Technology already permeates deep into our busy lives on so many levels, that we often just take it for granted. Convenience is the true driver here, promising to hand us back precious time, so as we can fill it with more experiential living. Now consider that we, as a human race, are waking up to the possibilities of living a longer and healthier life, slowly but surely eradicating unhealthy habits, such as smoking and poor diet, and replacing these with exercise and mindfulness. There is a revolution afoot, with governments the world over investing heavily to encourage greater adoption, in order to reduce the strain on the overburdened and cash-strapped healthcare systems. Encouraging greater reliance on OTC medicines and better education for self care is an obvious solution for the time being.
Over the last five years there have been some key developments that indicate how future trends in population wellbeing are likely to look. Essentially, we will have far more access to accurate diagnostics and the tools and medicines to take better care of ourselves. This goes way ‘beyond the pill’, ultimately providing us greater knowledge around tackling illness early, often at very little cost. ‘Prevention’ is the emerging elixir for the industry, targeting the worried well, and this will ultimately grow to encompass more reliance upon technological innovation over medicines.
Many of us already own wearable devices, be it a Fitbit, Apple Watch or even Smart Trainers perhaps. These help us to constantly monitor our health, albeit on a relatively low-tech basis. However, wearable tech will become far smarter, cheaper and therefore available to all. The technology will plug into a central health database, and using AI, will be able to alert you/your personal AI GP with early warning symptoms and provide the correct measures to avoid illness or at least manage it correctly. This monitoring will continuously review your heart rate through to your hydration; stress through to blood sugar levels. Using this data, it will then suggest actions to maintain perfect health, such as tapping in to your shopping list and adding necessary foods to help you compensate.
What’s more, wearable technology will detect viruses and bacterial infections around us at all times. Trying to keep us within a bubble of safety, it will release chemicals non-invasively into the air and even into our blood stream to combat pathogens before we even know about it!
Some notable companies to watch in this space are
Breezometer and uHoo, whose technology constantly monitors the air all around you at all times
Sensoria, and their electronic socks that track foot landings and cadence, number of steps, heart rate and more
Adidas, and their electricity generating shoes, powering many other wearables on our body
Under Armour and their magnesium releasing clothing, believed to be beneficial in regulating heart rate rhythm and reducing blood pressure
Incentivised healthy living
A growing trend adopted by employers, and understandably supported by governments, relates to incentivising us all to be a lot healthier and therefore, happier. Healthcare has almost become an expected perk by employees, whether that be free gym membership, PTs or even access to live GPs through one of the many emerging teledoc services. This is just the beginning.
We’ll see far more personalisation on this front. With AI constantly tracking our health through wearable devices, it will then create bespoke goals around diet, exercise and sleep, that if achieved, will provide us incentives, likely in for the form of credits to use against further healthy activities and products. Employers are also likely to utilise the data to align to bonus structures. In a way, these motivational techniques will become a sort of game, keeping us plugged in for the fear of losing points or being overtaken by peers. Many technologies are already aligning to this incentive model including Nike’s Run Club as well as the fantastic ‘Zombies, RUN!’ app.
Sweatcoin is one to watch. A cryptocurrency that is earned by taking more exercise. Sweatcoins can be used to purchase almost anything you want!
A dramatic reduction in mental health issues
The benefits of virtual reality for healthcare are only just being felt. We are just scratching the surface. Over the next 20 years VR technologies will be better understood in terms of their effect on the brain and body, for distraction, pain relief and healing.
Wearable technology, such as specialist suits, will combine with VR experiences to trick the brain into believing the experience is hyper realistic, and thereby working towards rewiring neuro networks. This will, of course, raise ethical issues, but the research will be conclusive, and the technology adopted.
What’s more, this technology will be affordable for most, be safely self-administered and most likely be managed by Artificial Intelligence, to ensure the course of treatment is following your personal recovery plan. Physical experience will combine with mental experience to gain equilibrium.
Common mental health ailments such as depression, anxiety and phobias could potentially therefore be massively reduced. However, the challenge will be to ensure that patients don’t develop an over reliance on the technology.
For terminally or seriously ill patients, VR will provide a welcome relief. Studies are already proving conclusively that VR distracts patients away from both chronic and acute pain. With the introduction of supporting wearables, improvements in graphics and smart pills (more about that later), the patient will benefit from welcome pain respite without the need for high dose painkillers.
In true Star Trek style, holograms will become an essential aspect of our future, for example, allowing us to be visually present for meetings, or even helping us to fix the kitchen sink! In fact, Microsoft’s Hololens is at the cutting edge of this technology, although price point remains the biggest hurdle for mass adoption right now. With time, hardware prices will become more affordable, content will improve and the promise of enhancements to our lives will be accountable.
Holograms will be visible without the need for expensive goggles or box like structures, with holographic projectors being wide spread. Location will be no barrier to a face to face meeting, be that with your sibling in New Zealand, or your busy human Health Care Professional (HCP). Going one step further, HCPs will become visual AI robots who look, sound and behave as any human would, but are available 24/7, initially at a premium. These AI holograms will be able to access your previous health records as well as access live data from your wearables, allowing for a rapid diagnosis and correct, personalised course of treatment.
