I am a currently studying Neuroscience at Kings College. The reason why I chose to study Neuroscience for university was because I was fascinated by the parallels the science had with technology. From the development of artificial intelligence to transhumanism, it made me realise the potential Neuroscience had to transform our livelihoods in the future. I remember reading Professor Michio Kaku’s book Future of the Mind and was mesmerised by this one sentence, “Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe”. From that moment, I knew this was something I had to embark on.
I have always been interested in healthcare but from my experience volunteering in Alzheimer’s care homes and in NHS hospitals, I realised there are many inefficiencies within the system. I couldn’t comprehend why Junior Doctors were doing repetitive and trivial paper work, where they could use their full attention to learn from their consultants to improve and provide higher quality healthcare.
I knew that the use of technology in the healthcare system was lacking, which is why I attended a conference called “Building Sustainable Healthcare Systems through Innovation and Entrepreneurship” hosted by King’s College London and MIT Legatum Centre. The purpose of the event was to create an open discussion between healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and government policymakers on how to improve our current healthcare system. Throughout the day, there were some consistent themes that were mentioned: the need for the development of preventive medicine, integration of technology and empowering bright-minded entrepreneurs.
One of the start-up companies mentioned, C the Signs, truly embraces these key ideas. C the Signs is a digital tool that uses artificial intelligence to analyse data and key symptoms of over 200 diseases to enable GPs to identify the vague, early-stage tell-tale signs of cancer. It is also accessible for the public as an app, translating complex scientific papers into user-friendly language to guide people in the right direction.
I think the main takeaway was that there needs to be a system to engage the academic work with the creativity and innovative capacity of entrepreneurs. Empowering entrepreneurs to have a seat at the table of policymaking for the NHS will only accelerate the process of finding more efficient and affordable ways to improve the system. One way to do this is for the government to use monetary incentives to attract entrepreneurs to embark on this path and to use education as a tool to inspire people in this career path. It prompted me to think what other changes the government could make.
As an undergraduate science student, I feel that the curriculum is heavily geared towards research as a career path. Perhaps if universities offered entrepreneurial competitions for STEM students to take part in and diversified its curriculum to be more interdisciplinary, it would inspire students to innovate from their known classroom knowledge. Of course, it is important to have the curiosity to learn more about the body, but I think developing an entrepreneurial mind will also change the way we approach research.
Another topic that was discussed was the moral compass of whether healthcare should be run for corporate interest or in the interest of the public. The speaker Rachel Parr (COO of King’s College’s health department) discussed the difference between value and valuation. She felt that instead of focusing on profitable products, we should focus on the intrinsic value and the number of people that would benefit from them. In the U.S. healthcare system this is evident, where cost of healthcare is 1/3rd more than the size of its GDP and the average American spending at least $10,000 per month on health insurance.
One start-up I’ve seen that left an impression was Clinicas del Azucar. The founder Javier Lozano identified that the number one cause of death in Mexico is diabetes, so he built a company combat this using a one-stop shop model. The idea being that patients will pay a monthly subscription fee for its services, giving them access to all the testing and medication required in one clinic, thus greatly reducing redundant costs for patients. Clinicas del Azucar uses evidence-based algorithms to collect patient readiness in relation to disease progress, hence optimising treatment to suit the patient’s needs. So far, it has been a great success, projected to reduce annual cost of diabetes care in for patients in Mexico by over 70% and the waiting and consulting time by up to 80%. I feel that Clinicas del Azucar truly embodies the message of “healthcare for the masses”. For them profits are not considered a priority, instead they prioritise ensuring that it is accessible and affordable to the general public.
I think everyone should be entitled to healthcare and have the opportunity to be treated properly; it shouldn’t be something that is easier to access for the wealthy. The reality of people refusing to receive treatment because of its hefty cost saddens me, as being healthy is what enables us to interact with our loved ones and propels us to achieve our goals.
Healthcare ultimately is an industry that involves the lives of people, which is why I understand it is a space where innovations are hard to thrive. Not only is it expensive, there also needs to be rigorous testing before it can be implemented on the market. However, I think the main-takeaway from the day is that technology can be a key player in providing affordable healthcare, and that can be harnessed by entrepreneurs to realise the potential of the research of academics. With the correct mindset to revolutionise healthcare to benefit the masses, slowly but surely, we will be taking the right steps to improve our healthcare system.
Sarah Kwok is a 2nd year Neuroscience student at King’s College London who is interested in the potential of artificial intelligence in the healthcare industry.