In the future healthcare services will be radically different than they are now. Developments in DNA sequencing, testing, analysis and therapy are slowly becoming a very real threat to healthcare as we know it. As patients (will) have more options than ever before the need for a new business model arises where the patient can’t and shouldn’t have to manage every single interaction. And while having a ‘single point of access’ might be utopic thinking, for the patient it would be the best solution. This is where we see the creation of a patient-to-network business model providing patients information, care and even treatment in the comfort of their home.
Companies such as 23andme and Myheritage are already selling direct-to-consumer DNA tests, enabling you to map and trace your heritage. In addition to that, 23andme is using similar technology provided by Illumina, the world’s largest DNA sequencing company, to analyse a person’s genome and provide genetic information related to potential health issues. Although not yet available in Belgium, these kits are selling for $200 in the US. (Steve jobs paid 100,000$ to have his genome sequenced in 2011).
Contents of the 23andme kit. (www.23andme.com)
Grail, an Illumina spin-off, is developing a blood test that enables the early detection of cancer by picking up bits of DNA from cancer cells. Combine these trends with microfluidics, the science of fluid manipulation and controlling at microscopic levels, and lab-on-chip technology, which could potentially be embedded under the skin, to provide immediate diagnosis and continuous monitoring of diseases.
So we’ll be able to map, monitor, and obtain an analysis of our health at any point, but what about treatments?
Gene editing, or gene therapy, is a growing trend and several ventures are bringing their solutions to markets all over the world. Strimvelis, a gene treatment, has been recently approved for use in Europe for combating a severe combined immunodeficiency and Spark Therapeutics is using the technology to treat a certain form of blindness.
This past year, Cellectis used gene editing technology to treat leukemia and Chinese scientists used a genome manipulation tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 to attempt to introduce HIV-resistance mutations in embryos. With all these available technologies, why treat diseases when you can alter your genome so you can’t get sick in the first place?
Then these developments beg the question, is the traditional hospital really that important?
So the patient could map his or her genome to pinpoint problem areas, continuously monitor relevant bio-markers, get notified when a problem occurs, and receive the right gene treatment and apply it at home. This is what Brian Hanley, as described in an MIT article, has been experimenting with at home. He designed, ordered, and injected himself with specific genes to boost the production of growth-hormone-releasing hormone.
For now, hospitals are here to stay. But once the costs for all these technologies dwindle we’ll see a different care model emerge. One that isn’t merely ‘empowering’ patients, but also customized to their needs. I’m not saying hospitals will disappear, but their role will change dramatically from a centralized ‘Care Center’ to a decentralized, connected web of services, tools, caregivers and healthcare professionals.
To successfully provide these services an industry of integrators is bound to arise. This ‘intermediary-industry’ will flourish as public and private institutions compete in their attempt to provide as many services as possible. The eventual winner will be the one with the largest network, as a larger network represents more options for the patient to choose from.
It is here where companies such as U-Sentric could assist in the creation of a hybrid model, which combines digital and physical assets to enable a customized exchange of care, information, data, and money while ensuring an optimal experience across the entire patient-to-network life-cycle.