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Making the shift to proactive health care with new technology, data

NASA/Robert Markowitz
Daniel Kraft, M.D., discusses the future of health care at NASA's 2015 conference, talkMARS.

New technologies and data tools may help to heal a broken health care system and prevent disease, one physician and author argues.

Dr. Daniel Kraft, a physician-scientist and faculty chair for medicine at Singularity University, joined us on “Take Care” to discuss emerging technologies and advances in medicine and what they mean for the future of health care.

Kraft is also the founder and chair of Exponential Medicine, which explores the convergence of accelerating technologies and their implications for the future of health care. He wrote an article in a recent issue of National Geographic called “12 innovations that will revolutionize the future of medicine,” where he described several ways health care is changing.

The health care system needs the technological advances he discusses in the article because there are many areas of improvement, Kraft said, including reactive, siloed data that is hard to obtain and access.

“Our health care system is actually quite sick,” Kraft said. “We need to move from our era of intermittent and reactive data … and move to an era with a lot of the new technologies we have in our pockets, to one where we are much more continuous with our information.”

The new system is shifting toward proactive care, Kraft said, with devices and other tools that help catch diseases early and keep people healthy longer. Wearable fitness devices particularly can collect data from the wearer and connect that data to both the patient and the physician, he said, becoming “quantified health.”

"This exponentially just gives us the opportunity to democratize and sort of reinvent, reshape health care around the planet."

A few of the innovations that he wrote about in National Geographic include things like bionic eyes and wearable patches that monitor different aspects of one’s health. In addition, Kraft discussed smart contact lenses, which is a contact lens with chips and sensors in it that can test in the same way current blood tests do and transmit that data to a cloud.

Kraft said technology is getting smaller, and that allows the collection and easy transfer of more health data than in the past. But, he said, the process must continue beyond that.

“Data itself isn’t that useful,” Kraft said. “We make it actual information that you as a patient or a clinician can use … to take that data and turn it into information and be useful at the point of care or in your home or in your pocket.”

Telemedicine is another area where Kraft sees plenty of potential for growth. He said telemedicine is promoting the idea of virtualized care, which blends telemedicine and data flow via new technologies, including making sense of data in context through augmented intelligence.

Similar blending can happen in other areas like with robots and artificial intelligence treating and diagnosing diseases, Kraft said. The important focus is to optimize care.

“It’s this convergence of many technologies getting faster, cheaper, more available,” Kraft said. “It’s going to, hopefully, let us reimagine the whole spectrum and health care continuum.”

With the advent of new technology, there are always issues and concerns that come with it. Red flags are always being raised about hackers and stealing personal information, and Kraft said that is part of the dark side of all technology. Methods like opt-in block chain methods for data collection may be a way to counteract these concerns, he said.

One of the things he wrote in National Geographic was that “it’s great to benefit from all of this technological progress, but it’s just as important to spread it.” Essentially, right now, new technology tends to go to the richest, Kraft said, but it is particularly important to spread that technology throughout the population, especially to those in the poorest income brackets.

“Many technologies will start expensive, and they’re going to get cheaper and more available,” Kraft said. “It’s how we put them all together, and this exponentially just gives us the opportunity to democratize and sort of reinvent, reshape health care around the planet.”

In terms of timeline, Kraft said a lot of the dots are coming together already, with much of the technology here right now. Phones can be medical devices to communicate and transmit health data to physicians in what Kraft calls an app-ification of health care, for example. The biggest challenge is getting these new technologies to the people that need it most, he said.

“It’s our opportunity to start distributing some of these innovations, showing that they work,” Kraft said.