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The democratic, digital future of healthcare

proteus.3.JPGImagine a time when you teleconference with doctors, fill prescriptions at pharmaceutical kiosks, swallow pills embedded with computer chips that transmit health metrics to your mobile phone and play social games based on the data to help you meet health goals. Surprisingly, such a digital model of health-care delivery is closer than you think.

Low-cost pharmaceutical kiosks resembling ATMs are already up and running in parts of the United Kingdom and Canada. In California, teleconferencing kiosks connect patients of select health-care providers with a pool of general practitioners and specialists who can diagnose them and deliver prescriptions to their phone. Andy Thompson, co-founder and CEO of Proteus Biomedical, is working on the digital drug piece of the puzzle.

A presenter at the Healthcare Innovation Summit at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Thompson opened his speech with a scolding tone. "The business of modern medicine excludes 85 percent of the world's people." He went on to explain how his company aims to flip the current health-care business model on its head to "provide health care for everyone, everywhere."

Last year, the number of mobile phone connections surpassed 5 billion. Thompson says this means the best way to offer health care to those that lack it will be to provide therapeutic tools alongside mobile communication and entertainment apps people already carry in the pockets.

Proteus has developed computer chips made from food-grade materials to be embedded in pills of proven medicines. The chip pulls double duty, guarding against counterfeit drugs-a serious global issue-and transmitting vital statistics to patients’ mobile phone. Together with mobile apps, the digital drug reports whether it's taken according to instructions and monitors the patient's heart rate and body position. The patient receives summaries of the data that can be customized for health goals such as weight loss or managing chronic conditions like diabetes. Games and social apps based on this information can provide fun and motivating ways to achieve goals and pursue other healthy habits.

"Your body is the ultimate game controller," Thompson said. "The game provides the tools, recognition, rewards and incentives for people to manage their own healthcare."

Previously: Medicine is about to be “Schumpetered" - and go through its biggest shake-up in history
Photo by Keith Rozendal

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