heart rate to be synchronized with the cloud – in the same way as your smartphone now synchronizes your mail, calendar and contacts – where an app will analyze your data in real time. As environmental factors are important for our well-being, it should come as no surprise that we start to combine parameters from our environment (UV and pollen index, pollution grades), as preventive measures.
The first pill that sends out a text message when it’s reached its target in the body is on the market . And my TV switches itself off if I haven’t taken my meds. My friends are to adjust my eating habits, to the better, and get rewarded for that. And my bank pays me a higher interest rate if I perform a healthy amount of steps a day (physical activity is currently the closest we can get to the ultimate miracle pill).
Social networks for patients allow to exchange experiences and maintain a simple diary in which they detail how they feel, which medicines they are taking and what their symptoms are. The big data generated allows to establish links between lifestyle and medication use, as well as side-effects and the effectiveness of various treatments. This produces valuable information, not only for the patients but also for companies developing new medications, treatments and devices, with greater speed than conventional clinical studies. As the number of conditions is extended from more serious chronic illnesses to less weighty conditions like flu and concussion, the number of ‘real patients’ is decreasing and the number of ‘healthy citizens’ is increasing.
Hence, healthcare will evolve to a large extent into something digital, mobile and connected. This will ensure that the knowledge and expertise that was once the exclusive domain of trained healthcare professionals will slowly shift in the direction of the patient and – ultimately – to each of us as consumers. Artificial intelligence (AI) tools allow to interpret data we have collected about ourselves and make our own diagnosis. At that point in time, our doctors become our health coaches, sometimes even in the digital form of an avatar, a visual representation of a virtual person who constantly steers our behavior. Therefore, we no longer have to leave the house to be ‘treated’.
In summary, technology will become an instrument inducing change, but will do most of it unseen, in the background. If such developments gain the confidence of present and future generations of doctors, they will turn their attention to more specialized tasks on the one hand, and have the time to focus, on the other, on that irreplaceable and un-digitizable human warmth factor, freed of the need to devote so much time to the interpretation of data. In close cooperation with the professions of the future, such as personal coaches and fitness trainers, and in line with nature, a harmony will emerge between consumers/patients and the multitude of providers and interested parties in the domain of healthcare. Taking care of body and mind thus becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure: wellness as lifestyle.
The process will then pick up speed as it heads to a new tipping point via new generations of preventive and corrective medicines, stem cell biology, organ printing and synthetic biology. And when ‘basically healthy’ begins to sound commonplace, we can expect futuristic new developments such as body extensions and upgrades.
As founding CEO of InBioVeritas and Partner at Advance.Healthcare and Healthstartup, Koen Kasideates and facilitates innovative disruptions in healthcare, organises hackatons, and creates novel digital health startups. He recently published his vision in a book (Nooit meer ziek, Sick no more). Before, he spent 15 years in Executive positions at four leading biotech companies: Tibotec, Galapagos, Pronota and Thrombogenics/Oncurious, combining that with academic cancer research. Koen is Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, and chairs the scientific committee of the European Cancer Prevention Organization.