Simon Corah, ex-CEO of M&C Saatchi Australia and now co-founder of strategy and marketing consultancy Growth Mantra, says the mega-trends we see today in health are more than just passing fads.

They are driven by macro forces such as an ageing population in developed countries, the desire to live a quality life for longer, an increasing acceptance of technology, and a growing focus on personal wellbeing and self-education, and 24/7 access.

“This is the ‘Fitbit generation’,” says Corah. “Gone are the days of doctor knows best. Today we go to the doctor and say, ‘I’ve done a search and I think I have cancer. What do I need to do about it?’”

Growth Mantra specialises in forecasting markets over the next five to ten years and spotting opportunities for business growth. Here Corah details four mega-trends that businesses in health should be across.

1. AI and robotics

A growing proportion of surgical procedures involve artificial intelligence (AI) or robots. For example, a report by RBC Capital Markets predicts that about one-third of orthopaedic surgeons in the US will use robotic systems by 2018. And with this trend, the perception that it’s better to have a human involved is starting to fade.

Says Corah: “With the way trends are moving, it’s not difficult to imagine a world in 10 years’ time where we say, ‘Wow, a real doctor is doing my operation? Are you sure that’s safe?’”

AI is increasingly being used to predict health problems. Machine learning algorithms are predicting risk of cardiac arrest and predicting schizophrenia by looking at the brain’s blood flow.

At a personal level, a range of apps are putting rising diagnostic power in consumers’ hands. The SkinVision app, for example, allows users to photograph moles on their smartphone, and then uses AI to check for the likelihood of melanoma. And the Ada app on trial in New Zealand offers a diagnosis service, after input from over 100 medical doctors, where users input their symptoms and get a version of a pre-doctor assessment that can speed up time physically spent at the clinic.

“It doesn’t replace the doctor but it can reassure people based on others with similar symptoms,” Corah says.

2. Personalisation

With the advent of US-based biotechnology company 23andMe and its affordable genetic tests, the meaning of personalisation has deepened. There are now a range of products and services emerging that are tailored to an individual’s DNA, and this trend is likely to gather pace.

Some are not strictly in the health space – wine delivery service Vinome promises to supply wine that is paired to you based on your genetic code – while others have wide-ranging health implications. California-based company Habit, for example, plans to use genetic markers and other tests to identify the perfect nutritional balance for each of its customers and send that meal to their doors (just like Lite n Easy), while health insurance in the USA from companies like Oscar is tailored to individuals’ DNA with premiums influenced by how predisposed they are to certain diseases, Corah says.

Meanwhile, for those requiring an organ transplant, 3D bio-printing technology could soon allow us to print them, and a new frontier is 4D printing technology, where 3D printed objects grow and change over time to mimic natural processes.

“This could allow 3D printing of, say, bones for children which will grow with the child,” Corah says.

3. Prediction and prevention

There are a growing number of devices empowering consumers to tackle problems before they emerge – or before professionals can get on the scene.

US-based Allergy Amulet, for example, is developing a portable ingredient detection device aimed at preventing food allergy fatalities. Out in the field, the GoodSAM app allows volunteers trained to deliver CPR to respond to a nearby cardiac arrest before an ambulance arrives.

Professionals are also being armed with a more sophisticated array of diagnostic tools. Wearables are nothing new, but how about ingestibles? Ingestible sensors are fast emerging for their ability to collect a wealth of information about a patient’s gastrointestinal tract and transmit it to medical professionals.

It may not be long before we are able to ‘fix’ DNA that is faulty, Corah adds. “I think we are only at the beginning of this,” he says. “It’s the ability to effectively manipulate the genome so we can resolve things before they become problems.”

4. Privacy and cyber security

There is so much data being collected today about us that it’s easy to get complacent about its availability working against our best interests.

Corah cites the legal wrangling surrounding 23andMe. It has long been a fundamental tenet of obtaining health insurance that all pre-existing conditions be revealed to an insurer. Should this be extended to a person’s genetic code if it points to a high likelihood of cancer or other diseases? Could people with an unlucky genetic code be unable to obtain health insurance?

“That is still a very grey area,” Corah says.

Digital medical records promise a lot of advantages, such as the ability to visit any doctor and have him or her pull up your relevant medical history. But information can get into the wrong hands.

Corah imagines hackers obtaining genetic records, and then demanding money on the threat of making them available online for insurers to access. More concerning still is the possibility that genetic editing technology becomes cheap and accessible enough that people could use it to create diseases resistant to available treatments.

Staying ahead of the curve

As the pace of technological change increases, the near future will be full of devices, techniques and concepts that will be driven by the mega-trends of AI, personalisation, prevention and privacy – and other innovations that will emerge in the coming years.

NAB is working with Growth Mantra to keep organisations at the forefront of these trends.

John McCarthy, Head of Corporate Health at NAB Health, says organisations face a constant race to stay relevant.

“Technology is becoming an ever-larger part of our daily lives and health care industry organisations need to be across how their businesses could be disrupted,” McCarthy says.

“If prevention is the best cure in medicine, then the analogy for health businesses today is that knowledge is power, and there’s great opportunity for organisations and practitioners alike to learn as much as they can now about the mega-trends set to shape tomorrow’s health environment.”

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