Digital transformation in healthcare

Artificial intelligence and big data are leading to far-reaching innovations and entirely new business models within the healthcare space, boosting quality of life and opening up exciting opportunities for investors.

February 7, 2020

DNA scanning in precision medicine, forecasts of genetic changes to identify illnesses early on, individualized treatments, virtual simulations, and robotics in mental health technology – these are just some of the applications that are already on the market thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. These innovations are indicative of the trend toward greater security, individualization, and convenience within healthcare provision. There is a growing focus on preventing as opposed to treating illnesses. What is more, these technologies also harbor considerable potential to save both time and money.

Personalizing medicine offers one way in which cost savings can be achieved. Thanks to new technologies, patients can be examined more quickly, enabling the most effective treatment method to be used. This cuts treatment times and therefore also the costs involved. At the same time, this approach gives patients a better chance of making a full recovery.

Digital tools are enabling individuals to monitor their health themselves and to identify any irregularities at an early stage – before an illness develops.

Quicker, more precise, and more efficient

Innovative technologies also support patients in completing treatments successfully. The failure to follow treatment programs as instructed is one of the biggest cost drivers within healthcare worldwide. In Switzerland, annual treatment costs per patient average 13,000 Swiss francs. If a patient fails to follow the recommended therapy, this figure can easily soar. Such sharp cost overruns can arise if the original illness spreads further or additional health issues emerge. When treatments are unsuccessful, the main reason is frequently quite banal – patients forget to take their medication or to follow the therapies prescribed. Monitoring tools can help people to be more disciplined, also helping physicians to quickly identify where their patients have not been following instructions.

Drivers of change

As part of the 23rd Credit Suisse Salon, which was held in London in June 2019 under the banner of “Fourth Industrial Revolution: Healthcare Transformation,” various entrepreneurial pioneers provided fascinating insights into the latest developments in their businesses. The Salon is a thought leadership platform organized by Credit Suisse that offers a chance to discuss key economic, political, and social issues with leading decision-makers.

Matthias Steger, co-founder and CEO of Endogena Therapeutics, San Francisco and Zurich, spoke about the ongoing spread of degenerative diseases on account of the ageing population. His company uses molecules that intervene in the human body’s endogenous stem cells and ultimately repair and regenerate the tissue. The firm’s current focus is on the eyes, and specifically on the regeneration of photoreceptors and the cells in the retinal pigment epithelium to prevent blindness. However, Endogena’s novel approach could soon lead to treatment paradigm changes in other degenerative illnesses such as muscle or bone diseases including osteoarthritis, in cases of hearing or sight loss, or in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Jim Mellon, chairman of Juvenescence Limited and a philanthropist and healthcare investor, believes that in future it will be possible to treat the various predominantly age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s on a consolidated basis. He thinks this will soon enable people to reach an age of 110 or 120. “Bio-engineering will help us to boost our life expectancy as well as the number of years we live a healthy life,” Mellon commented, adding that as the birth rate is lower than the death rate, people living longer worldwide would not lead to an increase in the global population. He went on to say that if people remained healthy even in the final years of their lives, this would lower health and social costs.

Dr. Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, makes AI work for his clients. The platform developed by Babylon assesses the likelihood that a patient’s symptoms are caused by a particular illness and suggests whether they need to see a doctor, go to a hospital, or simply visit a pharmacist. It also offers a health check that gives recommendations about their diet, exercise, and sleeping habits.

Carefully prepared, AI-supported diagnoses can lower costs and boost people’s well-being, especially in relation to preventable illnesses for which the diagnosis and prognosis are fairly straight- forward – the cause of most healthcare costs. “A rule of thumb among AI experts states that anything doctors can reasonably assess with their own eyes can now also be diagnosed using artificial intelligence,” reported Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper on July 26, 2019 in an article entitled “Die Diagnose kommt vom Computer” (The computer makes the diagnosis).

Dr. Parsa says that Babylon wants AI to assist doctors, not replace them. The vision is for AI to make life better for patients and doctors by helping automate wherever it can and free up doctors to focus on what they do best, such as getting to know their patients better, giving a physical examination and practicing the art of medicine.

What investors need to bear in mind

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