When research published in EPJ Data Science journal found that machine learning could help detect signs of depression by examining Instagram posts of study participants, it made international news. Questions surrounding health, privacy and ethics started popping up around the world.
In Europe, futurist, author, researcher and founding CEO of Healthskouts Koen Kas has continuously tackled these pressing questions head on in his writing, where he focuses on the move from re-active to pro-active care, or, as he describes it, from “sickcare to healthcare”.
Kas, who’s authored two books on the subject, argues that we will have in the future a so-called “digital avatar or companion”, collecting data about all aspects of our lives, which will be able to guide our behaviour and help us be as healthy as we possibly can be with the advent of new technologies.
“Building healthcare by default”
“What if I could give you a patch, a sticker that sticks to your skin, so that you can measure dehydration. Cool, but not good enough. Together with a Japanese company, we [Healthskouts] designed a patch that contains a small layer of electronics that we can program so that it can interact via the internet of things with my TV.
“Now, when I am dehydrated, my TV says: Koen, go drink some water. That is something I can’t forget, it is healthcare by default. I have combined technology with my biology to change my behaviour invisibly,” Kas tells MobiHealthNews.
This is one of many initiatives that he is involved in; another project looks at developing an algorithm able to identify speech patterns, using speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, to predict who will develop Parkinson’s disease, as Kas says that the pronunciation of vowels changes around two years before noticeable symptoms occur. “What I collect in my real world is a predictor of my Parkinson’s disease in two years’ time from now. That’s connected healthcare.”
A few weeks ago, Kas and his Healthskouts team launched a database of FDA cleared/ CE marked mobile health apps and devices - currently 144 - for specialists, pharma, hospitals and others. At the HIMSS Liège conference taking place at the beginning of April in Belgium, he will introduce a novel maturity index described as a “Trivago or a TripAdvisor for digital health tools”.
Healthskouts is also now beta testing a functionality that will see them use data on app developers to predict which ones would have “the highest chance to remain relevant for the healthcare of the future”. “Incidentally, from a subset of something like 36 companies, since December, three of these companies got a huge investment last week or a pharma deal,” Kas says.
Changing behaviour “in an invisible, delightful fashion”
Last year, consulting firm Reaktor and the University of Helsinki launched a free online course - called Elements of AI - to help people understand the basics of AI. By September, the University said that nearly 90,000 individuals from 80 different countries had already signed up to study the course, only four months after being introduced, and, according to an article published by POLITICO at the beginning of this year, Finland was now rolling out the “1 percent” AI scheme across the country.
In addition to addressing tech upskilling across a variety of sectors, Kas identifies another gap in the resources required to build the “healthcare of the future”: there is a need, he says, to create a role for someone to “translate what a data scientist can do into new experiences for human beings”.
“I think that the human factor of getting technological implementation is very exciting, because very often people are afraid that new technologies will kind of disrupt and lead to job losses. We’re going to see completely new jobs because of the entrance of new technologies. You might say that is an opportunity, but that is also a challenge.
“There is a need for someone who can explain why I should share something about me, or about what I can do to get more in return. At the very end, the future of healthcare is not so much about adoption of technology, it is about changing behaviour. And doing that in an invisible, delightful fashion, by surprise and reward, in the background.”
A "completely open" world?
And Kas introduces this concept in one of his books, where he explains that he does not like to use the word “disruption”. “I use something else, the concept of delight, when you try to think how you can surprise someone, how you can tie someone’s experience with something that they didn’t expect to receive, and you manage to get the complexity out of the door.”
However, he agrees that the increasing concerns around privacy, the use of data, AI and emerging technologies will continue to pose new challenges, but adds that he would like to see a world that is “completely transparent”.
“A world that is completely open, where you know everything about me, you know whether I get blind, whether I get Alzheimer’s, whether I get cancer, you know everything about me. Radical transparency. We are not there yet. And maybe we will never get there,” he says. "And therefore we might present an alternative for that at the Helsinki [HIMSS & Health 2.0 European conference taking place in Finland in June] stage."
The digital health futurist will give an insight into his work later this year in Liège and Helsinki, starting with the following premise: "the future is no longer about being sick".
MobiHealthNews is a HIMSS Media publication.