Archive for December, 2019

Big Tech Digital Health Revolution?

Friday, December 6th, 2019

A series of breakthroughs in biomedical science and digital technologies are triggering a convergence between the tech industry and the life sciences industries that will quickly lead to more intimate and interactive relations among patients, their doctors and biopharmaceutical companies. The ability to share information and data has changed completely in the past 10 years with the emergence of both search engines, social media, and now tools for Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially with companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and now Amazon getting into healthcare. In life sciences, novel web technologies have been used to track diseases in more efficient ways. Today, millions of people around the world that have access to the Internet will engage in Internet-enabled self-diagnosis for diseases by using search engines and other web tools. However, self-diagnosis is dangerous if the sources are not trustful enough. Another concern regarding these new technologies applied to healthcare and life sciences is patient privacy, data transfer and data storage (something “cloud” services now has solved with some specific concerns). Therefore, the question now is ‘‘can these tools be applied to healthcare and biomedicine in order to improve scientific and medical research?’’ I’ve been publishing articles about this digital revolution since 2012 (for some articles I’ve wrote on this subject check “Social Networks, Web-based Tools and Diseases: implications for Biomedical Research” and “Big Data in Biomedicine”). Well, this week the cover of the British magazine Newsweek and its headline puts Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in the forefront of solving the healthcare and life sciences problems now and in the future; not just in the United States but in the world (for more information check the Newsweek article here). Well, I am a little skeptical and concerned but excited at the same time on what is coming from Amazon (even Apple, Google and other tech companies are developing their own solutions). The truth is that the web has impacted our society, but over the next few years, the web and Apps will entirely re-invent the way scientists and physicians interact, especially with patients. There is indeed a conundrum faced by life sciences because both pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries need information from people (mostly patients), patients need information from these companies and the life sciences industry also need to collaborate outside their walls building connections with other industries (such as big tech and other institutions). Science and the biomedical field need to be more open and scientists/physicians have to be able to share data to speed up the process of transition between basic to translational research. As regulatory clarity emerges with better algorithms, AI and data encryption to ease privacy issues, more companies will adopt digital tools and these technologies will have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, clinical trials and research the same way that they are impacting our society. Developing solutions to allow better ways to share information will add value to the life sciences and biomedical communities. In fact, science and medicine are undergoing one of the most exciting changes in history. The full adoption of online platforms and telemedicine by physicians will transform medicine. Apps that can diagnose patients in seconds are already in the market. Alexa, the speech recognition device from Amazon could be (and will be) able to diagnose diseases based on what people tell it daily. A whole new world in healthcare could be build and the main players will be big tech companies. Healthcare professionals will start to interact and communicate in ways that will have an enormous impact on disease diagnosis, scientific progress, drug discovery and in the development of new treatments for complex, rare and unknown diseases. I bet Amazon has several “secrets” that it will be unveiling in the coming years applied to healthcare. Did anybody think of Amazon, an online Book selling website in the 1990s, as of what it has become? Let’s see what they will disrupt next in healthcare and life sciences’ fields.