Preparing for ‘Uber healthcare’ – opportunities and obstacles

PiR recently hosted a CEO Breakfast Forum with key opinion leaders from across the life sciences and healthcare sectors to examine radical new models for connecting demand and supply in healthcare and clinical research. Chaired by Dr Eliot Forster, CEO of Immunocore, this meeting provided the opportunity for senior executives to discuss how providers and patients alike can benefit from the technology-driven innovation now being seen across various markets.

Recent advances in global electronic connectivity have increased the pressure on businesses across every sector to deliver faster, better services, with customers now providing instant feedback – positive or negative – through social media. The prevalence of smart devices (the Internet of Things) means that consumers can now access information and online services virtually anywhere, putting pressure on suppliers to make their offerings reflect this shift. One of the most obvious examples of this ‘new thinking’ is the Uber transportation model, which has revolutionised the taxi market in major cities around the globe. Despite pressure from existing taxi providers, consumer demand has effectively overridden any potential obstacles to the introduction of Uber to the market, and this same effect is now being seen in many other sectors. Community pressure to continually improve services means that the healthcare sector is far from immune to this thinking, and we are now beginning to see novel applications of technology to overcome the traditional limitations in many areas.

Digital thinking

The key advantages of this type of digital technology are that it is instant and intelligent; service criteria can be easily filtered and pre-qualified, and only limited user knowledge/input is required. This ensures minimal overheads and a cost-effective service which can be accessed at any time. So far the scope of these solutions within healthcare has been limited, simply streamlining existing patient pathways. There are a number of reasons for this – from a lack of education to poor funding for new technologies – but institutional resistance to change is a major factor; people are not going to support any disruptive new initiative that could lead to their own role becoming redundant. This is why, as with Uber, major innovation is likely to come from new suppliers rather than the established healthcare providers. Working in collaboration with these new players – taking advantage of the services they offer to transform working practices – will provide a unique opportunity for existing providers to establish new cultures and approaches, gaining valuable experience and insight into the possibilities of digital healthcare without having to develop their own resources using already limited budgets.

A brave new world

This transition will be easiest for ‘emerging’ healthcare markets – such as India and South Africa – which do not have the ‘entrenched’ thinking associated with the highly developed European healthcare systems. Innovative, technology-based solutions are already being employed in many such markets, particularly in remote areas, allowing a more focused approach to patient care across large geographical territories. User-operated or wearable devices which allow fully automated or remote monitoring and analysis – in MI patients, for example – enable basic diagnostics to be performed in areas where local provision of clinic- or hospital-based diagnostic services would not be viable. This helps to put the patient in control, giving them both the information and means to take responsibility for their own care, from simply self-medicating to arranging transport to a secondary care centre for treatment. This helps patients to feel empowered, increasing engagement with existing healthcare systems, improving compliance with therapeutic regimes and, ultimately, promoting a healthier lifestyle.

 

Further details of the themes and issues discussed in this forum will appear in the trade press soon. Keep an eye out for this and future PiR forum topics.

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