Solving the healthcare crisis through data

Grant Caley, NetApp’s chief technologist, discusses how chronic disease is now the world’s biggest killer – and how data-driven healthcare is just the remedy

Healthcare has evolved so far that the biggest threat to human health now sits firmly in our hands.

The killer combination of over consumption with sedentary lifestyles and poor mental health, means society must now battle its behaviours in the fight against chronic diseases.

To this end, the gamification of exercise by various fitness and wellness apps that monitor our wellbeing is proving to be empowering – regardless of their accuracy, which is consistently evolving.

The global market for IoT healthcare tech is set to hit $400billion in 2020, bringing healthcare into the home and providing personalised care

Indeed, as the innovation and technological transformation of the healthcare industry takes root, the certainty of our progress lays in the creative fusion of healthcare technology, and trust in the privacy and security of the data this generates.

Understanding why it is so important that we ensure the continued evolution and democratisation of healthcare – by equipping future patients with the technological tools to fight chronic disease – requires only a few headline statistics.

The OECD’s report, Health at a Glance: Europe 2016, estimates that the premature deaths of 550,000 working‑age people across European Union countries, from chronic diseases, cost EU economies €115billion – equivalent to 0.8% of GDP annually.

It concludes that better public health and prevention policies as well as more-effective healthcare could save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of Euros each year.

A number of key areas are emerging as society’s battle sets in against the mire of chronic diseases.

Nutrition is entering the health ecosystem as a preventative tool to fight chronic diseases like cancers and diabetes.

It is an area ripe for development, as healthcare providers identify new ways of empowering citizens and promoting health literacy.

Hand-in-hand with nutrition is the drive to get nations moving, to combat issues like obesity, which is regarded as one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st Century.

The instance of obesity has tripled in European countries since the 1980s. Today, over one in three of Europe’s 11-year-olds is overweight or obese, and 70% of adolescents in southern Europe do not achieve the WHO’s recommended levels of daily activity. Obesity is already responsible for 2-8% of health costs and 10–13% of deaths in different parts of the region.

Mental health is another key area for growth, one that impacts overall health and wellbeing.

The total cost of mental illness is estimated at around 3.5% of OECD countries’ GDP. According to the WHO, neuropsychiatric disorders are the third major cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in Europe and account for 15.2%, following cardiovascular diseases accounting for 26.6% and cancers accounting for 15.4%.

In many Western countries, mental disorders are responsible for 30-40% of chronic sick leave, with sufferers of mild to moderate mental illness – such as anxiety or depression – twice as likely to be unemployed. They also run a much-higher risk of living in poverty and social marginalisation.

As the innovation and technological transformation of the healthcare industry takes root, the certainty of our progress lays in the creative fusion of healthcare technology, and trust in the privacy and security of the data this generates

As health services take a step back to assess the wellbeing of the general public, so patients are stepping forwards to drive the change.

This shift in gears provides a welcome opportunity to truly address behaviours and collaborate with the shared goal of tip-top health.

Cue explosive innovation. When the worlds of business and healthcare start talking, technology is the solution.

Wearable devices that monitor health and track patient data, along with health apps on smartphones, are booming and help prevent chronic diseases by encouraging activity, behaviour change, and health literacy.

Consequently, the medical wearables market has exploded and was valued at over $13billion globally in 2016, with healthcare proving to be the fastest-growing segment of the wearables industry overall.

Popular devices like FitBit get prospective patients moving, along with more leisure-centered apps like Pokemon Go! Its players have collectively walked nearly nine billion kilometres since the smartphone game was released last year.

Meanwhile, healthcare apps are transforming the way we interact with healthcare providers.

In the US, Ochsner Health System has been piloting Apple’s new HealthKit and Watch as part of a scheme that involves sending patients home with an app, a set of Wi-Fi-connected scales and a blood pressure cuff. With these, patients can better manage their medications and their diet. This, in turn, is hoped to reduce the rate of patients rebounding.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the app Babylon is already established as a leader in online doctor consultations and enables patients to check symptoms and book consultations with a doctor, specialist or therapist, via phone or video call.

IoT also taps into these new patient expectations and the nurturing of patient behaviours.

The global market for IoT healthcare tech is set to hit $400billion in 2020, bringing healthcare into the home and providing personalised care.

These investments serve to empower and reassure patients by putting them in the driver’s seat: they monitor their heart conditions, the progress of diseases and infections with apps, sensors and wearables.

However, along with these game-changing technologies comes a slew of data – the most-personal data we have, health data.

Wearable devices that monitor health and track patient data, along with health apps on smartphones, are booming and help prevent chronic diseases by encouraging activity, behaviour change, and health literacy

Patient data is the golddust of future healthcare. It is the key to our future health when plugged into research, with machine learning to fast-track discoveries. It also opens the door to patient-centric care, as the data becomes accessible to patients.

However, the willingness of patients to share their medical data – a prerequisite for the digital transformation of healthcare – is based upon their trust in the institutions, services and healthcare businesses.

As the world attempts to get a grip on the growing deluge of data in the wake of IoT growth and with the App Store expected to hit five million apps by 2020, the way this data is managed is under the microscope.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into play in May this year, provides a good opportunity for healthcare providers and businesses to regulate and tighten up data management practices in the interests of patient privacy.

Requiring any business that uses personal data to be able to prove valid consent for use of the data – by first clearly communicating how the information will be used –, GDPR will force healthcare businesses and app developers to fully analyse their digital functions, including processes for storage, security and patient identification.

The integrity of data management is a focal point around which future healthcare is stacked. Without it, it is back to the basics with non-competitive park runs, doctors’ appointments for general medical queries, and healthy eating minus encouraging notifications. This may not sound disastrous. But let’s remind ourselves of the 550,000 people who die prematurely from preventable chronic disease every year in Europe.

Innovations are helping potential patients fight back. But first, they must trust in the applications and the privacy of their data.

Companies