Ailments that currently require physio such as sprains, strains and fractures will be managed through a combination of AI and holograms too. This technology will track your body movement through a specialist camera system, then advise you on making specific movements to aid the healing process. By tracking your progress, a central AI will then adapt and learn your personal abilities and amend treatment as necessary. Essentially, the healing process will be managed for us taking into account our own personal recovery rates.
Personalised and smart medicine
In a similar way to the wearables revolution, smart pills are already a thing, only limited by the technological platforms that they are currently managed through. In the future, medicine will, of course, evolve to address each of our personal genetic make-up and thereby become more effective. Also consider how microscopic tracking technology within each pill taken will provide valuable data as to how our body is reacting to the chemicals, then allow the AI HCP to adjust the medicine to provide optimal workings. Automatic red flags (i.e. adverse events) will ensure that any wayward reactions are caught and addressed immediately. This combination of personalised and trackable medicine will ultimately improve our healthcare outcomes, keeping us healthier for longer.
More than a gut feeling
We’re only just starting to understand the true importance of our gut microbiome in relation to maintaining overall health. There’s a definite consumer thirst for knowledge here and no shortage of probiotics and HCPs championing the need to have a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. We already have access products that tests microbiome strains and test the pH balance in our guts. Far more advanced technology of this ilk will form an important part of the AI HCPs first weapon of choice. Remember, prevention is the key to maintaining health, and far more research will appear over the coming decade to support the need for a ‘gut first’ approach to health. This research will convince global healthcare networks to adopt a revised strategy for maintaining populous wellness, readily dispensing natural strains of live bacteria or specialist high fibre diets to resurrect our existing microbiome, over chemical medicines.
Gut microbiome tests monitored through smart pills will provide an understanding to our overall health at any particular moment in time, ensuring the correct course of action (or bacteria) is used to stabilise our body’s immune system and help fight off those nasty bugs – Expect prebiotics and probiotics to almost certainly mostly replace antibiotics within the next 20 years.
Due to overwhelming consumer demand, the world of medicine will also fully embrace natural ingredients far more readily, such as cannabis and its many medicinal qualities. This will also signal a period of extensive research investment by the industry to find the next natural elixir of the plant world.
AI is central to the patient journey
We’ve mentioned AI a fair amount, but there is good reason for this. AI working in tandem with machine learning is essentially an algorithm that advises based on % calculations. Therefore, the more data it serves, the smarter it becomes.
Having one of the most advanced brains on the planet to, essentially, manage our personal health 24/7 is therefore an obvious direction for adoption. This is the fourth industrial revolution after all.
We will all benefit from dramatic improvements in diagnostics, detecting illnesses earlier, then having personalised dosages of medicines administered that offer the optimum result for our own genetic make-up. This will in turn ensure populations remain healthier and happier for longer.
This goes beyond your Siri or Alexa, and instead means we will have access to a virtual doctor at our finger tips, monitoring us 24/7. These will essentially be super intelligent triage bots that offer consistent and contextual information with outstanding accuracy. Information is personalised to you, and at any point, the AI can transfer your case to a human GP if required. AI and human HCPs will work in unison, the AI helping us diagnose and manage minor ailments only then handing over to your GP if symptoms persist.
AI will be intelligent enough to manage our homes, creating the optimum environment for our own personal wellness, including managing lighting, humidity, noise, anti-bacterial sprays and even keeping our fridges stocked with healthy foods.
Arguably, we’ve been playing God since modern medicine made its debut back in the 18th century during the first industrial revolution. Science continues to break new ground, keeping us alive and healthier for longer. As already mentioned, modern medicine will likely prevent illness in the first place, and this starts with our genetic makeup…
Genetics can be blamed for so many of today’s terminal illnesses. The secret to a long and healthy life will be to mutate our genetic cells into a healthier make up. However there are clearly ethical issues that will be debated for many years to come. To many, this really is ‘playing God’. However, the fact remains that this could save millions of lives, trillions of pounds for health services, and generate trillions of pounds in GDP as people remain fit and well and work longer!
This genetic modification, likely administered from birth as an insurance against illness, could spell the end of cancer and equally unpleasant illnesses as we know it.
And what about the Consumer Healthcare industry?
Technology and innovation are disrupting almost every industry right now, the Consumer Healthcare industry being a prime focus for many opportunities. The sheer number of healthcare start-ups, government investment and pharmaceutical giants launching ‘technology incubators’ speaks for itself. We predict that in 30-50 years, advanced, personalised (to us) technologies such as that listed above will, in many instances, have the capability of replacing the vast majority of OTC products as we know it. This will lead to more mergers and therefore fewer players, who are constantly challenged by the thriving community of medtech entrepreneurs with their niche technical solutions.
This means that way into the future, reliance on OTC medicines could likely decline, replaced by super lucrative medtech solutions and more natural medicines.
The moral of the story: If you want to stay ahead of the curve, investing in innovation now is quite simply the only means of maintaining relevance and market share into the future.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our predictions for the future of consumer healthcare as much as we have enjoyed sharing them. The consumer healthcare industry is arguably one of the most exciting places to work right now, with our imaginations being the only barriers to the disruption we will all witness over the next decade or two.
Continuing the Star Trek analogy ‘we are about to boldly go where no man, or woman has gone before!’
By Hayden Allen-Vercoe, Chief Operations Officer, Orbital Media