How AI is developing allow Scottish patients to treat themselves at home

The global balance of power in health and life sciences is shifting inexorably towards the patient '“ and Scotland needs to be aware of this complex shift to take advantage of the opportunities to tackle health challenges and drive the economy.

The shift is to more healthcare at home, with a greater reliance on data and devices

Global professional services giant EY says technology is fuelling this power shift, with traditional health care models being forced to change as consumers are placed firmly in the driving seat.

The focus on patient/consumer at the centre of new technology-driven platform approaches means it’s not just traditional life sciences and healthcare businesses that are preparing for this very different future. Other businesses from outside the sector are taking a keen interest, including tech giants who are already investing significantly in health-related technologies.

EY calls this new era Life Sciences 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, and says it’s important to consider and understand this power shift against the four wider global mega-trends at play:

*Socio-economic forces, with ageing populations forecast to consume a much greater share of global GDP.

*Technology, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented reality and lower cost computing power and storage, which is driving healthcare towards personalised, preventative medicine.

* Customer expectation and empowerment, as increasingly informed patients and consumers demand enhanced value, service and outcomes from health providers.

* Pressure on capital resources at a time of growing demand, which in turn drives a greater focus on increased research and development (R&D) productivity and efficiency.

Andrew Monro, Head of Life Science at EY in the UK and Ireland, says the signs of patient power – or perhaps more accurately, empowerment – are all around us. He explains: “As a patient, you want to know more about your health issue and how to treat it, and you want it all done quickly and simply. The shift is to more healthcare at home, with a greater reliance on data and devices – like diabetics being able to take their blood sugar levels at home on their smartphones which can be checked and analysed within minutes by a specialist.”

Monro, who will speak on global health and life sciences trends at the Life Science Scotland conference on 12 November, says the pace of change will be fastest when the interests of stakeholder groups align.

“The best way to predict change is to answer the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ by looking at the different stakeholder groups [including healthcare providers, patients, policy-makers and businesses]. If you can find where they align, you can move with more predictability to where the pace of change will be the quickest.

“Fast progress usually liberates enormous economic value, but we need to manage that power shift carefully or there is friction in the system. Change often only takes place at a rate that the slowest stakeholder wants it to take place – and that includes the willingness of health providers to want that to happen.”

Monro says in this future world, the NHS will also need to shift from being a traditional ‘paternalistic’ organisation which looks after the holistic needs of patients, to being a more enabling and empowering stakeholder in a fast-moving, technological world – a world which presents huge opportunities, but also challenges traditional thinking. One challenge is what Monro calls the “priceless data” held by the NHS, which has the opportunity to have enormous financial and healthcare impacts depending how it is (or isn’t) used.

“In the past, the NHS had to manage, end to end, conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, but in the modern age, patients are taking more responsibility by monitoring their own health, putting in place corrective actions and using what is now very common technology like smartphones,” he explains. “You can get something submitted and analysed in minutes rather than waiting weeks and weeks for tests.”

He continues: “Healthcare providers like hospitals are using much more technology and need to consider how they can use it efficiently and cost-effectively. One NHS trust is piloting how robots might move things around the hospital that are typically moved by humans – sutures, bandages, pills, etc. Freeing up healthcare staff from doing these routine tasks will improve healthcare and can deliver huge efficiencies for the Trust.”

Paul Copland, Head of Life Sciences at EY in Scotland, says there is a willingness to innovate: “The Scottish Government is keen to explore where innovation can help, both from a patient care perspective but also from the budgetary resource side of things; there is openness to that kind of dialogue; the challenge is where to focus their attention. Scotland has a great history and tradition in innovation – we have really smart people with great ideas and ability.”

Copland points to the EY Scotland Attractiveness Survey, which tracks levels of inward investment (FDI), as an indication of how Scotland is viewed on the global stage as a natural home for innovative companies. The 2018 edition of this report showcased record levels of inward investment, with Scotland the UK leader in attracting R&D FDI.

“This is down to a number of factors, including the reputation of our academic institutions for driving R&D and innovation and the fact that Scotland has increased the level of R&D funding available to companies to help them develop new products, services, processes and business models. Scotland has a powerful proposition in this area; life sciences and healthcare businesses can benefit from this.”

However, Copland recognises the ever-present challenge of commercialising Scotland’s strength in R&D and innovation: “There is a challenge to take a lot of these really smart ideas coming out of the labs and get them into an environment where they can be properly validated and commercialised.

“Scotland can be a first adopter, but someone needs to make the call that this – or that – is the route we are going to go down, and create the right environment and incentives for the sector to thrive.”

Copland cautions that there does come a point where decisions have to be made to back specific areas and not be seen as a ‘jack of all trades’.

Monro agrees and says Scotland has to “explore risks” – but he also cautions against concentrating on simple, single solutions.

“Everybody wants you to find those silver bullets for healthcare problems, but they don’t exist,” he warns. “It’s much more complex than that.”

He concludes: “The closest to a silver bullet that companies are going to get to is by combining people and machines to achieve optimal outcomes for patients. The companies that do this will ultimately emerge as the winners.”

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