Three technologies revolutionizing patient care
Rapid advances in technology are enabling healthcare to become smarter and more personalized, through precision medicine, robotics and medical printing.
The 20th century saw some astounding medical achievements: the eradication of smallpox, the first heart transplant and the invention of antibiotics. Recent technological and scientific breakthroughs, however, have propelled medicine into a new era of smart care, through initiatives such as precision medicine, robotics and medical printing.
Advances in genomics sequencing, coupled with improvements in cloud and analytics capabilities, have been particularly relevant to the emergence of precision medicine, which seeks to tailor treatments to an individual’s genetic profile and lifestyle. The development of more capable robots, accompanied by a fall in their cost,¹ has opened up the possibility of using robotics systems more widely for medical applications. The proliferation of 3D printing is also enabling the manufacture of medical device and implants that are customized to a patient’s anatomy.
Smart care is one of four themes that we believe will be central to the digitization of healthcare over the next decade. The other themes we examine are care anywhere, empowered care and intelligent healthcare enterprise.
1. Precision medicine
Precision medicine in a very basic form has been with us for a century – for example, blood typing before transfusions – but we are now at the threshold of a new era. The ability to sequence genes quickly and cheaply (the cost of individual gene sequencing has fallen drastically, from more than $1 million in 2007 to nearly $100 today)² and to analyze vast volumes of data is enabling targeted treatments to be devised. Precision medicine will take into account a person’s lifestyle, genes and environment, to improve disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management.
US President Barack Obama recently announced a $215-million investment in the Precision Medicine Initiative, launched with a view to ending a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to medicine.³ This program aims to solve the privacy issues surrounding the use of people’s personal medical data; modernize the regulatory environment to make it more receptive to precision medicine; and discover more and better treatments for cancer.
While precision medicine requires the capabilities of genomic analysis in many cases, there is the need to look beyond the genome. The disruptive technologies of big data analytics, personal health devices, and an understanding of sometimes subtle environmental signals are all required, in addition to genomics information, to develop a personalized care plan for an individual.
The growing use of precision medicine will make healthcare more cost-effective by reducing the frequency with which inappropriate interventions are carried out.
Foundation Medicine is a company that is already using precision medicine techniques to fight cancer. Through the two comprehensive genomic-profiling tests it has brought to market, it provides oncologists with information to help them choose the best targeted treatments for their patients. So far, 35,000 patients have taken the tests.⁴ In January 2015, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, Roche, signaled its interest in the field of precision medicine by buying a majority stake in Foundation Medicine for $1 billion.⁵
The rationale behind robotic surgery is that, thanks to the precision of the robot’s movements, it makes minimally invasive procedures possible. The patient benefits from a lower chance of infection, less pain, reduced blood loss and a quicker recovery with fewer complications. Another potential advantage of robot-assisted surgery is that it could allow a surgeon to connect with a patient in a remote area, thus broadening access.
Da Vinci Surgical System
A well-known robotics system used in hospitals today is the da Vinci Surgical System, which was approved for use by the FDA for keyhole surgery in 2000. In 2014, da Vinci robots were used in 570,000 operations around the world, covering a wide range of surgical procedures.⁶ The da Vinci robot works in tandem with the surgeon, using continuous data feeds to control the robotic arms while sitting at computer console near the operating table.
The proliferation of robots (there are now estimated to be around 1.5 million worldwide)⁷ and their falling cost suggest that they will become increasingly common in healthcare settings (see Figure 1⁸
Less ‘obvious’ robots could find roles in healthcare too. Baidu, a dominant Internet platform in China, is creating an app called AskADoctor that employs voice recognition to provide users with instant diagnostic suggestions when they list their symptoms into their phone.⁹ It will then link the user to a nearby healthcare professional. The app aims to provide accurate diagnoses using deep learning techniques and health data that is either owned by Baidu or taken from the Chinese-language Web.¹⁰
3. Medical printing
The 3D printing sector is experiencing large growth, with worldwide revenues from 3D printing expected to quadruple from $3 billion in 2013 to more than $12 billion in 2018.¹¹ Part of this growth comes from sales in the healthcare market, as Wohlers Associates estimates that 3D-printed body parts brought in $537 million in revenue in 2014, an increase of 30% from the year before.¹²
There are already numerous applications for 3D printing in healthcare, and these will only multiply in the near future. While 3D printing has been embraced in some healthcare fields, such as hearing aids, facial reconstruction, personal prosthetics, dental crowns and surgical implants, new technology and regulatory approvals are advancing in other areas, such as drug production. Approved by the FDA in August 2015, a new drug offered by Aprecia addresses seizures brought on by epilepsy.¹³ The company’s ‘Zip Dose’ technology uses 3D printing to create a more porous pill that is easier to swallow than a conventional tablet in higher doses.¹⁴
The advantage of using 3D printing to manufacture medical devices and implants is that they are personalized to an individual’s anatomy. By enabling manufacturing within the hospital or operating theater, these solutions threaten to significantly disrupt the existing healthcare value chain.
