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In partnership with Financial Times

The connected human

How does the patient of the future look like?

Healthtech breakthroughs are so close we can virtually – sometimes literally – taste them, transforming how we view and treat the patient of the future. The Internet of Things and self-monitoring technologies are moving nearer to, even edging inside the human body, and scientific research and data are being generated at an unprecedented pace, aided by artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms.

Digital pills are being swallowed happily by mainstream medicine

Meanwhile, the “Internet of Bodies” presents opportunities for wearable devices to interact with the environment, for example by detecting temperature or altitude changes.

These healthcare innovations are emerging in response to changing consumer priorities, explains Juan de Dios Sanchez-Roselly, global investment strategist at Santander Private Banking. “Covid-19 has given a big boost to all the digitalisation trends we were already seeing. With patients now afraid to go into hospital and unwilling to spend two hours in a waiting room, there’s a real change in mindset.”

The Internet of Bodies

The pandemic has also sped up public spending in healthtech, because of exposed weaknesses in the medical supply chain, as well as the recognition of a need to invest more in healthcare infrastructure. Last year the US and Australian governments both approved reimbursement for telemedicine consultations, enabling patients to speak to doctors via video link . And the UK government unveiled a £140m fund to accelerate the testing and evaluation of the most promising AI technologies with potential to support the NHS .

At the same time, healthtech is responding to a demographic that was changing even before the pandemic. “Governments need to provide more healthcare because populations are ageing,” Sanchez-Roselly says. “If there is a number-one priority for a human, it’s being healthy.”

There is also higher demand for information about our bodies. As we are living longer, we want better solutions based on more investigations. Data is a huge accelerating factor, and this is an area where we are seeing exponential growth, says Sanchez-Roselly.

"We have data about our bodies and our genetic features, and all of this has increased during the pandemic."

Juan de Dios Sánchez-Roselly
Global investment strategist at Santander Private Banking

Juan de Dios Sáncez-Roselly

The collection of data on the human body and its genetic characteristics is growing and has been increasing since the pandemic. Sanchez-Roselly suggests that there are companies doing very interesting work in this area, such as 23andme, which performs direct-to-consumer DNA tests. "This company has been collecting genetic data for years, and has more than 12 million customers," he says. "This genetic data is extremely valuable for research and development, and along with new discoveries and increased monitoring, can be monetised in many areas."

Another key area of potential value creation is the Internet of Bodies - the idea of implants continuously interacting with data in the cloud
The advance of wearable technology, along with consumers' growing desire to take control of their own health, has influenced the medical industry, including insurers, providers and technology companies, to develop more devices such as smartwatches and wearable monitors.
 
The number of global wearable devices expected
 
What does all this mean for the patient of the future?
 
The Commission on the Future of Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons talks of a future in which advanced algorithms help hospital staff anticipate and resolve delays in care delivery before they occur, recommending actions to improve service and allocation of resources. The commission also talks about enhanced augmented- and virtual-reality training for medical staff, and a skills shift encouraging students from engineering and computing to enter medicine.
 
It suggests that future surgery will potentially prevent – not just treat – illness, and that the focus will be on establishing and maintaining good health, predicting disease and early intervention. In five to ten years, sensors implanted in the body to monitor the formation of cancerous cells could be possible.

The report also acknowledges that surgery will become gradually less invasive and more accurate, with more predictable outcomes and faster recovery times. There is already a raft of companies in the fast-growing patient care space, including Myrecovery, an app that guides patients through preparation for and recovery from operations using videos and progress trackers; and Huma, which provides remote “hospital at home” patient monitoring, partnering with 20 NHS trusts .

As economies age, healthcare is going to represent a bigger share of household and government spending. Companies addressing age-related diseases will benefit, alongside innovative companies that provide technologies and new solutions to provide better care at lower costs. This is likely to encourage increased investment in onshore manufacturing facilities. All of this is very good news for investors.

"With each major health breakthrough, we see that people are more than happy to pay to extend their lives,” says Sanchez-Roselly, “This is going to provide huge opportunities.”

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