One of the biggest healthcare events on the planet, with more than 4,000 companies covering 8 halls of Dubai exhibition space, Arab Health is a must-visit for healthcare organizations and influencers of all shapes and sizes. And it’s here that the future of the industry is on display for all to see.
Walking around 2017’s edition, which ran between 30 January and 2 February, it would have been easy to confuse Arab Health with a tech event, so prevalent were the cutting-edge technologies and innovations.
Even products like surgical instruments, orthopedic supports and migraine prevention have taken definite turns towards future technology with 3D printing and the Internet of Things driving progress.
But what trends caught the attention of industry experts at this year’s Arab Healthand which innovations might be shaping our homes and hospitals in the years ahead?
The Medical Internet of Things
It will come as little surprise that connected technology remains one of the hottest topics. However, while in the past this has been focused on personal health products and fitness wearables, this year we saw the Internet of Things make the leap into medical devices.
The Philips biosensor, for example, is a modern answer to an old problem. “Forty percent of unanticipated deaths occur on the general ward,” explains Rob Cascella, who oversees the Diagnosis and Treatment Businesses at Philips.
But subtle signs are often visible six to eight hours before a critical event, which highlights the importance of an early warning system.
The Philips biosensor links to IntelliVue and other monitoring systems via Bluetooth and is so adaptable and portable it can even be worn by patients in the shower, hopefully providing the vital clues that a critical event is on the way.
A critical view of Big Data
Like IoT, big data has been a healthcare buzzword for the past couple of years; this year’s Arab Health was no different but Philips CEO Frans van Houten suggested that it’s time we start thinking more critically about the concept of big data.
“We manage petabytes of imaging data. But is that alone enough? Not unless it’s actionable. We have to put that data in the right hands and use it to drive towards precision health, towards ‘the industrialization of care’ to increase efficiency and identify waste, and towards improved access to care through technology.”
The whole world is in love with VR at the moment and Arab Health was no different. While for some it was a gimmick to attract visitors to their stand, there were also far more impactful uses of VR that suggested it could become a valuable aid for delivering education and training to healthcare professionals, or helping designers to create the perfect operating room. However, Augmented Reality (AR) offering were in short supply at this year’s show.
New models of healthcare
Arguably the most ambitious and high-level trend was around the need for a different model of healthcare – a move away from sick care and towards true healthcare, as Dr Vivek Muthu, co-chair of the Economist Intelligence Unit Healthcare, put it.
“Advances in technology and services have been phenomenal, and economic and social development have raised the floor for all of us. But there are still reasons to be cautious about healthcare models. The old model was based around acute diseases and in that way, hospitals make sense as opportunities to isolate patients. But now we’re looking at more chronic lifestyle diseases that we have to live with for long times. Rising costs accompany the treatment of these diseases but more money doesn’t always mean better outcomes either.”
So what will new healthcare models be based on?
Healthcare that rewards outcomes rather than volume and in which patients are placed at the center of care,” continues Dr Muthu. “Data and analytics need to be seen as biologically essential as drugs and surgeries.
I believe AI is going to be the iPhone of the next 10 years. Not just something that changes the way we see the world, but something that – some people say – is capable of actually rewiring our brains.
If AI sounds futuristic and intangible, Jeroen says it’s time to think again. “I have thousands of images stored on Google Photos, and I can ask to see only the images containing my son and daughter. In an instant, those images appear – even if my son is just in the background somewhere. So facial recognition AI is already better at finding objects in images than people. Now apply that to healthcare imaging!”
So what could be the practical applications of such technology?
“Alzheimer’s leads to brain atrophy. To the naked eye, images taken weeks apart look very similar, but AI can detect the changes, patterns and biomarkers. There are applications for imaging, digital pathology but also genomics where the information is so complex and there’s so much data to process that AI is the only way to do it.”
Arguably the overriding takeaway from this year’s Arab Health then was that technology and healthcare are converging more and more and will continue to do so in the years ahead.
The final word from Philips’ Jeroen Tas.
I think it’s going to change the world. In the short-term, we tend to overestimate technologies. But, in the long-term, we tend to underestimate the impact they will have. I’m really excited about what we at Philips can do in this space.
Innovation Matters delivers news, opinions and features about healthcare, and is focused on the professionals who work within the industry, as well as Philips as a cutting-edge health technology organization.