EIT and Klinikum Karlsruhe
A pioneering operation carried out at the Klinikum Karlsruhe in Germany in May 2015 illustrates the potential benefits of customized 3D-printed implants. For the first time, a patient was treated using an anatomically adapted 3D-printed implant for a degenerative spine problem in the neck. The implant, designed by EIT (Emerging Implant Technologies) and printed by 3D Systems, was made with a cellular titanium fusion construction to mimic the spongy structure of human bone. The implant was designed to be the perfect match for the patient’s anatomy, with a view to reducing typical complications such as implant shifting or subsiding into the bone.¹⁵
1. Krauskopf, Lewis, “Cheaper robots could replace more factory workers: study”, Reuters, February 9, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/10/us-manufacturers-robots-idUSKBN0LE00720150210.
2. Zimmerman, Eilene, “The Race to a $100 Genome”, CNN Money, June 25, 2013, http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/25/technology/enterprise/low-cost-genome-sequencing/
3. “FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative”, The White House, January 30, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/30/fact-sheet-president-obama-s-precision-medicine-initiative.
4. Foundation Medicine, “Our Vision”, 2015, http://www.foundationmedicine.com/
5. “Roche enters a broad strategic collaboration with Foundation Medicine in the field of molecular information in oncology”, Roche, January 12, 2015, http://www.roche.com/media/store/releases/med-cor-2015-01-12.htm
6. Intuitive Surgical, http://www.intuitivesurgical.com/
7. “Robotics – the 4th Industrial Revolution”, Banque de Luxembourg, May 28, 2014, http://www.banquedeluxembourgnews.com/news/entry/robotics-the-4th-industrial-revolution
8. “Global Medical Robotics Market Outlook 2018”, PRNewswire, May 4, 2015, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-medical-robotics-market-outlook-2018-300077013.html
9. Bergen, Mark, “Baidu’s ‘Medical Robot’: Chinese Search Engine Reveals Its AI for Health”, re/code, August 9, 2015, http://recode.net/2015/08/09/baidus-medical-robot-chinese-voice-diagnostic-app/
10. Bergen, Mark, “Baidu’s ‘Medical Robot’: Chinese Search Engine Reveals Its AI for Health”, Re/code, August 9, 2015, http://recode.net/2015/08/09/baidus-medical-robot-chinese-voice-diagnostic-app/
11. Columbus, Louis, “2015 Roundup of 3D Printing Market Forecasts and Estimates”, March 31, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2015/03/31/2015-roundup-of-3d-printing-market-forecasts-and-estimates/
12. Ledford, Heidi, “The printed organs coming to a body near you”, Nature, April 15, 2015, http://www.nature.com/news/the-printed-organs-coming-to-a-body-near-you-1.17320
13. “Our Story”, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, 2015, https://www.aprecia.com/about-us/our-story.php
14. Wainwright, Oliver, “The first 3D-printed pill opens up a world of downloadable medicine”, The Guardian, August 5, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2015/aug/05/the-first-3d-printed-pill-opens-up-a-world-of-downloadable-medicine
15. “First Operation Worldwide with Individualized 3D Printed Cervical Titanium Implant” PRNewsire, May 19, 2015 http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/first-operation-worldwide-with-individualized-3d-printed-cervical-titanium-implant-504243051.html
Healthcare is one of six industries (along with automotive, consumer, electricity, logistics and media) that have been the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Transformation of Industries (DTI) 2016 project. An overview of the DTI program can be found here.
Our in-depth findings about the digital transformation of the healthcare industry are available in a white paper, which can be downloaded here.
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