Disruptive healthcare technologies

The following is a shortened version of the interview from Horizon 2020 Projects: Portal with Dave Fletcher.

Portal spoke to Fletcher ahead of the Disruptive Technologies 2016 conference in London, UK, on 29 September (where his presentation focused on ‘advancing the relevance of the built environment to the needs of 21st Century society through ideation’) to discuss digital innovations in the healthcare space and how disruptive technologies stand to progress in this arena.

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Which areas would you say stand to benefit the most from the potential of disruptive technologies, and how?

Within the field of digital health, the greatest potential is perhaps to be found in diagnostics monitoring and predictive analytics. However, these areas may also be the hardest areas to work in. Much of the successful innovation that has been seen so far in digital health technology has been technology that is relatively easy to implement and which isn’t hampered by many of the obstacles normally found when innovating in the healthcare arena, such as regulations. As such, there is a sense that a lot of the greatest disruption is yet to come and, moreover, is going to be achieved by those who have the tenacity and budgets to invest in achieving their goals.

For physical diagnostics equipment manufacturers, it takes a significant amount of time to develop a product, to get it validated and receive regulatory approval, and then get it to market. This process is much longer than that experienced in other markets, and the same applies to any digital disruption in health. It will therefore be those who are willing to do the hard work who will reap the benefits.

How far would you say businesses and consumers are equipped with the kind of technical proficiency necessary to best take advantage of disruptive technology? How can businesses make sure they are not left behind?

This is a big problem, but is nevertheless rapidly improving. We now live in a world of connected services; three years ago, if you wanted to develop your own AI solutions then you had to start from first principles, and you needed some really smart people in your organisation to achieve that. Now, there are multiple AI services available which massively reduce the barrier to using a lot of emerging technologies which wouldn’t have been accessible just a few years ago. This, from a business perspective, is becoming increasingly easier to make things happen.

When it comes to consumers, I don’t think that we need to worry. Many people are at home with technology in their everyday lives – smartphones being just one example – and many technology innovations which impact on consumers occur outside of the healthcare sector – in that sense, healthcare needs to catch up.

Of course, there are issues with regard to consumer technologies, particularly in areas such as data privacy and accessibility. For instance, there are clinical questions about what information a patient should see about themselves and when they should see it; should they have access to the results of a diagnostic test before they have had a chance to speak to their clinician, for example? Healthcare professionals have a duty of care to their patients, and there is a sense that this could be undermined if a patient has access to results before they can be properly explained and, moreover, before adequate support can be offered should those results be particularly serious.

What are your thoughts on national and European-level initiatives, e.g. Horizon 2020 and similar funding instruments, to support disruptive innovation?

The European framework programmes are really excellent opportunities and more organisations should consider looking to them for funding. The structure of the various instruments within Horizon 2020 are also very good; they encourage risk taking and sometimes even demand it, while at the same time providing significant financial support for that risk. H2020’s SME Instrument looks particularly excellent, especially when compared to the Seventh Framework Programme, in that much of the bureaucracy we experienced there seems to have been pared away.

There is a lot of work involved in applying for these funds, and so anyone considering making an application needs to ensure they are ready to invest the necessary time and effort. They also need to not only do it once; there are so many of these funding instruments out there, and once you’ve gone for one you have to go for others – there should be no half measures.

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