The Technology Singularity in Healthcare and Life Sciences

"For medicine to truly become personalized, it needs to address not just a disease or condition, but rather all aspects of the person."

Interest around the concept of a “Technological Singularity” seems to ebb and flow in popular culture, gaining notoriety through Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book.

Technological Singularity is explained as “…the idea that human history is approaching a “singularity”—that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence, or both.” (MIT Press)

The major singularity may or may not be near (Forbes), but its business-world precursors certainly are – especially for the healthcare and life sciences industries. We are in the midst of a profound market convergence as health insurance payers, health care providers, and pharmaceutical and device manufacturers are being drawn closer together through various market forces and technology advancements:

  • The growing percentage of consumers in government-sponsored health insurance with consumer obligations (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid, statutory health insurance)
  • New abilities to apply pharmacogenomics in personalized medicine
  • The increase in outcome-based compensation and risk-based agreements between payers and providers or manufacturers
  • The increasing prevalence of applied artificial intelligence (AI) to augment and accelerate, both in business and scientific capacities

Together, these illustrate the growing interconnectivity across the ecosystem. Individually, they each address key elements of the future of personalized healthcare. They demonstrate that personalized medicine is not just a scientific or clinical concept. For medicine to truly become personalized, it needs to address not just a disease or condition, but rather all aspects of the person.

And every person is a complicated mix of genetic, environmental, psychological/behavioral, socio-economic, familial, and other circumstantial relationships. Perhaps this is why data suggests that, despite the billions invested by healthcare provider organizations into Electronic Health Records, fatal medical errors have actually increased (Johns Hopkins) and that drug-related problems have become the fourth-leading cause of death in the US (BMJ). We have more data and more structured data, but is it the right data? And are we doing the right things with it? We seem to be operating under the assumption that just having more structured data would drive better health outcomes, when in fact it has done nothing more than give us greater visibility into the inadequacies of the approach itself. In many circumstances, the solution isn’t in more data, or even better data; it’s to be found in better utilizing what we already have. And this is where the convergence in healthcare and life sciences will have the greatest impact.

Which brings us back to the idea of a Singularity in Healthcare and Life Sciences. As we plan for a future of mainstream outcome-based personalized medicine, we need to consider that many, if not most, of the personalization needs to occur outside of the clinical environment. Data suggests that 60% of health outcome influencers are linked to behavioral and environmental determinants, compared to 10% for medical care, and less than five percent of a patient’s time is spent interacting with the formal healthcare system (PWC). So, as we anticipate convergence, and as we struggle to drive real value for patients with our data, we need to be creating solutions that will:

  • Connect between all of the clinical and commercial entities – healthcare payers, providers, and manufacturer systems, to enable outcome-based reimbursement models and support for more personalized therapies
  • Augment the teams in those same organizations with operational AI and both historical and real-time data, deriving insights automatically, and enabling scale through automation
  • Be responsive to each patient on their own terms, to include not only the clinical elements of healthcare, but the consumer, financial, and behavioral aspects within the same context – redefining the conventional idea of a healthcare customer journey, knowing that most of that journey is invisible to the system today.

As these market convergences and technology advances align with and accelerate personalized medicine, they may even begin to pave the way for the more profound future envisioned by Kurzweil. In the near term, though, we can certainly learn from the examples and apply them to areas of convergence in our more immediate world with the greatest potential. Making the most of this potential requires development of truly person-centric solutions. While newly-approved genetic therapies (NY Times) and advances like the Human Protein Atlas are leading indicators of things to come, we can’t wait for 2045. Laying the basic foundation enables us to reap rewards of innovation faster and to improve health outcomes at a scalable investment sooner.

And when it comes to convergence across healthcare and life sciences, there’s no better event than Pega’s annual Collaborative Healthcare Summit, with speakers from organization like Philips, MCG, Quest, and Tenet who are driving cross-industry innovation today – come join the conversation!