Healthcare has Problems: Let’s Solve Them
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I’m actually interested in, and what field I want to work in. For some reason the answer is always healthcare, and I can’t decide whether that’s because I’m always sick, because I’m Indian (‘nuff said), or if I actually have a bleeding heart and want to help people. The issue is, our current medical infrastructure sucks, and innovation in the life sciences fields are falling behind that of “tech” and a society that seems obsessed with collecting and monetizing our data, or creating new social networks for some reason or another. I don’t believe in innovation for the sake of innovation, but I think there are serious issues when people don’t want to see a doctor (I hate making pediatric appointments, and I run from hospitals) and physicians are spending only 15 minutes with patients. This is a place where I believe my generation can make real change, so here follows my manifesto.
I believe there are three main issues with healthcare today namely that it is slow, expensive, and opaque. The cornerstone of modern advanced healthcare is preventative medicine which relies on a proactive approach to preventing disease from occurring and maintaining good health, versus reacting to crises. This system is maligned by a shortage of primary care physicians, a lack of attention to healthiness by the general population, and an ineffective diagnostic means of determining what is going on in the body. People often avoid going to doctors offices which are cold, clinical and expensive. For a regular appointment they face long wait times, short periods of face-time with their physicians, and potentially large co-payments, just to hear the doctor say he or she will order some routine tests that will take several days for the results to arrive, cost a large sum of money, and require yet another dreary doctor’s appointment to interpret. This expensive, inefficient system can be improved in three ways. The first is empowering patients to live healthier lives by providing them with the knowledge and tools to asses their current health, the second is to improve patient data collection for health care providers and the third is to improve the means of communication between doctors and patients.
People know little about what is going on inside their bodies which is an issue. There is a difference about hearing how sugar affects blood glucose or salt affects blood pressure, and seeing within a matter of minutes or hours after an especially sweet or salty meal, the spikes in glucose levels or blood pressure. Providing people with medical wearables that serve as continuous diagnostic tools to track their health helps people educate themselves about what is going on in their bodies. One can monitor his or her own blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, blood glucose, oxygen saturation, and potentially more with completely passive wearable systems in the present and near future. This data would not only give people power over their health, but also create a direct link between patients and their physicians. Doctors would now be able to view patient conditions over time which would these physicians with a better understanding of patients and their medical histories. An important complement to these systems would be creating patient education applications, that interpret results and diagnoses for everyday people, as well as inform them about their phsycian-advised treatment plan whether that be a medication or a procedure.
Beyond this, creating minilabs for point of care diagnostics, both in the home and in doctors’ offices, will decrease the cost and time needed to make critical diagnoses. Providing systems to quickly and painlessly track indicators such as electrolyte concentrations, cell counts, and antibody levels using using different microfluidic and fluorescent technologies can revolutionize healthcare. Parents would be able to check and see whether their child has a bacterial infection versus a virus, is dehydrated versus plain tired, and whether the child needs dietary changes because of a lack of important vitamins and minerals. Coupled with aforementioned informational systems and accurate interpretations of results, families would be able to make better decisions about whether to stay home, see a doctor, or even need to rush to the emergency room. For doctors this system would mean fast and accurate means of determining what ailments and infections patients might have to quickly prescribe treatments without the wait of having bloodwork sent out to an external lab.
Finally, creating a telemedicine system that allows patients to message, chat, and video-conference with physicians is integral to solving the impending shortage of primary care physicians especially in rural areas. Coupled with the aforementioned diagnostic devices, this would allow patients to communicate with their doctors and allow the physicians to asses the patients’ vital signs and other conditions using the data collected by the medical technologies the families are equipped with at home. This would also improve load balancing and decrease inefficiency where doctors can serve patients from all over, not just those who come into the office, and would also help decrease the time spent writing down notes or filing paperwork by having an automated system be able to record the calls or decisions the doctor made as well as all of the symptoms recorded by the different diagnostic devices, thereby increasing the proportion of working time that physicians spend with patients.
Let’s see entrepreneurs solving the real issues. I’d rather see another Medtronic or Johnson and Johnson than a new Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. There are already some really cool startups being pursued at at Penn and other Philly schools, as well as all over the US and the world.