‘There is a tsunami of healthcare challenges descending on society’

29 May 2017

Dr Conor Hanley, CEO, FIRE1. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The future of healthcare is hard to predict, though what’s fairly certain is that treasure troves of data will soon change the game.

Life Sciences Week 2017

Humans in the 1500s looked great. They are assumed to have been generally lean, fit and toned, but their perceived health was an illusion, with life expectancy around 40 years of age.

Future Human

Today, we’re taller and fatter. We eat more, but we eat worse – the look is one of lesser health. Yet we live into our 70s, on average.

So things are good, right? Perhaps not. That’s according to Conor Hanley, president and CEO of Foundry Innovation & Research 1 (FIRE1).

Data healthcare

Enhancing healthcare

Speaking at Inspirefest, Hanley detailed the need for today’s digital revolution to enhance healthcare, pulling the rug from under antiquated approaches to treatment.

Talking of a trip to hospital, Hanley admitted he hates being there. He’s squeamish, he hates being around sick people, hospitals are full of infections, and it’s very, very stressful.

But the main problem was “completely overworked healthcare”, he said. “People doing their best in an overburdened system.”

How can we take away some of this burden? Data.

Hanley lauds the non-invasive, simple, constant retrieval of data. Getting the right information to the right people, at the right time.

“In certain chronic medicine, up to 50pc of medicines people take home aren’t used,” he said. “What a waste of money. What a waste for their life expectancy. How can we use what is already common to encourage people, to educate them, to empower the patient to get involved?

“Look at Fitbit,” he said, which is quite simply “trying to get us to exercise more”. This, Hanley explains, is all about the key concern, and the key area we can help fix: wellness.

“Sleep, diet and exercise add up to wellness,” he said, with the former a particular “unmet need”.

FIRE1 developed a novel remote monitoring device to help people sleep. A tweak to sensors used to help cars park saw Hanley’s company build a device that could monitor chest movements.

Soon, Resmed bought the company out, with continual investigation into this field expanding ever since.

Wear it proud

Beyond this, there are heart monitors, generic smartphone apps and, lately, more commercially attractive approaches to insurance.

Aiming to “revolutionise” its customers’ health experience, health insurance company Aetna last year revealed moves to take a more digital route to the adage ‘an Apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

Pinning its business model on mass adoption of Apple Watches, Aetna’s plan is to better understand both its workers and customers, thus presumably managing its premiums more accurately in future.

That’s a perfect example of current technology helping healthcare pick up speed, but there are other fields of note, too.

Suppose you could walk into your doctor’s surgery, offer up a droplet of blood and, within minutes, get answers about an infection you might have, how you are responding to medication, or possibly even if you have cancer?

That’s the scenario envisaged thanks to ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology, which miniaturises analytical systems – in this case making them small and rapid enough to suit a lunchtime trip to the GP.

The future is data, and it’s coming into view.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic