Opinion: Four digital health predictions that transpired at the Mobile World Congress

After attending the 4YFN (four years from now) at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona recently, digital health entrepreneur and nurse Anna Sort outlines four key predictions for the healthcare of the future.
By Anna Sort
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Pictured: Anna Sort; Credit: HIMSS Europe

Netflix for healthcare

Netflix is a subscription service in which the user pays a monthly fee to access different contents. Healthcare will soon follow a similar model. I believe that users will no longer have several health apps on their phone, each one providing a separate service.

Instead, they will pay for a single subscription that will provide access to a host of apps. The change will come not just because it is easier for the user, but also because many health apps are failing due to their business model. In an extremely competitive mHealth industry, it is unrealistic for all health apps to successfully move to subscription models, which is what many are attempting.  
 
The rise of self-diagnosis  

Self-diagnosis may be a nightmare for many medical professionals, but it is coming, and fast. Given the abundance of services offering DNA, blood and microbiome testing, it is only a matter of time before all data is fed into an intelligent system that analyses it and comes up with healthcare predictions and even diagnosis.

Smartphones, for example, are already capable of detecting where we live and the amount of exercise we take, while wearables recognise our sleeping patterns and how hard our heart is working. The amount of data collected can easily be expanded, which in turn can further personalise the output in terms of disease contraction and personalised prevention.

The use of technology to help users with prevention and very early diagnosis is particularly to me, given that prevention has long been the underdog of healthcare. Moving away from an illness-based system into one where individuals take control of their health through technology is thrilling.  
 
Innovation from within
 

As I mentioned before, healthcare is like a very slow-moving dinosaur. One thing that can help accelerate change is the rise of entrepreneurs with a medical or healthcare-related background - doctors, nurses and other health professionals who genuinely understand the stakeholders’ point of view, know the pain points of the system and are in a position to provide the best solutions. Higher education institutions will partly foster the rise of medical entrepreneurs.

It is increasingly difficult to carve a steady career in healthcare, with many professionals having to leave their country to find a permanent position or facing years of gruelling rotas before obtaining a post. In response, universities and colleges will increasingly provide entrepreneurship courses as part of the curriculum of healthcare professions, meaning that many young doctors and nurses will see entrepreneurship as a career path just like any other. 
 
Gaming as the secret sauce of staying healthy
 
As the entertainment industry gets more mobile and VR-friendly, we will see more video games that encourage movement and playing with body  movements rather than controllers. The increase in this type of games will have a positive impact on people's health, particularly given the sedentary nature of our society.

The PokemonGo fever has set a revolution in mobile gaming, and just last year, an important game award went to a VR game that mixes music games with lightsabers. Given the benefits of exercise, I believe that we, as healthcare 
professionals, should be part of this trend and encourage the use of such games. (For a summary of my thoughts on the learnings of video games for the healthcare industry, check out my book “From Games to Health”, available on Amazon).  
 
Nobody can predict the future. In fact, as one of my fellow panellist mentioned, the chances are that many of these predictions will not come true. Life in general, and technology, in particular, is unforeseeable and has a habit of taking the oddest turnings. Nevertheless, I would love to hear your thoughts. 

What do you think will happen in healthcare in the coming years? 

Anna Sort is a nurse, entrepreneur and digital health pioneer. Her latest project is ​B.ENERGY​, an app for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).