What could personalised healthcare mean for the NHS?
SummaryPersonalisation is one of the biggest topics in healthcare today; the global market was recently valued at $1.6 trillion in 2020, and is firmly expected to surge further in the coming years. There’s no question that connected data and personalised healthcare pose many exciting opportunities to the sector - and it’s a rapidly developing space. Already we are seeing an acceleration in real-life applications of consumer technology such as Apple Health which, through its HealthKit developer framework, can collect and monitor data on everything from calorie intake to glucose levels. But as the space evolves, particularly through wearables, we must also acknowledge the fresh challenges that it brings with it: namely, how do you connect the various systems and data points involved, particularly complex patient health data, and make them genuinely useful?
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What could personalised healthcare mean for the NHS?
By Matt Farrar, founder of LovedBy. LovedBy exists to improve the lives of people, their families, and communities. Creating products and experiences they love, with people who love to create them.
Personalisation is one of the biggest topics in healthcare today; the global market was recently valued at $1.6 trillion in 2020, and is firmly expected to surge further in the coming years.
There’s no question that connected data and personalised healthcare pose many exciting opportunities to the sector - and it’s a rapidly developing space. Already we are seeing an acceleration in real-life applications of consumer technology such as Apple Health which, through its HealthKit developer framework, can collect and monitor data on everything from calorie intake to glucose levels.
But as the space evolves, particularly through wearables, we must also acknowledge the fresh challenges that it brings with it: namely, how do you connect the various systems and data points involved, particularly complex patient health data, and make them genuinely useful?
Here, I’ll consider the opportunities - and the challenges - presented by personalised data in healthcare, and what it could mean for colossal organisations like the NHS.
New data offers new capabilities for the NHS, but context is key
Access to more and more data, for less and less money, could facilitate a significant increase in the NHS’ ability to predict diseases and offer treatment proactively rather than reactively. An example of this is genomic testing - also known as DNA testing - which can identify changes in genes which could lead to health problems. This type of testing has seen a sharp uptake in accessibility in recent years, with the cost of testing shrinking from billions of dollars to just a few hundred.
The prevalence of real-time health monitoring also holds considerable potential, although it is relatively early days. It remains to be seen whether Apple Health will introduce real-time, non-invasive Glucose monitoring as standard, for example - and, if so, whether this data would be shared with the NHS. Doing so, on a large scale, would allow the NHS to make vast strides in its treatment of diabetes.
Ultimately, the primary challenge will be to apply context to these vast amounts of newly uncovered data - after all, data is only valuable once it has been interpreted in a meaningful way. The problem with such rich data is that, (more often than not), it requires a qualified expert to make this translation and present it back to the patient.
Proactive healthcare is just as important as the cure - but it requires personalisation
So-called ‘predictive power’ has the ability to change the way we think about healthcare. We must recognise that shifting to a more preventative approach - rather than focusing on cure - can be transformative, not only for the nation’s health, but also for the state NHS. Indeed, the Government’s 2019 report ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ recognised the potency of the preventative model, committing to putting “prevention at the centre of our decision making.”
Proactive healthcare only works, though, if it is personalised. This means acknowledging that we live in a complex, multigenerational society, with every group having very different needs. One-size-fits-all proactive measures - such as the sugar tax, or banning delivery of fried chicken to schools - will therefore never be enough to create genuine solutions.
Fortunately, we’re seeing clear signs that we’re heading in the direction of a more personal approach, especially when it comes to patients’ own awareness of their own mental and physical health and needs. The pandemic has fuelled this change, particularly when it comes to our mental wellbeing; a study published in the BMJ noted that the pandemic could “dramatically reduce mental health stigma,” stating that “talking about our mental health will become a new norm.”
Gen Z are personalisation pioneers
As a society we typically focus a disproportionate amount of attention on healing older people, as opposed to safeguarding the health of younger people. If we are to future-proof our healthcare system, it’s vital that we shift this balance and begin reaching the 9 million people in the UK who fall into the Gen Z category.
So how do we engage young people in conversations around their health that feel relevant and meaningful?
Personalisation will be imperative. From ethnicity to neuro-diversity, Gen Z are the most generationally unique group ever - so it stands to reason that they need information about their health delivered in a way that is personal, emotional and human.
At LovedBy, we want to push the boundaries in this respect, which is why we develop products like Nudg, our ‘short form content’ behavioral health platform. Nudg was designed by young people, for young people, and is focused on improving the health of adolescents and young adults managing chronic conditions through personalised prompts and insights.
How we can improve personalised healthcare today
So what steps can the NHS take today to better-personalise the services it offers?
Firstly, the target audience needs to be involved in the development of new systems, frameworks and experiences. We can learn a lot from genuinely listening to the people we are trying to reach: how do they want to be communicated to? Forgetting apps, what channels do they live in already that you can use? How does this differ from other groups? And others within their own group?
It may sound obvious, but don’t neglect to act on these insights. When developing Nudg, we found that 17 year olds don’t like receiving text messages for reminders. They wanted interaction in channels like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram. We acted on that, and it worked.
Secondly, don’t get too focused on the technology. Further advances and connected data will contribute massively to the NHS’ ability to deliver personalised healthcare, but the human-centric approach must take priority above everything else. Remember - people are not creatures of logic, we are creatures of emotion. We do not care what is true! We care how it feels.
Patients and their needs should drive the technology, rather than vice-versa.