In broad terms, Convergence in Healthcare is a guiding philosophy for the future of medicine. It is an approach that experts believe will lead to efficient and rapid improvements within the modern healthcare sector due to the blended efforts of professionals from every scientific discipline. However, Convergence in Healthcare requires the participation of members of the mathematics, physics, engineering, computing, chemistry and life science communities to do more than collaborate. These individuals must come together as a cohesive unit to freely exchange ideas from their professional backgrounds, blurring lines between disciplines to create innovative methods of diagnosing, treating and preventing disease.
While Convergence has yet to establish itself as a standard in the healthcare sector, there are companies setting solid examples of how to champion its success and importance. Convergence in Healthcare is especially effective in the biomedical sector, where professionals from disciplines such as diagnostics, biotechnology, device development and pharmaceuticals work to create health technologies with incredible potential. Listed below are four examples of real-world companies in the biomedical sector applying Convergence in Healthcare to change the future of human health.
Verily, the life science arm of Alphabet Inc., is a research organization focused on developing new, more effective ways of collecting health data for the prevention and prediction of disease. Its projects focus on development in four key areas: sensors, interventions, precision medicine and health platforms and population health tools.
A few excellent examples of Verily’s commitment to Convergence in Healthcare include the company’s collaboration with glucose monitor manufacturer Dexcom to create miniaturized versions of continuous glucose monitoring systems that provide better, more accurate insulin readings for people living with Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, the company established Study Watch, a project in which a smart watch acts as a biosensor to capture and upload environmental and physiological contextual data to a cloud servuces platform. Study Watch aims to secure a broader collection of accurate health data for the purpose of medical research.
In February 2018, major news outlets reported on one of Verily’s most recent accomplishments made possible through Convergence: an AI program capable of calculating a person’s risk of heart disease simply by scanning the patient’s retina.
Founded in 2005, WellDoc brands itself as a trailblazing company committed to the disruption of the medical industry through digital health development. WellDoc applied Convergence in Healthcare to create digital therapeutic BlueStar. The platform is based on a life science model of business, combining clinical research with algorithmic computing technologies. This led to the development of the FDA-approved BlueStar, which allows patients with diabetes to receive personalized guidance and tips based on relevant medical data, to track medications, activities and food, to ask medical professionals questions, and track conditions such as hyperglycemia.
As of 2017, WellDoc provides both a prescription and non-prescription version of its mobile application to customers. It partnered with Samsung to further enable telemedicine access to those who need it. While BlueStar focuses solely on Type 2 diabetes, WellDoc is working on similar solutions for people living with other chronic diseases.
Diagnostics for All (DFA)
In another example of Convergence in Healthcare in use, Diagnostics for All (DFA) brought together scientists from the biotechnology and device development sectors for the common goal of improving the health of people living in developing countries. The diagnostic devices they created are based on the use of patterned paper, making them both affordable and simple to use.
Diagnostics include a test for liver function that requires just one drop of blood and delivers results in 15 minutes. The company’s nucleic acid detection diagnostic tool is being considered for use in identifying the presence of infectious disease in the body, including E. coli, Brucella abortus, Ebola, hepatitis C, and infant HIV. Other DFA diagnostic tests include one that helps identify the nutritional needs of people living in countries where they are at risk of experiencing the crippling and oftentimes fatal consequences of malnutrition. Yet another performs a test to determine whether a patient has been successfully vaccinated against measles and tetanus.
In addition to its commitment to convergent work, DFA receives significant support directly from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit that is a major proponent of the Convergence in Healthcare movement.
Apple, Microsoft and IBM projects
Apple, Microsoft and IBM are major tech industry players that expanded beyond a focus on computing to embrace healthcare convergent projects that are changing the way health is researched, monitored and treated. For example, Apple integrated health-tracking technology into the iPhone in 2016, enabling users to track personal health data such as heart rate, daily step count and sleep activity. More recently, Apple announced beta testing for a health record application to allow patients to easily access and share their personal health data from and with providers, such as hospitals and clinics, for a more comprehensive view of their own health. Microsoft has also taken steps to allocate more of its focus toward healthcare convergent initiatives through AI-based projects such as Healthcare NExT.
IBM is arguably even more committed to Convergence in Healthcare than Apple and Microsoft. Beyond an impassioned endorsement of the movement on its website, IBM created IBM Watson, a supercomputer that employs artificial intelligence to perform a variety of tasks, including recognizing patterns in medical data. Through this convergent technology, IBM hopes to create a method for faster, more accurate diagnoses. While work on the project is ongoing, IBM Watson already accomplished a number of incredible medical feats; one study indicated that the technology analyzed the genome of a brain cancer patient and suggested an appropriate treatment plan in just 10 minutes, compared to 160 hours needed for human doctors to accomplish the same task.