The ‘quantified self’ movement might still have a future, despite the tanking wearables market. Digitizing our health and monitoring our bodies could well be the future of healthcare.
“We can take all the DNA in our body and turn it into letters on a hard drive,” says Jimmy Lin, the Chief Scientific Officer for Oncology at Natera, a genetic testing company. “So that actually makes it a data problem. That’s really exciting.”
“It’s no longer that we [will] see a doctor once a year or only when we’re sick,” he says. “[There are] possibilities for us to have constant monitoring of our health, 24/7. That sort of rethinks how healthcare can be provided.”
On Wednesday at SparkLabs’ Demo Day in Seoul, Dr. Lin and Laurent De Vitton, the co-founder of Apricot Forest (杏树林), a healthcare startup based in Beijing, highlighted opportunities and challenges for startups eyeing the healthcare industry, which is in many ways one of the final frontiers for consumer technology.
“I think the ecosystem is very, very young,” said Mr. Lin. “Even if you look at all the excitement of the Apple Watch, or ways that people can use a cellphone, it’s still not much more advanced than a pedometer.”
The smartphone has revolutionized a multitude of industries, especially consumer-facing verticals, such as virtual reality, e-commerce, and social media. Smartphone applications in the healthcare industry, however, are much more niche, like smartphone microscopy, which can help doctors without access to expensive medical devices detect diseases like skin cancer or malaria. In addition, despite the wealth of technological advances in healthcare – gene editing, robotic surgeons, in-body sensors – the experience of end users, or patients, still falls short compared to other consumer products.
“Individuals in the West, but also Asia, understand less and less why their shopping experience [has] been so revolutionized by the smartphone, why their entertainment life has been so deeply transformed, [but] why their health is barely impacted as far as their personal experience goes,” says Mr. De Vitton.
Improving user experiences in the healthcare industry is a huge opportunity for startups. In China, for example, overextended doctors juggle excruciating caseloads, sometimes seeing fifty patients a day, averaging to about less than five minutes per patient, says Mr. De Vitton. Lowering the rate of misdiagnosis and improving patient service can come from simple solutions, like Apricot Forest’s suite of apps, which digitizes patient case files and enables doctors to crowdsource solutions and diagnoses from other doctors.
Big data also opens a lot of doors for healthcare startups. From medical records to genomic data, the healthcare industry will need products and services to sift through and make sense of vast amounts of data.
“Until we’re able to derive value from big data, it’s just a bunch of data. That’s where a lot of opportunities exist for startups,” says Mr. Lin. “From taking the data that’s from your DNA to a file, to ultimately an action that a physician can then recommend you to do, all those steps are potential… companies, [and problems] that startups can be able to address.”
In China, where an alarming number of doctors are physically assaulted by their patients, disruption of the country’s healthcare system is badly needed. According to a report by the Chinese Medical Doctor Association in 2015, almost 60% of medical staff reported verbal abuse from patients and more than 13% said they had been assaulted.
The country’s healthcare system also suffers from a lack of trust, which is further entrenched by medical scandals, such as the 21-year old student who died in May after undergoing experimental treatment advertised on Baidu.
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