The (Not so Distant) Future of Healthcare: AI, AR, Drones and Personalised Medicine

March 23, 2017

The healthcare industry is in dire need of disruption. The healthcare industry is facing increasing pressure for change due to external forces such as an ageing population, the prevalence of chronic diseases, and rising numbers of unsatisfied consumers who are expecting more from health care services. So far, incumbents have failed to deliver on the potential of technology and digital information, but the change towards a digital future has gradually begun to pick up the pace. At the heart of this disruption is technology. The digital revolution is enabling change by addressing unmet needs, enhancing the patient experience, progressing diagnostic tools, facilitating the delivery of healthcare and placing the tools of participation in the hands of the patient. To tap into the opportunities presented by the digital disruption in healthcare, Beta-i is powering a startup accelerator for Fidelidade and Fosun called Protechting.

Imagine a healthcare industry where artificially intelligent robots would care for you in the comfort of your own home. Imagine printing medicine tailored to your individual needs as the new norm, ambulance drones to deliver patients to hospitals and the use of AR in medical education. Sounds far fetched? This might be the reality sooner than you’d expect.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence can provide better diagnoses by monitoring and analysing test results and live health data, as well as facilitate personalised care and patient interaction. Intuition robotics recently announced ElliQ, a social robot acting as a social companion for elderly. The technology aims to keep seniors active and engaged to mitigate loneliness and social isolation. Although a robot companion may seem quite dystopian, the technology and user experience is developed to feel natural and encourage the development of a bond between the consumer and the robot. The robot facilitates interaction with family members on social media and video chats and suggest online activities to help overcome the complexity of the digital world. IBM believes AI has huge potential outside of robotics, specifically they believe it can transform mental health care by better predicting, monitoring and tracking medical conditions. By analysing a patient’s speech or written words, what used to be invisible signs will become clear indicators of a patient’s mental state. This can be applied to other medical conditions as well. Ectosense, one of the startups in the first edition of Protechting, uses machine learning for automated diagnosis of sleep disorders which remains widely undiagnosed. The ability of AI to facilitate analysis of enormous data sets also has a huge impact on Genomics and the development of pharmaceuticals. By analysing and identifying patterns in huge data sets of genetic information, mutations and linkages to diseases can be identified. Next step is to develop pharmaceuticals to treat the identified disease, which traditionally has been associated with vast costs. AI can enhance the efficiency of this tireless process by examining various combinations of molecular structures from existing medicines to determine if it would be effective. Atomwise is a company that used this method to create a virtual search on medicine for the Ebola virus. If AI’s would get access to medical records and live health data it could lead to important breakthroughs in the industry.


Drones in healthcare

Drones are already being used to deliver drugs to remote areas and disaster zones. Matternet has been using its drone delivery system to deliver medical supplies in Haiti to inaccessible areas. The system consists of drones, landing pads, charging stations and cloud software, with the aim to aid delivery to those 1 billion people around the world who do not have access to reliable roads. Rwanda was the first country to launch a national drone delivery network, building a central airport that would allow for the delivery of blood to remote areas within the country. Another potential use of drones in the health industry is ambulance drones. The Technological University of Delft has developed a drone to deliver defibrillators, decreasing the response time from 10 minutes to 1 minute, thereby increasing the survival rate from 8 to 80% in the case of a cardiac arrest. Argodesign, a company based in Austin is designing a more advanced version, where the purpose of the ambulance drone is to actually transport the patient within the drone with a GPS pilot. However, this concept will take some more time to perfect.  In the future, drones may also be used more extensively in health care, not just to deliver drugs in remote areas, but also in crowded cities reducing the time and costs of transporting samples across towns during rush hour when a quick diagnosis can be the difference between life and death.


virtual reality in healthcare

Augmented reality (AR) can show us additional information in a real life setting, presenting a plethora of uses in medical and health care. Augmented reality can simulate the impact of specific medical conditions, showing patients the long-term effects and thereby encourage positive changes in lifestyle. AR technology can significantly facilitate doctor’s and nurses’ jobs, by projecting important information onto the patient’s body. For nurses finding the patient’s vein can sometimes prove difficult, with an estimated 40% of intravenous injections missing the first stick. AccuVein, AR technology, can show the patient’s veins directly on their body. For surgeons, the potential of AR can have drastic implications by presenting vital information in front of the surgeon’s eyesight, instead of on a monitor on the side. AR is also seeing uses in medical education, for students to learn anatomy and understand the 3D relation. Virtual reality (VR) can provide similar use cases, for example by aiding medical training, by transforming the student or professionals to a trauma incident in the emergency room to train their ability to deal with stress and discomfort. Patients can also benefit from VR, by improving the hospital experience. It can help release pain by transforming burn victims to a snowy mountain or transform a young cancer patient to the comfort of their own home.

Internet of Medical Things

Internet of Medical Things

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is the connected infrastructure of medical devices and applications that communicate with various IT systems. By connecting patients, healthcare providers and patient’s families, the provision of health care is optimised for better treatment and diagnosis and a faster and improved environment. Imagine, instead of using wearables such as the fitbit externally, one can implant a device internally. The device is then able to send electrical signals to the nervous system to disrupt the diseased pathways to restore the patient’s health to normality. ‘Implantables’ like this is already being experimented on to track the patient’s health and release drug doses when necessary. Through the data manufactured from the various connected devices medical professionals will be better able to diagnose and treat patients by delivering targeted stimulation optimised for the individual, also known as precision medicine. IoMT is optimal for remote patient monitoring for patients with chronic diseases to reduce the times for the patient travelling to the hospital for monitoring or other health related issues. Several devices to add to the IoMT are being developed. One such example is sensor technologies, where Novartis and Google are working on a smart lens, a wearable device to measure blood glucose levels in diabetes patients.

Personalised Medicine & Bioprinting


3D printing allows for the creation of highly customised products at a low cost, allowing for the creation of healthcare customised to the individual. In the future, this may imply medicine tailored to individual’s needs. An example of this is Multiply Labs, a company developing personalised vitamin supplement depending on your dietary needs. They allow you to control the dosage of each vitamin and when each component is released into the body depending on the time of the day you need the particular boost. The use of a 3D printer allows the ingredients to be customised with various compartments in the pill and varying wall thickness for different times of release. This technology can extend well beyond vitamin supplements. 3D printing has also been used to develop self-forming blood vessels, skins and various organs to be used for surgery. This is done by printing layer upon layer of living cells, constructing living tissue within less than a day. Organovo, is a company which has used this method to successfully bioprint blood vessels using cells cultured from one single person, and hope to later use them in heart bypass surgery, once sufficient trials have been completed.  

Most of the technological innovations discussed have recently been developed, yet they remain to be used by mainstream health care providers. If you are a startup with innovative solutions within the health sector, click here to apply to Protechting and be a part of the digital disruption in health care.

It may take some time to overcome the inherent inertia associated with the use of technology for treatment and care of patients, but as soon as we figure out the best way to implement these innovations we will see some incredible changes. I can’t wait to see how it will unfold.