Healthcare is at an “inflection point in human history” right now, as the world changes in fundamental ways, said John Nosta at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Summit in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday during a keynote address.

The days of a “silly old tracker,” such as a FitBit, are soon going away, said Nosta, digital health philosopher at NostaLab, and are being replaced with broad concepts such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, omics, drugs discovery, global health, body computing, data and many others.

John Nosta, digital health philosopher at NostaLab, speaks at EBA's Workplace Benefits Mania in Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 28.
Cort Olsen/EBA

Today’s trackers are worn by people who don’t need them, Nosta said. “What digital health will do is move tracking devices to become clinical imperatives.”

It is similar to changes being experienced elsewhere. As an example, Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world but owns no cars and just started using driverless cars in Pittsburgh. Likewise, Chinese online marketplace giant Alibaba is the most valuable retailer, but has no inventory.

Right now, these changes are at the edge of the hockey stick model and about to skyrocket, defined not only by technology but also health, Nosta explained.

“Though digital health is not necessarily new, it is completely different,” he explained, showing examples of a kidney grown in a lab and contact lenses that track health.

“This is not science fiction, this is science reality,” he added.

Key trends in digital health
Among the trends that are about to come, Nosta said, are:

  • Small-Nanotechnology is extraordinary, he said, with such examples as bacteria bots and sensors that provide real-time analysis in cancer patients.
  • Zero-stage medicine is allowing diseases to be caught earlier. “We all talk about prevention, like exercise, but the way to [get past] prevention is through earlier detection,” Nosta said. “In the future, a smart phone will ring and say you are having a heart attack.”
  • Such ideas as an exoskeleton to help a physician standing over a patient in an operating room will improve performance and stamina.
  • It’s personal. This is about you, Nosta said. “We had big cancer studies. Now we look you and your tumor.”

But most important is data, which is the third “fundamental window into humanity,” Nosta said. The first fundamental window was a telescope and the second a microscope.

“Technology has enabled us to look at [health] and store that information,” he explained. “Data will allow us to see things we never saw before.”

The address was “very interesting” and got Kara Cowie, a consultant at Lockton Companies, excited. There are a lot of opportunities, she said, and the address definitely challenges one when thinking about the future and what advisers and HR can do to shape it.

For clients, these tools Nosta spoke of are going to be a way for people to either learn about disease early on and help mitigate the risk or help employees heal and get better further, ultimately leading to lower costs, added Meredith Beam, VP of employer solutions at Winston Benefits.

The keynote was “innovative, insightful, a great look into what we have in store over the next few years,” she added.

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