Paging Dr. Drone

By Brian S. Williams, Strategy and Innovation, PwC And Michael F. Swanick, Partner, PwC

Brian S. Williams, Strategy and Innovation, PwC

The biopharmaceutical industry lags behind other industries, such as retail and telecommunications, in the deployment of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Drones and Virtual Reality. Yet these technological innovations loom on the health industry’s horizon with great potential to disrupt traditional care access and adherence. We believe 2017 is the year to prepare for the eventual arrival of these technologies and their impacts on business models, operations, workforce needs and cybersecurity risks (see figure).

"Healthcare organizations should avoid making the common mistake of adopting technologies individually, as point solutions, rather than exploring how they work together"

Careful observers will have already noticed early signs of these technologies’ appearance in the health industry. Eighteen years ago, Align Technology won FDA clearance for its 3D-printed orthodontic system. Since then, the company has treated millions of consumers, generating revenues of $845 million in 2015. 3D printing also is used to customize hearing aids and dental work and even print epilepsy medication. And, leading implant makers are already exploring 3D printed solutions.

In Sweden, pharmacy chain Apotek Hjärtat hands some clinic customers stress-busting virtual reality headsets that immerse users into a serene lakeside scene. By staring at objects in the environment, patients can trigger music, or beckon a sea monster.

And in 2017, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition expects to name a winner in its $10 million contest to invent a working “Star Trek”-style “tricorder.” The consumer-friendly device must be able to diagnose 13 health conditions and capture five vital signs without help from a healthcare worker or facility. Six teams have built working tricorders, said Grant Campany, senior director of the contest, and two teams have been selected as finalists in the competition.

Michael F. Swanick, Partner, PwC

A consumer-operated tricorder could perform work now handled by primary care workers, increasing efficiency and expanding access to care. “There is no reason to go to the hospital and spend the first 15 minutes answering questions and getting weighed,” Campany said. “Tricorder technology can already do these things—these devices can be engineered in the near future to integrate existing health technologies in the home and combine various data points to generate actionable information for patients and physicians alike. The physician sees the screen and gets to the heart of the matter, figuring out what to do to make you healthier.”

These technologies also are beginning to revolutionize supply chains, which can help pharmaceutical companies address issues such as increasing regulatory complexity across the globe, tightening competition, rising demand for personalized treatments and the persistence of counterfeits.

A digitized supply chain weaves together people, machines, data and other resources to enable greater efficiency, customization and security throughout the value chain, from planning to sourcing to manufacturing to delivering. For example, a digitized supply chain could slash manufacturing downtime by 30 percent to 40 percent, boosting equipment effectiveness. 3D printing could become the backbone of a decentralized supply chain able to produce small, custom batches for personalized treatments.

Implications:

• Consider These Technologies Together: Healthcare organizations should avoid making the common mistake of adopting technologies individually, as point solutions, rather than exploring how they work together. The best value for all of these technologies will be when they are applied in coordination with one another, or in coordination with services delivered by human beings. Organizations should develop comprehensive strategic plans that define their roles in a wider digital health ecosystem.

• Plan for New Talent: As these technologies make their ways into the health industry, organizations will need to hire new talent, or partner with enterprises stocked with these skilled employees. Health organizations should be prepared to compete with technology, financial services and retail companies for workers, such as engineers and designers. Health organizations may find it hard to lure top talent away from the tech world, and also should plan to identify partners that can supply workers with needed skills.

• Don’t Short Cybersecurity: These technologies also are wellsprings of valuable data. But, as the health ecosystem becomes an interconnected web of consumer and medical devices, clinical equipment and more, hackers will find multiplying opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities, physical and virtual. Health organizations should make investments in cybersecurity commensurate with their adoption of emerging technologies to avoid costly breaches and meet regulator expectations. 45 percent of healthcare providers and payers are investing in a security strategy for the Internet of Things, according to PwC’s Global State of Information Security Survey 2017.

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