A Biotechnological Revolution
I often hear young physicians criticize the way medicine lags behind technological advances. To an extent, they have a point. The beeping of pagers, the strange fax machine dial tones and – until quite recently – the shuffling of paper medical records all resonated through the wards of the hospital. Engrained in tradition, medicine has had trouble progressing past the clicks and veers of antiquated technologies. But I don’t know how strong that point will hold much longer.
Medical innovation has ballooned this decade as entrepreneurs pitch ways to improve health care and modernize an industry. Just last year, the biotech industry raised $1.5 billion in venture capital over 95 deals, second only to the software industry. The sector’s revenues have grown 17 percent over the past five years, and its investors have prospered; between 2011 and 2015 the iShares Biotechnology Index increased nearly 300. This buzz means that the hospital, clinic and patient will look quite different by the time I begin training, and in more ways than just replacing pagers with cell phones. There are four big categories of exciting advancement that I’m watching, and I’ll point out a few of my favorite startups to follow in the coming years.
I originally wanted to make this category about wearable devices, but it’s become so much more. The era of paternalistic medicine phased out some time ago, but technology has really fired patient-centered care forward. Today more than ever, the patient is in command of his or her own health and has the tools at hand to call the shots. MedWand is a really cool company that created a device for measuring vital signs such as temperature and oxygen saturation, and even contains an otoscope that connects to PCs and mobile devices to integrate that information into electronic medical records. Such a device has huge implications for telehealth. Sano is working on an awesome wearable device to noninvasively and continuously measure blood sugar – a huge game changer for the 30 million Americans suffering from diabetes.
The field of genetics has flung medicine forward as we begin to better understand the complex associations that a person’s DNA has on their response to treatment. NantHealth is a company founded by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, billionaire physician who sold two pharmaceutical companies after developing blockbuster chemotherapeutics. Rated the most valuable health care startup at just under a billion dollars, NantHealth uses DNA sequencing, RNA sequencing and proteomics to create a molecular profile of a patient’s tumor, and uses the information to design personalized treatment strategies.
Though the days of house calls are long gone, innovation aims to bring back the convenience of interacting with a physician without leaving one’s home. Telehealth has emerged as an innovative hotbed of ideas. Respond Well allows patients to complete post-surgical rehabilitation exercises from home, with a platform to prescribe personalized therapy programs, all while collecting data from the patient to share with the provider for follow up visits. Health Joy, a company based out of Chicago, allows patients to communicate with their physicians, book appointments and negotiate medical bills online.
Perhaps my favorite category is that of technologies aimed at curbing the soaring cost of health care. A genuine concern with such rapid technologic growth, a concern I’ve shared myself, is how we’re going to pay for all of it. New technologies are often more expensive than the status quo, and the general movement in health policy is away from large expenditures to flatten the curve of health care expenditures. That’s why I’ve been so excited to see the number of health care startups that are aiming to parallel that charge. For those concerned with these costs, Castlight Health is an exciting venture that aims to allow patients to search their zip code not only for nearby providers, but also for the amounts they charge for various services. iTriage is another exciting company that allows patients to enter symptoms and receive information about the best place to seek care. It both empowers patients and has the bonus effect of reducing emergency department overuse.
So what does the future of health care look like? Our patients will be more in control, equipped with a lot more than WebMD. Treatments will be more directed and personalized. Remote clinical care will become regular. And if we do it all right, we might actually be able to pull it off spending less than we currently are. I’m excited to see what the future holds and to start my career at a time when health care pushes the technological frontier.
American Resident Project fellows receive compensation from Anthem for sharing their perspectives on this blog. Fellows views are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Anthem, Inc.