Patients Of The Future Will Be Treated By Virtual Doctors

Home checkup kits will arrive at home by drone, carrying devices to draw and analyze blood. Sensors placed around the house will monitor gait and transmit information on the status of back trouble. Smartphones will be able to check eyesight, breath or voice to scan for specific ills.

Should anything be amiss, the virtual doctor would schedule an appointment with the relevant professional.

These scenarios were presented last week at a gathering of investors and startup entrepreneurs held just outside Jerusalem by aMoon Partners, a VC fund backed by Israeli billionaire Marius Nacht, that invests in mid- to late-stage life science companies in the field of digital health, medical technologies and biopharmaceuticals that operate in Israel as well as other health-tech hubs like the US and Europe.

One of the main messages of the gathering was that health tech is moving very fast, and to get these futuristic technologies to market, bridges and collaborations must be forged between academia, startups, VC funds, medical professionals and regulators. Educators and medical professionals must be trained in these new technologies in order to lower hesitancy and resistance to change.

For Israeli health-tech companies to succeed, said Dr. Yair Schindel, the co-founder and managing partner of aMoon, at the gathering, they need access to a huge number of patients, funds and talent — only available if they strike international collaborations.

Israel is host to some 1,600 life sciences companies that employ more than 83,000 people, and the industry attracted a record $1.5 billion in 2018, up 25 percent year on year, according to a report released by Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI), the umbrella organization of the high-tech and life sciences industry in Israel, last week.

“The way forward for digital health — maybe it’s always been, but it’s even more now — is getting people to work together. That is that the message. It’s getting to work together across the silos and different medical industries specialties,” said Dr. Daniel Kraft, a Stanford- and Harvard-trained physician-scientist with more than 25 years of experience in clinical practice, biomedical research and innovation, in an interview with The Times of Israel at the sidelines of the aMoon summit.

“We need new ways of collaborating. Even though we’re mindful of privacy, there are smart ways to share information,” he added.

What patients worldwide need today is a type of community-driven navigation system for their healthcare — in short, a Waze, he said. The Waze GPS software was developed by Israelis and acquired by Google.

Kraft envisioned healthcare that will increasingly be crowdsourced from a variety of patients who have similar traits, he said. This means “learning from others with similar genomics, diseases, to create the potential for virtual personalized clinical trials. So (this) has analogies to Waze, where sharing is encouraged and in return drivers get a better and more personalized map. In this case it would be to optimize your ‘health destination,’ both to optimize wellness but also manage or prevent disease.”

New treatment methods, Kraft added, won’t be “one size fits all” but will be “very specific to where you are on the road to wellness or the road to managing a disease. And then, as we start to crowdsource that data, we build better maps and safer roads, and better paths to discovery and cure.”

He dismissed the idea that too much information about one’s health could be undesirable.

“I think we want to know when it’s actionable,” he said. “If you know that if you change your diet and improve your microbiome, you have less risk of colon cancer, you may simply change to do that.” For another example, genetic testing for breast cancer can spur women to get mammograms earlier.

“So, some people want to know,” he said. “Information can be power.”

Kraft, dressed in a light blue shirt and dark blue jacket, sported multiple devices on his wrists, including an Apple watch and a Fitbit. He also wears a “underwearable” — a health tag clipped onto on his undergarments developed by the California-based startup Spire Inc. The tag monitors sleep, stress, heart rate and other health indicators.

He is faculty chair for Medicine at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley institution, and is its founder and chair for Exponential Medicine, a program that explores convergent, rapidly developing technologies and their potential to reshape the future of health and biomedicine.

Kraft also recently founded IntelliMedicine, a startup focused on connected, data-driven and integrated personalized medicine. He is the inventor of the MarrowMiner, an FDA-approved device for the minimally invasive harvest of bone marrow, and he founded RegenMed Systems, a company developing technologies to enable adult stem cell-based regenerative therapies. He has conducted research on aerospace medicine that was published with NASA, with whom he was a finalist for astronaut selection.

Israel, he said, is a hotbed for “energy of innovation and creativity,” with army graduates from tech units in the Israeli army now turning their attention and abilities to healthcare.

“You’re getting this very powerful set of technologists seeing unmet needs, and challenges and solving them in the creative ways,” he said.

Because Israel is a small market, it needs to make sure the knowledge it holds is bridged to the rest of the world, so that its technologies can grow.

“There needs to be a path to make that happen,” he said, with the understanding that “different markets need different solutions. That something that might work well in Tel Aviv may not work well in Tokyo or in San Francisco.”

Just like all other fields that are being disrupted by technology — e.g., the industrial world with 3D printing — so does the healthcare industry need to develop regulatory policies and ethics that will facilitate an appropriate amount of caution without “holding back” on new technologies and fields, Kraft said.

Even when the regulatory path is clear, however, medical professionals and hospitals are often hesitant to adopt and adapt to new technologies. This is due to a mix of bad incentives — doctors in the US often get paid per procedure — and concerns that the technology will replace their skills, said Kraft.

The best way to get a product to penetrate the market is to show the value of the product, keeping it as simple as possible without an overwhelming amount of facts and figures. “No one wants the data; they want the actionable information.” And that is true as well for patients, who should be getting information about themselves simply and in context.

“So, the bottom line is that there’s lots of potential, there’s lots of amazing technologies,” he said. “But the real power is when you bring them together into solutions.”

If doctors can get a full picture of their patients early on, from their genetic makeup to their behaviors to where they live, then “they can hopefully be much smarter about helping screen and prevent diseases” the patient may be prone to.

“The idea is that the medicines of the future will be based on you, built for you, adapting to you, based on all this real-time data,” he said. “We’re going to move from intermittent and reactive sick care, where you get little bits of data and you wait for disease to happen, to continuous data, and proactive healthcare, where you’re not going to wait for the disease to happen, you’re going to hopefully find it early and then manage it in a much more precise, personalized and feedback-driven way.”