From labs-on-a-chip to blankets that give a premature baby the physical sensation of its mother inside the incubator, the healthcare sector is being revolutionized by the great digital transformation.
The challenges of this change and the impact on the industry were exposed to analysis and debate at the recent 23rd Healthcare Industry Meeting in the campus of Barcelona – Towards Value-based Healthcare.
The looming changes in the industry are principally related to connectivity.
Not only are millions of people around the world able to interact with each other, or even connect through devices like wearable technologies; we now live in an era characterized by the possibility of connecting machines.
According to Nuno Godinho, software general manager at GE Healthcare, there is a "sea of opportunities" for the health sector if, in addition to connecting people, we are also able to connect devices.
"The concept of the industrial internet is about connecting all machines so they can talk to each other," he says.
Some studies estimate that there are 250,000 million devices worldwide.
The health industry is paying close attention to those technological innovations that can be applied in the field – with leaps in connectivity translating into unprecedented opportunities to improve the quality of life for patients.
And it’s not just connectivity. The wealth of information stored by internet-connected devices is also set to change the playing field. So says Javier Olaizola of IBM Global Business Services.
"It's not a fad, the transformation marks a completely new era. Health systems still respond to a social reality that is behind us, and we need to rethink the future."
Olaizola emphasizes the need to take into account the "user experience" – a concept that is "key to understanding where the new solutions and investments are headed."
The digital transformation, he stressed, has changed the citizen’s experience. The management of waiting lists, for example, and communicating with doctors can now be achieved through new channels.
Professor Romain Quidant of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies presented a practical example of a revolutionary innovation for the future in health care, and particularly medical analysis.
Quidant is the leader of a group developing the “micro laboratory” using gold particles – a sort of lab-on-a-chip.
The micro laboratory could lead to a reduction in the cost of many biochemical tests, he says; tests which are not complicated but which are expensive.
His research could lead to "significant time saving that could in turn save lives."
However, despite the potential for innovation, researchers often come up against challenges that make applying their findings difficult.
"There is some resistance to change among doctors, as well as a generalized lack of communication between researchers and the industry, which is essential for developing innovative projects," says Quidant.
To overcome the challenges in collaboration, alliances between groups across the sector should be forged to benefit both sides.
And the more players there are participating, the better, says Luis Cortina, CEO of Siemens Healthineers Spain and vice president of Lab Diagnostics for Europe and West Africa.
"Establishing a common goal is good for everyone involved."
For Cándido Pérez Serrano of KPMG Spain, a major “failure” is the industry’s tendency to seek “efficiency while forgetting about effectiveness."
"You get the feeling that those who develop the technology are able to move very fast, but we in the industry are not able to develop business models for citizens to benefit. We need a way to revolutionize the health system."
Establishing partnerships is important, says Timmo Andersen, CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim Spain.
But he raises a number of key questions that will affect the industry in the coming years.
"When innovation is generated, who has the intellectual property rights? Who gets the benefits? How can we be more agile and not impede innovation or implementation?"
Resolving these challenges means "changing our mentality," says IESE Professor Núria Mas, who chaired the meeting.
"Change is never easy and we need a lot of leaders to endorse the project. We cannot afford to continue with the same system as before. We end up paying not only in terms of services offered, but also the result achieved."
The difficulty says Mas, isn’t just in getting to a win-win scenario.
“Sometimes one party’s win comes at a different time to the other’s, and managing the timing is also important."