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Omri Shor’s business started with a close call. Two and a half years ago, his 59-year-old diabetic father overdosed on insulin, after misinterpreting a question about whether he had injected that day.
The result was a frantic rush to a doctor in downtown Tel Aviv – and the creation of MediSafe, a mobile app that reminds people when to take their medication and can inform family members and doctors if they are sticking to the regimen.
“We call it the platforming of medicine – it’s about creating connectivity between the patient and physician,” says Mr Shor. He says the app, which has been downloaded on to nearly 1m smartphones, helps patients stick to their medicines around 86 per cent of the time, compared with the 50 per cent cited by the World Health Organisation.
Developments like these are expected to transform the global medical technology industry, which is already worth about $350bn, according to Statista, an information service. But while most of the new technologies have traditionally come out of the US and Western Europe, Asian nations, particularly China, are expected to play a greater role in the years to come.
One of the big challenges of the next 100 years, experts say, will be how technology can help care for a greying global population with multiple age-related problems, particularly non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia.
These conditions are expected to cost the global economy $47tn in lost output between 2011 and 2030, according to the World Economic Forum – equivalent to more than 60 per cent of the world’s entire GDP last year.
“Our culture today, because we’re such a youth culture, is blind to the economic realities of what’s in front of us,” says Eric Dishman, the general manager of the health and life sciences group at Intel, the global chip company.
At college, Mr Dishman was given two to three years to live after being diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that normally affects people in their 70s and 80s. A chance encounter with a genomics expert, which allowed doctors to develop a tailored treatment by comparing Mr Dishman’s genome against a huge database of known mutations, saved his life.
He says sensor and smartphone data needs to be combined with biometric information to improve elderly healthcare in three ways: making medicine more personalised, improving how patients and their carers communicate, and treating people outside the costly and infectious environment of hospitals.
The idea is to let people stay independent for longer, which they tend to prefer and which costs less than admitting them to care homes and hospitals.
“The pursuit of quality is going to be the solution to the cost problem,” says Sean Hogan, IBM’s global vice-president of healthcare.
Both Intel and IBM are working with cities in China to help them design urban environments to be more “age-friendly”, from putting sensors in homes to bus stops that send push notifications to people’s smartphones to “telehealth” programmes that let patients speak to doctors far away.
Another part of the solution is likely to be “intelligent” software that can respond swiftly or predict health problems before they occur, to allow for earlier – and cheaper – intervention.
But there are barriers to a fully digital approach to aged care. Mr Dishman notes that if you are relying on your WiFi-enabled tablet to send vital medical information to your doctors, you do not want your internet speed affected because one of your neighbours is streaming Netflix. But the internet building block of “ net neutrality” – the principle that all data on the internet should be treated the same – would make it difficult for medical data to be prioritised over other kinds.
“Net neutrality hasn’t thought through to a future where the same networks are being used for very different purposes,” Mr Dishman said. “It’s not that it’s not a solved problem technically, but we’re going to need to enable standards and policy to enable mobile health.”
Additional reporting by Gill Plimmer