Why we Need to Change the Direction of Health Tech Now

We are in crucial times in health tech. In between all the futuristic big data and genomics, we risk losing out of sight what is important, argue DN19 speakers Bart de Witte, founder of HIPPO AI and Roi Shternin, health tech entrepreneur. For a brighter horizon, we need to secure public ownership of medical knowledge. And with more focus on health IT, we could finally start addressing the actual needs of patients.

At Data Natives 2018, founder of HIPPO AI Bart de Witte went public with his concerns: we are shifting from the public ownership of medical knowledge to private ownership. “For me, access to future medical knowledge should be available to all,” he says. “Technology should liberate us and not oppress us.” Ever since he is out on a mission to spread awareness and come up with solutions. 

What happened? Data has become the most valuable resource in the 21st century for the AI-driven economy. The problem is, companies are not only putting barriers to the data they collect but also to the insights they generate. “Take Search for example: without having access to the hundreds of billions user data points collected, the leading internet search provider always will stay ahead of their competition when it comes to search accuracy,” he tells. “The search market is a perfect example of data as an unfair barrier-to-entry.”

What is happening in healthcare?

He sees the same dynamics happening in healthcare. Companies who manage to scale up their service fastest will be able to collect the most medical data relevant for Machine Learning. And acquisitions of startups help companies to scale up quickly.

“If we do not build alternatives, healthcare will end up in a similar situation as Search or social media, where data is being siloed,” he tells. “Insights and new domain knowledge created out of these insights, first focus on serving shareholders, prior to serving patients.” 

In academia, innovations often spin into startups, so the knowledge ends up in the private industry. “It’s rare that public research institutes publish, next to their paper, their data sets and the trained models,” says Bart. He says the development of AI in medicine is in dire need for more ground truth. “As the intent of the data generation was not always clinical decision making, most data has been historically generated for billing purposes,” he tells. That’s why at Hippo AI, they are currently developing three open data projects to publish in 2020. 

We can not afford to make digital health the next trillion-dollar industry

According to De Witte, there is a lot we can learn from the open-source movement that started 20 years ago. “Open source is all around us, it’s in our phones, cars, computers, it’s part of the apps we use and it became a product of global cooperation,” tells Bart.

“Sharing data can help address some of society’s biggest challenges and help individuals and organizations be more innovative, efficient, and productive.” 

He believes we need to create large and high-quality open data sets for communities training AI models, based on a public licensing. This license should be based on the same altruistic principles on which modern medicine is based, which were defined some 2500 years ago. Due to privacy issues, not all data should be open, but we need an acceptable open AI model development. “Combining this with federated learning methods and AI on the edge, we would have all the basics to build a healthcare system that fits our current system and values, and avoids monopolization from happening,” he tells.

Important, because a cheap and accessible healthcare would clear resources for other challenges such as climate change and population growth: “We can not afford to make digital health the next trillion-dollar industry,” he says. “I would love to see more innovation that is really disruptive. And disruptive for me is always connected to lower prices and more value.” Any volunteers who want to start local HIPPO AI communities can reach out to Bart de Witte via LinkedIn

Bringing the patient back into the equation

DN19 speaker and health tech entrepreneur Roi Shternin is on a mission to bring the patient back into the equation in healthcare. After he diagnosed himself with a rare condition (POTS syndrome) he is empowering communities and individuals through a variety of projects.

His focus is mostly on health IT, which he thinks is an overlooked terrain. He thinks health tech is focussing too much on futuristic projects, while the most basic problems of healthcare still aren’t tackled. “

At conferences everything in healthcare is big: blockchain, data mining and so on,” he tells. “But let’s not forget most doctors still use handwritten notes.” 

One of the projects he works on is an EMR system for doctors. He thinks these kinds of changes are essential to saving doctors all the time doing their administration, so they can go back to curing patients. “Waiting time for doctors in Austria in even the most prestigious neighborhood can be three hours,” he tells.

Revamping the system

But convincing doctors to use new technology can be hard. His project revamps existing medical records systems, so doctors don’t have to do extra work figuring out new systems. “I always tell entrepreneurs: it’s better sometimes to improve a system than to make a whole new one,” Shternin tells.  

He believes the big unused resource, the goldmine in healthcare, is the patient. “The patient sees the doctor only once in a while, while we have all these resources available to monitor a patient over a longer time,” he tells. “But they aren’t implemented because the system is sluggish.” 

How come this is the case? “Well, first of all healthcare is paternalistic,” he says. “Doctors see themselves as technological people, but the middle-aged male doctor really isn’t. Second, tech is designed by the IT people and doctors and patients are not part of it.” He emphasizes that IT in healthcare is slow and IT workers usually have set schedules for months or years and work with “ancient technology”. 

According to Shternin, healthcare really is the only industry where solutions are not adapted to their users. “At a conference about hospitality people would talk about the desires of customers and take their vision into consideration. Patients are not treated like that.” He thinks it is important to disrupt the system that we are stuck in:

“That is important for a patient like me in the 21st century, who is being treated within a 18th-century system.”

Bart de Witte and Roi Shternin are speakers at DN19 on 25 and 26 November. If you like this article, we think you should meet them in person. Come see them and other Healthteach experts on stage –  join us by getting a ticket here.

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