Published on: 14th March 2018
WIRED Health 2018 brought together an eclectic range of speakers to deliver insightful presentations on the intersection of healthcare and technology. Talks covered a diverse variety of topics including cutting-edge drug developments, why we should all focus more on wellness, the challenges faced in bringing healthcare to rural communities, how AI is getting even smarter, the importance of the gut health, the roles of psychedelics and gaming in mental health, and some fascinating reflections from a wildlife veterinary surgeon.
A few key themes emerged from the presentations.
- The pressures on healthcare resources at a global level – We heard about the increasing costs of healthcare as we are faced with an globally aging population often faced with complex medical conditions. We also heard about lack of qualified healthcare professionals to meet this demand.
- The rise of AI – AI was discussed in the majority of the talks. The consensus was that rather than replacing jobs, it’s most suitable role was as an aid to help human decision makers to make better, faster more informed decisions. Opening the possibility of personalised medicine to the masses.
- The rise of ethics, sustainability, and equitability – Ethics was a clear theme in many of the talks. We heard some wonderful examples of how some of the greatest minds and technology had combined to improve the outcomes of a lucky few. While, at the same time, we also heard about the challenges faced by those lacking access to even basic healthcare services (4 billion people). Communication technologies were promoted as ways of ‘levelling the field’ by training HCPs around the world. Likewise, AI decision-making tools were promoted as a means of providing wide access to a form of expertise. In a fascinating talk on female heath tech, we heard about the importance of key trends aligning in connected devices, the rise of feminism, and a changing doctor-patient paradigm. While in a talk on wildlife surgery, we were reminded just how far we have departed from our closest relatives (great apes) in terms of diet and exercise and the conditions that these changes were exacerbating. We were also were reminded of the damage to the world through an inappropriate use of resources.
Perhaps the most interesting insight, however, was the one that was not raised explicitly in any of the presentations, but one that was evident from discussions with some of the exhibitors. A clear conflict existed between the stereotypically different cultures of tech start-ups and healthcare companies. The start-up culture was evident and frequently celebrated. In many cases, we saw a very clear urgency to bring products and services to market to address needs that they had identified. In the majority of cases, this meant side-stepping regulations by not classifying apps (such as those providing ‘recommendations’ on medical conditions based on symptoms) and devices (such as headsets claiming weight loss by activating the hypothalamus through vestibular stimulation) as medical devices. Turning to the health care culture, this posed some ethical questions about the correct balance between promoting innovation, and lowering the barrier to entry, and ensuring that products and services are safe and effective through some form of oversight. Further clarity is required in this area; the challenge, of course, is that the pace of change is clearly outstripping regulatory positions.