Opinion

Digital health: promise or hype?

By Isabella Taylor

Team ZPB were lucky enough to spend their Valentine’s Day with the Cambridge Health Network (CHN) as it kicked off its spring programme for the ‘Digital Health Summit’.

Hosted at Bloomberg’s London HQ, the Summit aimed to answer the question of whether digital health is ‘promise or hype’, to which the resounding response seemed to be ‘both!’.

Panel 1: Data challenges: sharing, privacy, regulation and models that work

CHN’s co-founder and ZPB’s board director Pam Garside chaired the first panel, with Parker Moss, Owkin, Dr Hugh Harvey, KheironMedicalTechnologies, Dr Erik Lium, Mount Sinai Innovation Partners and Dr Barbara Murphy, RenalytixAI.

Parker was resolute that digital health holds more promise than hype, calling it “a new generation of innovation”. He discussed how companies can use “federated learning”, a model of collaboration for hospitals and healthcare providers that allows them to share data whilst still protecting it behind individual firewalls. The panel acknowledged that public trust was a real issue, and that the duty of care needs to be redesigned to make good use of data. They discussed that giving patients access to their data and how it is used – showing them the value of it – could help convince them.

Both Dr Hugh and Dr Barbara’s companies were innovating how AI could be used to treat diseases. Dr Hugh spoke about how AI and deep learning is being used to detect breast cancer tumours that even experienced doctors miss, while Dr Barbara explained how AI can be used to detect patients at risk of severe kidney disease. They are both working on developing key evidence that could prove to clinicians and patients that their products were as good as, if not better, than the current system.

The panel we keen to emphasise despite the ‘radical’ breakthrough, AI would not be taking over from doctors, clinicians or scientists. Parker pointed out that we don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms of biochemical pathways which limit what AI can do. Parker commented, “if you don’t know the rules it’s harder to make predictions. And we don’t know all the biological rules”. Dr Hugh agreed, adding “AI is only as good as the labels of data”.

Panel 2: Tackling hard to treat diseases: AI to the rescue?

The second panel, chaired by Sarah Haywood, CEO of Medcityand a DigitalHealth.Londonadvisory board member, facilitated a discussion betweenChantelle Kiernan, Nuritas, Pedro Faustino, Simplicity Bio, and Angeli Moller, Bayer Business Search.

The panel discussed the difficulties in getting the public to trust AI and data collection. Pedro highlighted the importance of showing clients that data won’t be used to “further our own interests” but rather to benefit them. One suggestion from audience member Professor Nick Peters, Imperial College London, was that if you want a person to do something, you must make it easy and delightful. Pedro agreed, adding that especially in the context of data, there is value in the patient understanding and using feedback to improve a product.

The importance of being flexible was also considered. As Angeli put it, “if pharma companies want to be attractive, we must be agile”. Chantelle agreed the same must be said for AI companies, and that strategic collaboration between the two will drive innovation and success. Chantelle commented that “drug discovery is inefficient, a hot mess, but AI can help”.

Panel 3: Consumerisation of healthcare and the digital therapeutics revolution

Moderated by Liz Krutoholow of Bloomberg Intelligence, the third and final panel was joined by Dr Corey McCann, Pear Therapeutics, Andrew Thompson, Proteus, and Megan Coder, Digital Therapeutics Alliance.

The panel began discussions talking about the differences between the US (where both Pear and Proetus are based) and the UK in relation to digital health innovation. It appears the US’ Food and Drug Association (FDA) have been far more innovative that NICE or the MHRA. They commented that it is a much bigger challenge working with a fixed budget system like the NHS, as you have to prove you can save money in 12 months. The leadership emerging from the UK, however was encouraging, and the decision to integrate the departments of health and social care was significant.

The group also discussed the importance of educating all levels of the system – payers, providers and patients – on what digital therapeutics is and how it can be used both alongside and in place of medication. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly important to create a platform to form a complete digital experience. Providers and patients don’t want five different logins to access their healthcare services. Karen said, “this is the future of all industries, including healthcare”. Amazon was used as an example – it began as a digital bookstore but now provides so much more – from clothes shopping to groceries to film and music streaming.

Overall, the ultimate take away was that digital health is more promise than hype, with innovations coming in across the health sector, from research and development, to early cancer detection and computerised pills. It was abundantly clear that there needs to be collaboration, flexibility and an open mind across both the private and public sector, and the patients they treat.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the work we do with networks, email Rachel Allan at rachel.allan@zpb-associates.com