Q&A: How Tech Will Drive Transformation In Health Care

Futurist Jess Kimball explains some of the ways emerging technologies may change how we deliver and pay for health care.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sylvie Rosokoff

Jess Kimball is a futurist and Global Consulting Partner at OgilvyRED. She helps corporations, governments and nonprofits alike navigate the future of health care. MHCSW spoke with her recently to get a glimpse of how she envisions today’s innovations playing out in the coming years.

MHCSW: How are data and technology changing health care? 

Jess Kimball: Change never feels quick when it’s happening, but look how much of how we live has changed since the iPhone launched 10 years ago. Most of us are now walking around with a computer in our pockets. What’s starting to happen, and we will see a change in our lives—is the amount of data sharing around illness. Companies like IBM’s Watson Health artificial intelligence platform and Alphabet’s Project Baseline, which is looking at 10,000 people to figure out what are the components of superior health, how to label it and show it back to people. These initiatives are gathering massive quantities of data that will allow us to do predictive modeling, to enable doctors to better understand the transition from health to disease and identify additional risk factors for disease.

Let’s say you tore your ACL. Your future health care could be comprised of your physical therapist, your primary care physician and your specialist all pinging data back and forth, sharing data all the time; with granular details like your heart rate, to macro details like how many steps you took today. Are your steps compliant with your therapist’s recommendation? A system will be able to alert providers when you aren’t being compliant, if you skipped your physical therapy appointment or if you forgot to take your prescribed medicine.

MHCSW: Medical data sharing has many benefits, but are privacy and security regulations a concern?

Kimball: At this point, what we are capable of and what we can do may not be synced. We must be creative now. In other industries, such as banking, the regulation has had to catch up to technology.

MHCSW: We hear a lot about how companies like Uber have “disrupted” transportation or how Netflix has “disrupted” how we watch television and movies. How is health care being disrupted?

Kimball: Many of the venture capitalist-backed companies are for people who can afford to spend a lot of money on their health care. There is a growing company that charges several hundred of dollars to for you to disclose some information about your health and submit your blood sample and this service will kick back a recommended, customized diet. The disruption of health insurance is looking at those who can afford to pay more but don’t require insurance beyond the basics. But many technologies and innovations often start out for the elite, and because there are only so many rich people, these innovations will eventually trickle down to the rest of us.

MHCSW: At what point will technology be making medical decisions for us?

Kimball: In an excellent book by Yuval Noah Harari, he looks at what is happening to the world as we are interacting with new godlike technologies such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. While Harari thinks that the human brain will still be the command center, it will become more and more connected to other devices like bionic arms or direct brain-to-computer interfaces.

As more data is being collected and mapped out, we will be more passive about our decision-making.

But we can’t forget that we are thinking people who make decisions for ourselves. We have a narrating self, who asks, “Is this a good idea for me?” However, we are letting computer systems make more decisions for us. As more data is being collected and mapped out, we will be more passive about our decision-making. That is where the disruption in health care will occur. Think about how the popular navigation app, Waze, has changed how people drive. Your parents may have argued over a map or you have debated with a passenger over the shortest route to a destination. But that has changed. Through data, Waze monitors traffic and delivers the shortest and most effective route to get where you are going. You don’t even have to think about where you are going, the computer has superseded your ability to think through this simple task.

For health care, we will have software to politely nudge us and guide us to make healthy decisions just like the GPS system in Waze. Our narrating self starts to be heard less because your new app is telling you to do specific tasks like choosing a piece of toast to get more fiber, alerting you to how long you need to exercise today, and to put down that cigarette. It will generate real feedback that doesn’t lie about how many glasses of wine you had over the weekend. And as this super doctor will be making decisions for millions of users, it will continue to give better advice and learn from the data it is collecting. This kind of supercomputer can help us live longer and healthier, when we are forced to behave better to do the right things for our health.

MHCSW: Should we be frightened or excited about the future of health care?

Kimball: In America, many people do not understand their health or how to be healthy. There is an obesity epidemic. There is an increase in the diagnosed rate of diabetes. But as we continue to get more data, we will have more of a democracy of information because we will be able to share how to be healthier. You won’t need to be in New York or the Silicon Valley to be on the cutting edge of technology. More people will have access to information who haven’t had access before. This will have a wide-ranging effect on the growth and evolution of new products and technologies, just like the iPhone eliminated the need for an iPod. New products will be needed to help us with our new technologies. Capitalism will help make new products available to the masses.

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