The Great Health and Wellness Mash Up

The technology that powered the industrial revolution created towns like Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool; the mass production of cars created a culture of commuters, dormer towns and pampas grass. Radio created a culture of listeners and spawned jazz, “Listen with Mother” (and the dreaded “fireside chat” now found at most conferences). Cinema created Hollywood, MTV, always-on news, and reality TV shows. The shift of technology—data, algorithms, robots, platforms—is creating a corporate culture that’s changing so fast that I’m afraid to offer examples because they could be outdated by the time you read this post! Seriously though, where I predict we’ll see a huge cultural change is how we think about health and wellness. The reason is different players beyond the big pharma suspects are challenging how and where we “do health”.

My last post—Digital Primes an Era of Collaboration and Innovation in Big Pharma—explained how value in life sciences was shifting rapidly into a world of data and algorithms. Massive amounts of value are now at stake from the bits and bytes unleashed from an ever growing list of sources that surround us—think of the Fitbit worn on your wrist, measuring every single step you’ve taken today (what? Only 6000 steps? C’mon, get moving!) Or the mindfulness app that tells you how to be calm and will soon tell you when you really MUST sit back and relax. The emerging intersection between health and wellness is becoming red-hot for innovation and opportunity. So much so that if you were going to dropout from your collage course and have a yen for making lots of money, you’re more likely to want to build or join a bio-tech start-up (don’t ask me, ask Bill Gates because he signposts bio-tech in his new guise as career advisor). This focus on wellness and its twin biotech, is going to be huge because of our aging populations and the growing prevalence of chronic diseases.

What’s fascinating is how different industry sectors are starting to melt and reform in startlingly creative ways in life sciences; new opportunities and niches are proliferating at speed, set around core mastery with data. Check out how the rag trade is starting to innovate with smart clothing and eyeing up the tantalizingly rich streams of data they’re beginning to trace through the products and experiences sold to their customers. Case in point: Kevin Plank, CEO of sportswear supremo Under Armour recently sketched out a connected wellness vision where owners of Under Armour kit (naturally) could predict when they were getting sick, so they could load up on the right medicine and beat it before it stopped them doing what they wanted to do—in his words “Can you believe we used to walk around not knowing when we'd get sick? Crazy!" Now there are healthcare information companies beginning to grow out across the rag-trade and beyond. Nike and Adidas increasingly know more about our health, social and exercise habits more than our own doctors do. And they’re capturing all this instrumentation outside regulation (for now) because until a few years ago they were just seen as manufacturers of trainers rather than instrumenting our life-style habits and in the business of health.

However, the radical new opportunities in health and wellness go way beyond predicting when we’re going to get sick or telling us how much exercise we should be doing. Using technology to radically improve efficiencies in how to deliver health and medicine outcomes is the name of the game. I’m not thinking about the (no-brainer) action of putting GPS tags on scanners or dialysis machines in hospitals and improving their usability—I’m thinking about the terrible rate of misdiagnosis that causes heartache and pain, and costs a small fortune to put right. According to reports, the UK’s National Health Service paid out £194million in compensation to over 1300 patients last year-- about one in ten payouts went to patients whose cancer had been missed or misdiagnosed. While, in the US, there are apparently close to 12 million misdiagnoses a year which equates to 300,000 patient deaths a year (that’s a scary 1000 deaths a day...). Yet, this horrible situation is something that new technology techniques can help sort out. Check out GliaLab as a signpost to where new technologies and ways of working are taking us—its mission is to bring together the next generation of medical talent (currently starved of funding) and augment its output with machine learning and big data to improve patient outcomes. GliaLab aims to create a faster and more accurate method of diagnosing cancerous tumors by using imaging tools, pattern recognition software and computational learning algorithms to offer smarter cancer diagnoses which saves time, money and heartache. The life-sciences sector is primed for incredible opportunities from these new technologies and new ways of working and new cross-industry relationships. Please read our Work Ahead and follow the prescription for how the digital economy will harness and reshape and industry that’s key for all of us.

PS. Health and wellness is certainly an emotive area. In the great big “Brexit” debate, healthcare funding was used duplicitously (and I’m being kind) and the mantra went something like this: “Leave the EU and spend the £350M we save every year on the NHS!” The NHS is struggling but technology can help it. Europe’s 20th century welfare model is breaking down in the teeth of demographic pressures and technology advances in care. It’s no surprise to see a massive upswing in new innovative ways of instrumenting health and preventing sickness and disease in the first place. The focus on wellness could radically change the economics of public healthcare as well as our outcomes for health.