Biomedical technology putting the patient in the driver’s seat

Robin Farmanfarmaian is an expert at being a patient. Misdiagnosed at the age of 16 with an autoimmune disease, Farmanfarmaian has had 43 hospitalizations and six major surgeries.

Robin Farmanfarmaian

At 26, when her doctors gave her a choice between 80 milligrams per day of methadone or implanting a morphine pump in her spine, Farmanfarmaian had had enough. She rebuilt her health care team with professionals who would treat her as a team member and a colleague, and it resulted in an accurate diagnosis. Within 24 hours of being prescribed the correct medication, Farmanfarmaian went into remission — and was no longer facing the prospect of being a shut-in forever.

“That’s what drives me to make a major impact on diseases,” says Farmanfarmaian. “It drives me to educate everyone in health care.”

“The era of the patient”

With advances in biomedical technology, Farmanfarmaian says we are now living in the “era of the patient.” According to Farmanfarmaian, the global telemedicine market was $18 billion in 2015, a figure she predicts will rise to $41 billion by 2021. Companies such as Phillips and Samsung are investing in technology that connects hospitals, employers, insurers, and consumer-facing technology, she says. CVS has launched $59 on-demand virtual visits through its app. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has dropped boundaries for states for telemedicine, which means that physicians licensed only in one state can see patients anywhere in the U.S. And in 2017, Kaiser Permanente completed more than half of their clinic visits virtually for the first time, Farmanfarmaian said.

Technology touchpoints

Point-of-care diagnostics are evolving rapidly, as well. From Apple Watches that serve as EKG monitors to portable ultrasounds that plug into smartphones to blood pressure monitoring watches, technology designed to reduce a doctor’s visit is expanding at lightning speed. For example, Farmanfarmaian said consumers can even get on-demand IV hydration through the company I.V. Doc. It operates like a $200-$300 Uber with IV saline and vitamins. This is convenient for Farmanfarmaian, who has Crohn’s disease and gets dehydrated easily.

Software and augmented intelligence (AI) are taking over, as well, particularly through the smart-speaker market and voice-activated computers. In health care, says Farmanfarmaian, expect to see this technology in six specific areas:

  • Disabilities (for people who are blind or deaf)
  • Vocal biomarkers for diagnostics
  • Medication reminders and reminiscence therapy for aging in place
  • Patient-provider communication
  • Patient engagement
  • Dictation for physician notes into electronic health records.

Being the boss of your own health care

Farmanfarmaian says this evolution in technology is raising the bar for patient-physician interaction. As a patient, you can now be the CEO of your own health care.

“As CEO, you hire the best experts to run those departments, report back to you, and together as a team you decide on a direction for a company to go into,” says Farmanfarmaian. “But as CEO, you are the one who is ultimately responsible that that vision is carried out, and that the company, overall, is successful.”