Like most tech lovers, I’m excited about the upcoming CES conference. I won’t be attending in person but will be watching it very closely from a virtual platform. As a physician, I am particularly interested in health tech and how it can improve patient outcomes – both individual patients as well as populations of patients. But my assessment of tech this year will be very different than previous years.
The COVID pandemic has changed the way we evaluate health technologies in four important and distinct ways.
- Practicality replaces glitz. The “Wow factor” is what mattered in the past. “Look how cool this laser is that can identify your heart rhythm from 300 feet away!” “This headset lets me see how food travels through my body in real time!” Technology can still be cool, but now the question is how will I use it? Wearables that measure important variables like blood pressure will get more attention than new imaging tools that simply provide a clearer picture.
- Prevention takes precedence over therapeutics. COVID has demonstrated to us the importance of our personal health. For too long, we made our jobs and other commitments our top priority. Going forward, one’s personal health will become a major focus, especially as it relates to prevention. How will a particular technology let me take control of my own health? Nowadays, I am now more interested in a toilet that can monitor my urine for signs of diabetes or my stool for colorectal cancer than a device that creates holograms. Once one gets pass the “icky” factor of some tools, we will evolve to truly personalized preventive medicine.
- Rigorous outcomes rule the day. Everything now will be measured by how did it change patient outcomes. Sure, it a device might show a new way to measure blood glucose – but what impact does it have on quality of life, co-morbidities, and life expectancy?
- Consumer centricity rather than physician centricity. In the past, technology has been focused on the health system and doctors. It’s been a B-B approach. That won’t go away, but more and more tech innovations will put the health consumer in charge. For instance, I won’t be wearing a device that sends all the information to my doctor, but rather there will be more interpretation of all the data from wearables with direct communication to the patient. This may require changes in regulation by the US Food and Drug Administration with a more practical definition of what constitutes a “medical device.”
The real future of digital health is when tech tools continuously collect health data points and help interpret the information and provide preliminary diagnoses to patients. The doctor isn’t going to be left out of this equation, but the difference will be that the patient will no longer be left out. It’s the patient who will be at the center of how these technologies function from start to finish.
I’m sure I still going to be wow-ed this year and be entertained by the advancements we have made, especially during the last two years. But I’m also going to ask tougher questions on innovation, especially as relates to the purpose and impact.