Digital health has been gaining increasing traction in the everyday lives of patients around the world. From wearables that can predict strokes, to digital nurses and GPs – it is fair to say that healthcare and technology are more interconnected than ever. In late March, two senior members of the Ruder Finn team, Leah Peyton, Director on our healthcare team, and Tracey Bowditch, Senior Account Director from our technology team, attended WIRED Health 2019 at The Francis Crick Institution in London, eager to hear all about the latest health tech innovations and predictions for the future of digital health.

At the time when the possibilities of machine learning to change the face of drug discovery and healthcare delivery are moving from science fiction to fact, keynote speaker Professor Dame Sally Davies, outgoing Chief Medical Officer for England, stated that the UK’s health expectancy issues are the biggest concern facing our healthcare profession today.

Speakers at WIRED Health are some of the most fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking disruptors in the health, pharmaceutical, patient care and digital health sectors. This year, the event covered several exciting ways healthcare is being revolutionised by technology, to help people live longer lives in good health.

In the first of a four-part blog series, we’re diving deeper into the key themes and topics from the conference, which are shaping the future of the digital health landscape.

AI will be at the forefront of next generation healthcare

A running theme throughout Wired Health for the past few years, and continuing in 2019, was the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. It was noted that concerns exist amongst some physicians that AI will replace doctors or surgeons in patient care. However, the mood of WIRED Health 2019 countered this. Speakers were in agreement that the public will always value, and more importantly want, human interactions when it comes to the personal care of themselves or loved ones.

Where AI will have a crucial role is as an enabler for faster drug discovery and diagnoses, more tailored treatments and a better understanding of disease pathologies. Pearse Keane, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and Alan Karthikesalingam, Research Lead at DeepMind Health, presented their approach in using AI in detecting eye disease.

AI is being used to detect the first signs of eye disease from an OCT scan, making sure patients are seen by the right professional, quicker. People are currently losing their sight because they can’t see hospital specialists in time. AI can also eliminate the costly false positive results made by ophthalmologists on the high street who, through advances in scanning technology can now access ultra-high-resolution imaging, once the toys of hospital-based clinicians only. This means that specialists are treating those who need it most and already know exactly what is wrong with them.

Several presenters talked about how AI and machine learning is set to improve patients’ lives and the vital role it will play alongside healthcare professionals in the future. To meet this need, universities such as UCL, who were speaking at the event, are empowering students with the skills they will need when working in a technology-first healthcare profession. As Dean Mohamedally, Principle Fellow for Applied Software Engineering and Industry Projects noted, as we enter a machine learning world, the next generation need to be prepared.

We’ll be back next week with part two of our WIRED Health series, where we’ll be taking a closer look at how sensory technology has the potential to lead to a faster and more accurate diagnosis.