Start ups and entrepreneurs are key to finding innovative uses for technology in the healthcare sector, according to a leading Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) healthcare academic.
Professor Zen Chu, senior lecturer in Healthcare Innovation at MIT (pictured), said the speed innovation is causing a massive gap between healthcare and modern technology that cannot be filled by large medical organisations.
"Healthcare across the globe has fundamentally underinvested in technology. So we are playing a lot of catch up," he said while speaking at a Digital Catapult event, attended by V3.
"The challenge in healthcare is the incumbent companies - the hospitals, the doctor behaviours, the way healthcare is paid for - are so hard to change and those gaps cannot be filled by the incumbent institutions, so it has to be filled by entrepreneurs."
He went on to explain that entrepreneurs and start ups can exploit the opportunities posed by technology faster than big organisations, allowing them to innovate, fail fast and rapidly re-work ideas in a fashion that large medical companies cannot.
"Now is the best time in history to be a healthcare entrepreneur," Chu added.
The professor spoke at London's Digital Catapult centre where numerous start ups showcased their products and services that they are developing for the healthcare sector.
V3 visited the centre during the showcase, where several start ups caught our eye.
With 45 million ear, nose and throats (ENT) doctor visits per year, translating into three million ENT-related hospital visits that cost the NHS £250m ever year, there is clearly scope to find new ways to reduce this significant outlay.
Cupris hopes to knock £70m from the yearly costs with its otoscope that can be connected to a smartphone, enabling people to take an "ear selfie".
Mike Pallet, business development director at Cupris, detailed how the device can improve the way ENT healthcare is delivered.
"Doctors can use it to capture images and video of the ear. The doctor can then add notes about the patient's case," he said.
"This can be sent to our secure cloud service, before being passed onto healthcare professionals who can provide a diagnosis and give advice without having to see the patient in person."
The aim of the smartphone and otoscope pairing is to effectively enable the remote diagnosis of ear problems that bypass time and money spend on doctor and hospital visits.
Dr Jamie Wilson, founder of Home Touch, aims to change the way care is delivered with the creation of an online marketplace that enables families to find carers that are within their area and suitable for the needs of the patient, without relying on care agencies.
Essentially a detailed web portal, Home Touch provides users with comprehensive guide of vetted care professionals - listing information including their location, skills and experience. People can then book carers online and provide feedback on the care that is being delivered.
Wilson believes Home Touch offers benefits to all involved in the process of caring for elderly people.
"The care recipient gets a better matched carer that meets their needs. For the carer, it's better pay, it's more flexible, and essentially better working conditions," he said.
"For the paying family it's more transparent, it's more affordable. And for the taxpayer, the £20bn that is spent each year can be significantly reduced by the disintermediation that we do of the traditional agency model."
Currently live in London with 100 care professionals on the web platform, Home Touch aims to be rolled out nationally with the help and guidance provided by the Digital Catapult.
Forty-five percent of global child mortality under the age of five is due to malnutrition, much of which occurs in the sub-Saharan area. Working with the World Health Organisation (WHO), digital agency Global Initiative developed the WHOAMI tool (WHO Acute Malnutrition Indicator).
The app has been designed for "one thumb use", so smartphone-equipped doctors can input information, such as height, weight and age of patents with one hand. This data can then be contrasted against WHO data to ascertain if a patient is malnourished.
Gareth Nixon, founder of Global Initiative, explained how the app would help with the delivery of healthcare in third world countries: "Our idea was to enable a doctor to have a smartphone app that would essentially run through the process of assessment, screening and hopefully diagnosis and treatment of a child with malnutrition."
The company hopes to add extra functionality into the app to allow patient data to be tracked and reports to be sent to the phones of parents. The overall goal is to improve the accuracy of healthcare delivery and enable follow-up care to be carried out.
Building upon the Memrica app, which enables the sharing and linking of memories on iOS devices, creator Mary Matthews is developing a version that aims to aid the memory of people living with dementia.
"At the moment most of support is for people at the end of their lives; the very elderly. But for people in the early stages [of dementia], there is very little support indeed, this is where Memrica Prompt comes in," explains Matthews.
The aim of Memrica Prompt is to allow people with dementia to live independently for longer, by providing memory prompts relating to pictures and reminders. For example, with the use of facial recognition, the app can link a picture of someone with notes the users has stored about them, thereby assisting the memory of people with dementia.
Matthews plans to launch the first prototype of the app in January, and aims to add in additional functionality such as creating smart reminders and adding visual guides for various household appliances.
The end goal it to effectively create a virtual mind map for Memrica Prompt users.
With influence of technology growing in healthcare, it is likely the Digital Catapult will attract more healthcare start ups looking for advice and guidance on developing their products and services in near future.
Since opening in November, the Digital Catapult has already attracted multiple technology entrepreneurs - V3 recently took a closer look on some of the most interesting start ups.
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