Six things we learnt at WIRED Health 2019


Agency News



Which new technologies herald the future of healthcare? Which are just gimmicks? Trying to keep up with the pace of tech progress in healthcare can be a daunting task.

To make things a little easier, VCCP Health visited the 8th annual WIRED Health event at The Francis Crick Institute for a day filled with inspirational people at the cutting edge of healthcare. Below is just a handful of things we learned. 

1. A selfie could save your life
FacePrint is an app that helps diagnose Parkinson’s disease and possibly other neurological conditions through facial recognition. Founded by the extraordinary Erin Smith while she was still at high school, this diagnostic tool will be launched primarily through social media.  We’ll be watching its progress with interest. 

2. There is hope for the looming threat of antibiotic resistance 
It comes in the form of this incredible woman who spends her days exploring caves to find a solution. Why caves? Her research is focused on whether new drugs with different mode of actions and with new scaffolds can be found in rare or less studied microorganisms living in extreme habitats (i.e. caves). 

3. Portable MRI could soon transform medical imaging as we know it

MRIs detect diseases such as cancer but they are bulky, expensive and can cause health problems themselves. Mary Lou Jepson's latest venture at Openwater is set to revolutionise access to medical imaging by creating a portable MRI that will be a fraction of the current cost.  

4. WHO guidelines can have surprising applications 
In 2010, Scotland had the highest rates of violence in Europe. We learned from Scottish forensic psychologist and chief executive of Community Justice Scotland Karyn McCluskey how homicides in Glasgow have been reduced by 60% through treating the violence as an epidemic as per WHO guidelines:  Interrupt transmission; change behaviour; change norms 

5. Machine learning is revolutionising every part of healthcare, from R&D to self-monitoring to diagnosis and treatment.
We heard from many innovators who had utilised the power of machine learning in a broad range of ways. This included Noor Shaker who founded GTN, a company that uses quantum physics and machine learning to search potential drug molecules. We also enjoyed a live demo of a diagnostic tool created by Moorfield Eye Hospital and DeepMind – currently in beta testing, its success could mean patients in the most remote parts of the world can access life-changing ophthalmic care.

6. UK lifespans may be increasing – but our healthspans are not
Despite all the innovation in health, it was shocking to discover from Professor Sally Davies that, while life expectancy in the UK has improved, ‘health expectancy’ (how long you live a healthy life) has gone backwards, especially for the poorer sections of society. She suggests putting it next to GDP – what gets measured gets sorted! See chapter 9 of the 2018 CMO report here.

Though the overwhelming feeling from the day was positive, with improvements in diagnostics and treatments on the horizon, this was a sobering reminder to stay focused on the experience of the patient, to be sure we are harnessing the power of technology in a way that makes a meaningful difference.