Futurist Amy Webb claims that wearables will evolve into "connectables"

19 March 2024

AI-driven consumer health solutions. The end of classical health systems?

"The wave of innovation that's coming is so intense, so potent, and so pervasive, it will literally reshape our human existence," according to Amy Webb, the founder of the Future Today Institute, who presented supertrends at the SXSW 2024 (South by Southwest Conference and Festival). AI, connected digital ecosystems, and biotech are three key technologies driving the most pivotal shift.

AI models are improving, and there will be a tsunami of new mind-blowing applications like the recently presented "text-to-video" model Sora by OpenAI. The smarter the AI models, the less precise the prompts must be – prompt engineering seems to be only a temporary competence needed to interact with AI.

AI will enormously impact quantified self – the trend of collecting data to optimize life and health. The wearables market is growing fast, but they have had marginal meaning so far for health. While smartwatches are able to measure some vital parameters precisely, the collected data can't be interpreted and turned into understandable and applicable actions. Now, AI can gather all the data from the user's living environment, including data from connected ecosystems and biotech wearables. Every new data point giving insights into health – added step by step to consumer electronics – allows AI to learn determinants of health, becoming our health agent.

Amy Webb talks about large action models (LAM), which not only accumulate data but deliver recommendations tailored to personal needs. It seems like "personalized lifestyle and personal health" will become a reality before strictly regulated healthcare delivers "personalized medicine." This is a paradox resulting from healthcare (over)protectionism.

"The barrier between digital and biological is vanishing," according to the 2024 Tech Trend Report". Blending digital and biological worlds opens up a whole new world of medical possibilities. In a digitalized world with easy access to knowledge, consumers' expectations for high-quality care are rising – they want to take charge of their health. They use sensors, smart devices, direct-to-consumer healthcare services, and routine screenings. The report highlights the shift in data collection toward a data ecosystem approach. It means medical professionals must deliver an all-encompassing, holistic approach to their services.

Powers of change in healthcare

The rise of smart sensors offered in consumer devices by big tech companies lead to the establishment of new stakeholder ecosystems. Apple, Google, and Amazon have been so far slowly entering strictly regulated healthcare systems. But the legislative walls won't stop the shift for long – healthcare providers collecting limited medical data on Electronic Medical Records won't be able to compete with companies turning data real-life data into recommendations regarding preventive measures. And since AI can combine data from different sources, the gap between traditional healthcare providers and new players will get bigger – in favor of the latter.

Here is our selection of tech-related trends in the "Healthcare and medicine" part of the report:

  • Big tech disrupts healthcare. Big Tech companies are leveraging their user bases, advanced technology, and data access to offer superior healthcare services, filling some gaps in the system.
  • DTC healthcare models. Startups and healthcare providers bypass traditional intermediaries by adapting direct-to-consumer (DTC) healthcare models, which aim to offer consumers cost savings, convenience, and accessibility to products and services.
  • Health data infrastructure. Getting a complete picture of our overall health continues to be a challenge. The widespread adoption of AI is playing a pivotal role in connecting the dots between EHR systems and patient-generated health data to provide a more comprehensive, real-time, and personalized view.
  • Automation of processes. Big Tech is championing workforce automation while introducing process efficiency solutions for appointment scheduling, billing, supply chain management, health management, admissions and discharges, follow-up care, prescription management, quality assurance, and compliance.
  • Increased cybersecurity threats. According to IBM's Cost of Data Breach 2023 Report, the global average data breach cost in 2023 was $4.45 million, a 15% increase over three years.
  • In-home consumer health technology. Smart home technology is evolving to facilitate the monitoring of digital biomarkers, creating an integrated ecosystem for health information that complements wearables.
  • Remote patient monitoring. As the population ages, remote patient monitoring (RPM) is increasingly relevant for achieving a higher quality of life.
  • Smart materials. Incorporating sensors into textiles offers noninvasive data collection for advanced health monitoring and analysis.
  • Biosensor and chip-based diagnostics. Advanced data analysis and machine learning techniques are being integrated with biosensors to enhance diagnostics by recognizing patterns and trends in large data sets.
  • Increased capabilities of point-of-care diagnostics. Conveniently performed near a patient, point-of-care (POC) diagnostics offer speed, convenience, and accessibility. Now, smartphone-enabled POC devices enable real-time data transmission and expand the reach of telemedicine.
  • XR in diagnostics. The technology enables the visualization of disease progression, immersive training simulations, and remote collaboration.
  • Medical deepfakes. Medical deepfakes involve the use of AI to manipulate medical data or images.
  • AV/VR therapeutics. Virtual/augmented reality is being increasingly used in therapeutics for a wide range of physical and mental health issues, including rehabilitation, pain management, exposure therapy, and reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Brain-computer interfaces and neuroprosthetics. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) establish a direct communication pathway between the human brain and computers, enabling body control without using the peripheral nervous system or muscles.
  • Precision medicine. Precision medicine replaces the traditional one-size-fits-all approach by tailoring treatment and prevention to an individual's environment, lifestyle, and genetic makeup.
  • Designing an extended life. Breakthroughs in synthetic biology have ignited interest in designing and prolonging human life.
  • Mature wearables. As wearables become more sophisticated, they offer unparalleled access to personalized health insights and environmental interactions, becoming indispensable tools for maintaining well-being.
  • Synthetic health data. Synthetic health data is artificially generated health data that mimics real data properties without privacy risks.
  • New clinical trial methods. Remote, virtual reality and insilico trials are viable options to traditional trials.
  • 3D bioprinting. 3D bioprinting involves the creation of functional structures that imitate the complexity of biological tissues and organs by layering living cells and bioinks.

Click here to download the "2024 Tech Trends Report – Healthcare and Medicine" and explore more trends in healthcare.