The growth of digital twin technology — paired with the transition towards personalized medicine — has left many healthcare industry professionals evaluating the potential of a “patient twin.”
If you were to conduct a survey at random and ask people the first word that comes to mind when they think of “healthcare,” what words do you think they would share? Many might say “hospital,” “doctor,” “medicine,” “patient,” or “lifesaving.” But how many would say “technology”?
Life-saving technology is deeply engrained in the healthcare industry; in fact, technological innovation has propelled the industry forward and helped save countless lives and cure countless diseases. Despite this, many healthcare industry experts believe that the ability of the healthcare sector to fully embrace technology’s full potential has been hindered by issues of cost, compliance, regulatory constraints, reimbursement issues, and cultural barriers.
This begs the question: does the healthcare industry have a technological innovation problem? Understanding all that new healthcare technology has to offer — while a point of contention for the potential negative effects — is the key to unlocking even more lifesaving capabilities.
Embracing open innovation has been a plea for many healthcare industry experts who believe that while technology already plays a key role in this sector, there is still untapped potential that can drive true digital transformation.
It is safe to speculate that the majority of Americans today own at least one personal device. Whether a cell phone, tablet, wearable device, or one of the many other personal devices on the market, consumers more than ever are carrying their life in their hands.
What’s further, research shows that approximately 30% of U.S. adults use wearable healthcare devices such as smartwatches, smart glasses, and other fitness trackers, with the wearable technology market expected to grow by 24.6% each year between 2020 and 2024 to reach $156B. These devices, each with their own unique data format, could be a massive untapped digital asset in the healthcare industry.
Access to this type of measured and objective data has the potential to solve many physician challenges, especially those related to data errors. Most of the data collected by physicians or in hospitals is self-reported, which leaves room for patient error. For example, a patient may report that they exercise the recommended three to five days a week when, in reality, they do not exercise at all. This can alter the effectiveness of their treatment because the data being provided to the doctor does not match the truth.
This distinction between self-reported data versus objective data could be the difference in an effective versus ineffective treatment. However, specifically in the US, privatized healthcare and patient privacy are of paramount importance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996(HIPAA) protects the use and disclosure of individuals’ health information, making data sharing (even amongst healthcare professionals) extremely challenging.
The growth of digital twin technology — paired with the transition towards personalized medicine — has left many healthcare industry professionals evaluating the potential of a “patient twin.” This technology would enable a digital twin created for each patient’s body, physiology and medical history. Patient twins would allow for more precise testing, personalized therapy, and increased efficiency at scale, promoting a more patient-centric mindset.
There are three major potential applications of patient twins currently being evaluated:
Many healthcare experts also believe that the structure and economic model of healthcare should be reevaluated. If you think about how healthcare operates, it is a two-pronged approach: healthcare and insurance. As a general rule of practice, the majority of individuals purchase insurance even if they are perfectly healthy.
While insurance is not going anywhere, the modern generation of consumers is demanding not only personalization, but increased autonomy over their personal information. This makes way for a healthcare-as-a-service model, where consumers can purchase additive services for increased access to their health data.
Consumers want personalized convenience, even when it comes to healthcare. Allowing a pay-per-month model where customers can access their chart, patient twin, health data, and beyond could be yet another technological opportunity for next-generation healthcare.
The growth of digital healthcare, while certainly faced with several challenges, also has the potential to usher in real benefits.
From a physician’s perspective, many doctors are not satisfied with the current operating model, as the “care” element of healthcare seems to be lacking. Many doctors spend their days working through paperwork and other logistical tasks rather than treating patients. The patient-physician relationship has evolved into a robotic interaction, where it was once highly personal. However, what if technology could help doctors return to their roots as caregivers? For example, integrating artificial intelligence and dictation methods into the physician workflow can prevent the long hours that doctors are spending writing and compiling their notes. This strategy of embracing technology and using digital for good can leave more room for patient care.
The value generated through digital health extends far beyond the physician. Advancements in telemedicine have significantly benefitted patient lives and drug development in a variety of exciting ways. For example, doctors have uncovered new ways of giving neurological and other exams virtually, meaning that patients with advanced-stage diseases — who may have trouble commuting to an office — can still receive adequate treatment. Patients can now participate digitally in clinical trials, which can accelerate drug development and disease prevention. These benefits are truly lifesaving and have the potential to benefit many patients’ lives.
The increased digitization of the healthcare sector is being closely watched by experts, practitioners, enterprises, and civilians alike. As this journey continues, it is essential from a technology evolution perspective that leaders ensure that digital health is treated as an integral part of the value chain, not as an afterthought.
Sheetal Chawla is head of life sciences, head of northeast region, Capgemini Americas. Jiani Zhang is executive vice president and chief software officer, Capgemini Engineering.