The devices in our pockets and around our wrists have a ton of ambition.
As digital assistants — apps, wearable gadgets and smart devices such as Vessyl — are entrusted with more and more personal data, quantifying steps, heart rate and hours slept, StartUp Health president Unity Stokes sees the field of medicine beginning to resemble Silicon Valley.
“We believe that it’s going to be the entrepreneurs, innovators, the doctopreneurs that are going to reinvent health care,” he says.
Driving the rise of small companies in the medical field is the end of one-size-fits-all treatments. “I think for many years, people have been binned into broad categories,” Stokes says. “But now, new technologies are enabling us to really be treated as individuals, to understand your health on a personal level.”
These technologies are giving people a more complete picture of their well-being — and changing doctors’ role. Stokes gives us a preview of the trends shaping the field of health care.
“I think our concept of what a hospital is will completely change over the coming decade. You’ll start to see a lot more care being done in your home — imagine being able to do an ultrasound from your iPhone or your tablet right from the comfort of your own home, and then beam that image to your doctor,” Stokes says, adding that accessing your health information should be as easy as getting a car with Uber.
Truly preventive medicine
“We’re seeing the cost for consumer genomics come down,” says Stokes. Hundreds of medical issues have been tied to genetic abnormalities, and being able to understand your DNA and how it may impact the conditions you’re at risk of developing can shape your behavior, including whether you should seek testing sooner than the recommended age.
Looking inside for answers
Besides genome mapping, another important area of focus will be to decipher our personal microbiomes to “understand what’s going on in the ecosystem inside of you,” says Stokes. Gut bacteria, whether they’re absent or the wrong strain, have been tied to health issues including mood disorders and obesity. Scientists are looking at how food and sleep influence these colonies and the extent of their health effects.
Wearables are just the start
Health reflects lifestyle, and objective data on nutrition, sleep and exercise is crucial for an accurate profile. “We’re going to start to see health and wellness being integrated into every aspect of our lives, oftentimes in invisible ways, whether that’s designed into your refrigerator, your car seat or your phone,” says Stokes.
Better habits by design
Innovation is not always about making something new but rethinking what we’re already using. "[Engineers] can start with simple design: How is a refrigerator designed to make sure you eat the healthiest foods first? And then you can do all sorts of high-tech things: Put sensors in there to track what you’re eating and how frequently, and correlate that with how you’re feeling and how you’re sleeping every day.”