• The Future Of Healthcare: Microbiome, Precision Medicine And More - Interview With Robin Farmanfarmaian

    Yana Prokopets 29 June 2016
    Robin Farmanfarmaian -  is a best Selling Author of The Patient as CEO: How Technology Empowers the Healthcare Consumer, professional speaker, contributing writer and an entrepreneur. Robin believes that technology can empower patients and make a positive impact in the health and medical field. This position drives her to provide education and resources to leaders, entrepreneurs, physicians, healthcare professionals and innovators to positively impact medicine and healthcare.

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    Most of us take health issues very seriously, but still being blindsided about what modern healthcare is capable of. What are the most interesting and important technological breakthroughs in healthcare happened last years?

    RF: We are right now in a perfect storm of technological advancements that are changing medicine dramatically. Sensors, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique, sequencing technology, robotics, even using the power of the crowd are all making an impact on medicine and getting more widely adopted.

    Things like Telemedicine, while actually an old concept, have started to be adopted at an increasing rate, really being catalyzed by massive connectivity, as well as point of care diagnostics and devices becoming available to consumers.

    We now have the ability to easily edit people's genes using CRISPR/Cas9, and the first NIH approved trial is set to begin soon, using the technique for a cancer cell trial. We will eventually be able to "cure" all genetically caused diseases. This technology is exciting and groundbreaking, but also scary in a lot of ways, as we now have the ability to dramatically change our own genes, and by design.

    It is obvious that the importance of live saving technologies can hardly be exaggerated, but what about communication issues between healthcare team members? How can real-time collaboration & communication technologies help?

    RF: Real-time collaboration and communication can dramatically reduce medical errors. Sometimes in hospitals, healthcare professionals can play the "telephone game" - that game we played as children, where after whispering a sentence to one another around a circle, the sentence got completely distorted, and bared little resemblance to the original sentence. While funny as a kid, this can have devastating consequences in a hospital. Even one number being off (say 50mg instead of 5mg of a medication) has the ability to put someone's life at risk.

    In your book “The Patient as CEO: How Technology Empowers the Healthcare Consumer” you teach how to become the key decision-maker of your own healthcare. Can you share some tips with our readers?

    RF: I liken this to the CEO of a corporation. A the CEO, you are not an expert in engineering, sales, website design, organizational management, legal, etc. You hire experts to do all of those things, report to you, and together as a team you decide on a direction for the company to go into, but as CEO, you are the one who is ultimately responsible that the vision is carried out, and the company overall is successful. Patients can do the same thing: hire the experts (doctors, nurses, etc), and the patient is the one who is the decision maker, and takes responsibility for their health from a global view. It's about taking responsibility, and making sure you are educated in what you need to be. First step is to learn all about your symptoms, disease, etc by researching reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic, NIH, Harvard, large hospitals, and by using the power of the crowd, for example, PatientsLikeMe and Smart Patients.

    As a healthcare visionary, how do you see the future of the industry? What are the next revolutionizing technologies we can expect in the next decade?

    RF: One of the biggest potential disruptors of medicine in the next decade will be the microbiome and precision medicine - this is enabled by sequencing technology radically dropping in price, actually exceeding Moore's Law. In the beginning of 2016, we saw the price drop under $1,000 for a fully sequenced genome - a significant inflection point. This means we'll see the dollar or even the penny genome over the next decade. Precision Medicine, is a treatment plan based on the individual, versus the one-size-fits-all model we've been using up until now. This will include taking people's genes into account when prescribing medications and other forms of treatment plans.

    The microbiome are the colonies of bacteria, virus and fungi that live in and on everyone. We have a symbiotic relationship, they need us, and we need (at least some) of them. In fact, there are more bacterial cells than human cells on the human body! Which means, we are less than 50% human, yet we have not been taking this into account in medicine up until recently. We need significantly more data from the microbiome itself, combined with behavior, symptoms, diseases, genome, environment data and more to start to come up with insights. This is where the convergence comes in - as we'll need to use artificial intelligence to analyze this massive amount of data.

    Imagine treating disease purely by changing the bacterial colonies on and in your body. Or this potential scenario - imagine, some of these diseases that we thought were genetic, instead turn out to be infectious through the microbiome? Or what about "banking" your microbiome, just like you bank umbilical cord blood, in order to get a transplant back of your own microbiome, to restore you to health when you're sick?

    There are a lot more major technological influences over the next 10 years, including 3D printing / tissue engineering of replacement organs, skin, and bones. Sensors precisely measuring all your biometric activity, as closely monitored as a space ship or plane, alerting you when something is wrong or needs attention. Robotic and AI surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and primary care.

    What resources could you recommend to those who want to know more about cutting-edge healthcare inventions?

    RF: I like to follow a variety of social media accounts and newsletters, including DARPA, MIT Media Lab, Startup Daily, Mayo Clinic, Paul Sonnier Digital Health, Health 2.0, TEDMED, John Nosta, Kurzweil AI, Cleveland Clinic, Medscape, and more.

    Thank you for the interview.

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