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The Future of Connected Health

31 May 2018

The latest event in the Imperial Business in the City event focused on the Future of Connected Health, and took place at Imperial College Business School last week. This series, now in its third year, sees a member of Business School faculty speak about their research alongside an expert speaking on their experience of working in a relevant industry. In this event, Dr Laure de Preux, Assistant Professor of Economics, spoke alongside Dr Ali Parsa, CEO and Founder of Babylon. The evening was chaired by the Dean of the Business School, Professor Francisco Veloso.

Dr Laure de Preux opened the evening by discussing how big data can, and will, affect connected health in the future. In examining the traditional healthcare model, she noted that the physicians were traditionally at the centre of the model as they had a better understanding of the patient’s condition and possible treatments than the patient herself or the payer, typically the insurance. However, this traditional model is transforming; driven by changing demand and supply, pressure on innovation and costs, new boundaries of the healthcare market and climate change, amongst others. People are living longer and this is resulting in a surge in multimorbidity individuals who are expensive to treat; the patient is (or believes to be) more informed now than ever with people often having access to internet to search for her symptoms and treatment options. Cost pressure is as always a factor that keeps intensifying; Dr de Preux emphasised the need to reduce management and delivery costs, while maintaining and even improving the quality of care. She said, ‘We need healthcare systems that provide access to care to all with good quality and responsive services, but this can only be achieved if they are more effective, and offer better value for money.’

Dr de Preux discussed some of the potential solutions to these challenges such as value-based payment systems, digitalization (including electronic health records & tele-marketing), market structure, prevention and the management of multimorbidity. As part of her own research, she presented how environmental sustainability can be taken into account in economic evaluations as a necessary element of a responsible approach to fight climate change.

She went on to explain that the large, complex data sets within healthcare are often unstructured, they come in different formats from a multitude of sources and often they require medical expertise to be able to understand them. However, big data has been integral to much of the research coming out of healthcare at the moment. Dr de Preux’s research on climate change, and specifically the relationship between the environment and our health has heavily relied on big data, for example.

‘What I am talking about is the instantaneous integration of individual information into big data, and the ability to respond pretty much instantly in order to support the individual in her choice. ‘

Dr Laure de Preux

But the real driver of change is not big data as such, but connected big data that is changing the business. Connected big data changes the business model by putting the individual, and no longer the patient, at the centre of an expanded healthcare model where prevention and education related to health are fully integrated. Medical experts can focus on their expertise, supported by a large range of actors as part of the health promotion. Connected data allows each contributor to respond much more efficiently to the individuals’ demand, individualise their support and even anticipate their needs.  To conclude, Dr de Preux stated that connected big data will allow a tailored approach in the future when it comes to their health that will increase the healthcare sector’s efficiency and individuals’ benefits.

‘I have painted a very optimistic view of the future, because I strongly believe that healthcare will get better, and Ali will give us a snapshot of how it can look like‘

Dr Laure de Preux

Ali Parsa, CEO and Founder of Babylon, began not by speaking about the future of connected health, but by speaking about the future more broadly. He quoted William Gibson, ‘the future is already here, it is just not very evenly distributed,’ and stated that we need to think about what is already here – examples including AI, quantum computing and 5G phone service. He asked the audience, what are we going to do with all this technology?

‘What is happening today is a fraction of what matters tomorrow.’

Dr Ali Parsa

Dr Parsa then spoke of the power of augmented reality, and how we are now able to create entire worlds that don’t exist even in our imagination. As a result, our concept of reality has shifted. He went on to explain that although this may currently feel inauthentic, the technology behind blockchain is about to authenticate it – ‘everything will be covered by blockchain – every statement, every action, every IP.’ In talking about the future of healthcare, this is the environment Dr Parsa envisages it happening within – for example, a device that is able to watch you 24/7 for every symptom, that monitors every movement you make and analyses at every moment. This is exactly the point that Dr de Preux had examined earlier; that the future of healthcare lies is in its ability to respond almost instantaneously to changes.

Dr Parsa gave a fascinating demonstration of Babylon’s app, showing the ease at which customers can seek advice from a medical professional. You can see more here:

Dr Parsa ended the talk by reiterating the mission statement of Babylon, ‘it is absolutely possible to put an accessible and affordable health service into the hands of every person on Earth.’ He stated that there is no ecological problem, only a human problem, and one which Babylon hopes to help solve globally.

‘When we talk about the future of health it’s huge. It’s enormous. It doesn’t fit in to the way that we think. All we can do is roll with it. All we can do is figure out which are the best parts of it, and bring those to humanity today.’

Dr Ali Parsa

The evening ended with an exciting dialogue during the Q&A, with questions surrounding mental health, how technology may affect the health of children and solidifying the need for medical professionals support and input along the way.

Dr Laure de Preux
Assistant Professor of Economics

Dr Ali Parsa
Founder and CEO of Babylon