Looking beyond the boundaries of healthcare

Insights from Singularity University NL first summit. Singularity University aims to address humanity’s grand challenges in the world using converging exponential technologies.

Tom van de Belt & Jules Lancee

Assistent Professor e-Health & Bio’magical’ Engineer

‘The Dutch’ demand the best health(care). Fortunately, more than one million professional healthcare providers and even more informal carers are there to help us realize this. We all know that healthcare is facing challenges such as a growing demand, budget cuts, and more empowered patients that want the newest treatment options.

The government, healthcare organizations and patients realize that technology could be a solution to address these issues. Therefore, there is an increasing attention for technological innovation and some organizations aim to create an ‘innovation culture’. We could not agree more.

An interesting observation within the healthcare sector is that the (traditional) boundaries between different departments and/or specialties are slowly fading. As a result, more knowledge is shared and there is room for co-creation, like we’ve seen in the recently launched platform CMyLife. Interestingly, most innovative projects take place completely within the healthcare sector itself, instead of also looking beyond the boundaries of the sector. And that is, in our opinion, not only a missed opportunity, but it can also negatively influence the healthcare sector in the future.

During the Singularity University NL Summit this week in the DeLaMar theater in Amsterdam, some of these opportunities were addressed, as were the negative results when neglecting these opportunities. For example: Back in the days mobile phone manufacturer Nokia was doing really well from an innovation perspective. They were creating new forms of phones every few years, from the first car phones to mobile phones without antennas on which you could play games. ‘What they didn’t realize’, last speaker and core faculty member David Roberts said, ‘was that change was coming from a different direction: the computer industry’. Apple introduced their iPhone in 2007 and all of a sudden Nokia was lagging behind.

Formula 1 racing cars can appear as a seemingly random example: These cars, or nowadays better described as ‘computers on wheels’ by Future of Mobility speaker Carlo van de Weijer, have a variety of precision diagnostic technology inside that produce real time actionable data, in enormous amounts. Furthermore, they have teams of data scientists that write algorithms to perform trend analysis on this data, allowing them to know everything about the car, from millisecond to millisecond. They can even predict when a specific car part among thousands will break.

Although this might seem not related to healthcare, the collection of real time continuous data is what we do in healthcare on a daily basis e.g. on intensive care units. Moreover, an increasing number of wireless sensors facilitate registration of an ever increasing number of variables. Since healthcare generally is not used to deal with such a big amount of continuous data, it will be worthwhile to explore the usability of Formula 1 data analyses in healthcare. Who knows what we can expect to find? For example: What if you could predict specific clinical deterioration at an earlier stage?

What we take home from the Singularity University summit 2016, being exposed to all kinds of either emerging or exponentially developing fields: in healthcare we should consider other industries or fields of expertise to have much inspiring value for doing things differently. It will be refreshing to see what opportunities arise when crossing those borders. Particularly patients, who wish for optimal care, could play a role by actively engaging in this. For them to keep asking for new, for example digital, ways of receiving care, will be an incentive for  healthcare professionals and their organizations to explore other options rather than sticking with the traditional. This way they will be challenged to be more open to new technologies.

In conclusion, we call on everybody, whether being a patient, scientist or healthcare provider, to keep innovating, and particularly keep their eyes open for developments in other sectors. Sometimes they may be way ahead of us and we can profit from that. By being actively looking for these opportunities we increase chances of helping shape our healthy future, and diminish the chance of being caught up by reality.

Jules Lancee – “biomagical” engineer

Tom van de Belt – assistant professor eHealth