Connected objects are likely to become increasingly ever-present in healthcare, both in the patient’s everyday environment and directly on and inside their bodies. Might medical practitioners and hospitals become the front-line suppliers of these health measurement tools in future?

E-Health: Hospitals likely to become “aggregators of connected objects”

Interview with Yuri Van Geest, co-founder of Quantified Self Europe and ambassador of the Netherlands at the Singularity University, conducted ahead of his presentation entitled ‘Sensors & Tracking: Quantifying the Self & Listening to Your Body’ at the Health 2.0 Europe event held in London on 17 - 19 November.

We’re seeing more and more connected objects appearing in the fields of fitness and wellness. How do you see this market going forward?

These things are going to become more and more integrated. We’re going to see a lot more connected objects appearing for use directly inside people’s bodies with the aim of preventing illness – to anticipate heart attacks for instance. And there’ll be a strong drive towards mobile, for both general well-being and health. It will be possible to analyse on the one hand your external environment – your food, vitamins, or identify toxins present in foodstuffs, and on the other hand what’s inside your own body – your DNA plus also glucose level, the bacteria in your mouth, your nose, on your skin, and so on.

Will the medical sector – hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, plus insurance companies, etc – be able to obtain a share in this market?

I think that will be difficult because this is an extremely competitive market. Rather than trying to compete, I feel rather that the medical sector will in the years to come play a complementary role. But for that to happen, the players will have to reinvent their business model. Hospitals will in any case have to do so, from the point of view of preventive medicine, which will call for centralisation of these technologies. But then of course the hospitals will have to be allowed to take on this role, which will depend to a large extent on the insurance system. However, the main obstacle facing this sector will be user experience. They’ll have to provide better, more precise data. A change on the legal side will also be vital here, especially as regards personal data security. For example it will be essential to ban right away any discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of personal medical data. But if they are going to get around these obstacles the most important thing is not so much to change the business model as to move to a ‘research model’.

When you talk about changing the business model, what trends do you think are likely to emerge?

Hiring and subscription-based systems will increasingly develop. It’s more logical to rent equipment. It’s a better investment. So doctors will supply their patients with the device and the patients will pay for the service. Potentially this should help reduce the overall cost of healthcare systems and everyone stands to gain from that. I also think we’re going to see more public-private partnerships in this field. That’s really the only way to make it work. It might be slow in coming but the various health sector stakeholders won’t be able to ignore the explosion in the use of connected objects much longer. They’ll inevitably have to adopt them. Sooner or later healthcare providers will have to switch from an individual-centred ‘ego-system’ to a real ‘eco-system’ and make patient data more ‘open’.

Which organisations will be able to get the most out of this?

Hospitals are most in need of these technologies. Today hospitals are just too big, too cumbersome. In my opinion, new types of hospital setups will emerge, based almost solely on these new technologies. Consequently we’ll have to break with tradition and introduce far-reaching organisational changes. But I’m certain that this will bring great benefits because illness prevention will be a central task of these organisations, with the help of the insurance system. Here again, though, it will take time. Perhaps as long as 20 years! A bit like the evolution of the Internet. However, this will involve greater illness prevention, more participation, equal treatment and personalisation, and therefore greater efficiency and a more human relationship between the medical profession and the patients. There’s still a lot of room for improvement there. The techniques in use today are too general, too old-fashioned. Proper use of data has the potential to help guard against the side-effects of treatment and also the all-too-frequent medical errors.

By Aurore Geraud
Senior Editor & Analyst