Looking Through the Crystal Ball: FutureMed

This post was originally featured on HIStalk

Last week I spent four days at the exclusive FutureMed conference in San Diego.

FutureMed is, as the name implies, a conference focused on understanding the future of health and care delivery. There were speakers from virtually every sub-vertical in healthcare, and even traditionally non-healthcare verticals such as 3D printing and robotics. I was particularly pleased by the fact that very few of the speakers at FutureMed spoke about the hottest terms in health IT today: medication adherence, population health management, and patient engagement.

My single most important takeaway from the conference was delivered during Daniel Kraft’s opening keynote: the human brain is hardwired to think local and linear, and that we live in an exponential and global world. Evolution groomed us to learn to survive hour by hour, not to think critically about abstract systems that we cannot possibly “see.” This is a profound notion, and indeed explains organizational bureaucracy and resistance to change. People look at their immediate surroundings, see nothing wrong, and continue as they always have. Daily observations lack a larger sense of context.

Although there was enormous amount of content on stage from a variety of disciplines, one of the overriding themes of the conference was convergence of new technologies stemming from exponential and global thinking. Previously disparate technologies are converging that are creating completely new opportunities to deliver better care at a lower cost to more people than ever before:

Flying robots that occupy no more than half a cubic foot are delivering medications to remote and underserved regions. Although the obvious use cases are in areas that lack roads and other basic infrastructure, these flying robots could even be used in sprawling cities. As the payloads and batteries improve, I’m curious to see how McKesson will respond. Although flying cars probably won’t happen, I can totally see a future with thousands of mini flying robots delivering small sensitive payloads.

Companies are delivering telemedicine solutions through every form factor conceivable. Many companies are betting on the fact that telemedicine will dramatically improve access and thus quality of care all over the world. Although there were about a dozen BEAM robots rolling around the conference, iRobot is developing an autonomous telemedicine robot for ICUs, others are putting iPads on flying drones, and my startup Pristine is putting Google Glass on surgeons and CRNAs in the OR. It makes sense that so many companies are going after telemedicine: telemedicine breaks perhaps the most basic assumption of care delivery, that one needs to be in place X to deliver value in place X.

Patients are increasingly self-diagnosing and self-treating with at-home technologies: CellscopeAliveCore23andMeBio-MemeScanadu, the Muse, and others. Telemedicine will reinforce and accelerate this trend.

Nurses are 3D printing stents, bone replacements, and other sensitive medical equipment at the point of care that are customized to the perfect size, shape, and fit for the patient. This makes enormous sense for orthopedic replacements, where the replacement should be the exact size and shape of the body part being replaced. This will also dramatically reduce inventory costs, theft, and the need to track assets.

Pharmaceutical companies are looking for ways to invert the drug development and clinical trials processes. They are beginning to rapidly prototype new drugs using algorithms and simulations, and companies such as PatientsLikeMe and ePatientFinder are trying to invert how patients are recruited into clinical trials.

Each speaker at FutureMed was offering his or her own opinion about the future of healthcare delivery. It was amazing to hear from each of them to learn their perspectives. But what’s also clear based on my surface-level analysis above is that no one can predict what’s going to happen. There are simply too many pieces moving in too many segments of a highly fragmented value chain.

The future is going to be ridiculously exciting. I can’t wait to watch it unfold.