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What will be 2018’s most important advances in healthcare?

Scott Topper

2018 is primed to be an inflection-point year, when new developments in technology, medicine and computer science start impacting a culture and healthcare economy that are ready to embrace change. Here are some of the big changes that are worth keeping an eye on as they approach critical mass in the months to come.

Genetics goes population-scale.

With the right expertise, it’s possible to make profoundly impactful genetic information accessible at truly affordable prices. This transition fundamentally changes the calculus about who can access their genetic information, and what that information can be used for. This opportunity, combined with the political, financial and administrative uncertainties around traditional healthcare channels, will drive new thinking about ways to improve population health. Individuals, employers and health care organizations will increasingly recognize the opportunity to save money and lives by embracing a “genome-first” approach to healthcare and health-related services.

Blockchain isn’t just for bitcoin. (ref)

A year of massive data breaches in all sectors of our society have made information security one of the most important topics of 2018. At the same time, the value of sharing information, and providing safe and effective mechanisms for collaborative access cannot be more clear, especially in medicine. Collectively, we have a wealth of data that can provide new, life-saving insights, if it were organized, indexed, and securely shared and accessed. Secure interoperability is a massive opportunity, and new crypto technology will play a useful role.

Medicine welcomes machine learning. (ref1) (ref2)

For health care, advances in machine learning couldn’t come at a better time. New technologies make more detailed and more accurate data available for more and more people, providing a perfect training ground for the astounding pattern-recognition capabilities of new machine learning approaches. Expect a wave of applications to data analysis, clinical decision making, risk assessments, pathology and epidemiology, and a rapid stream of new insights and protocols. Doctors and healthcare organizations will be deeply empowered by these insights. Augmenting physicians’ knowledge and insight with self-learning computer intelligence will revolutionize healthcare, and very much for the better.

Gene editing to cure disease.

In 2017 scientists edited a gene inside a human; treated leukemia with genetically engineered T cells, and gave a child genetically engineered skin. The FDA approved the first US gene therapy for pediatric leukemia, the first cancer-fighting gene therapy in the US, and the first gene therapy for an inherited disease. Specific, direct, genetic treatments for medical ailments are quickly coming of age, powered by the twin engines of genetic data and advancements in molecular medicine. Personalized medicine is becoming a reality.

The wellness revolution continues.

Our mission at Color is to help people live their healthiest lives — to predict and prevent catastrophic events and to remove the frictions that prevent us from living well. And we’re at a moment when the value of that approach is clear: to individuals, to doctors, to health-care organizations, to employers, and to governments. We’ve seen the profound desire to participate in the security of a functioning health care system, and learned that health-care systems are most cost-effective with the participation of a healthy population. It benefits all of us to care for the sick, but the greater benefit is to drastically reduce the number of people who fall ill in the first place. So here comes tech, ready to unleash the lessons of consumer electronics and software on this profoundly important problem. Expect to see a new wave of wearables, integrated data tracking and analysis, useful information provided at just the right time, and a magical sense of delight. The toolbox is magnificent. Here’s to a happy, healthy and transformative 2018.

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