An interview with Manesh Juneja, one of the most influential people in Digital Health. In 2018, he gave a talk at TEDxPorto on the future of healthcare involving machines that care. In 2016, he was ranked 7th most influential in Digital Health. At the beginning of 2015, he was ranked 10th most influential in Wearable Tech.

Bio: Maneesh Juneja is a Digital Health Futurist who explores the convergence of emerging technologies to see how they can make the world a healthier and happier place. He has one bold vision that drives him: Finding ways to use data to improve the health of 7.5 billion people on Earth.

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What are the biggest challenges in modern healthcare?

Maneesh Juneja: The primary challenges revolve around providing high quality, cost effective and safe healthcare to everyone. Added to this, there is another challenge of the desire by some in society that we move from system centred care to person centred care. Increasingly, patients (and healthcare professionals) who are accustomed to using digital technologies in their lives are challenging healthcare systems to also develop and implement digital technologies which provide the convenience that we take for granted when shopping or banking online. Underpinning all of this transformation is the difficult conversation about who is going to pay for all of these innovations as we are grappling with how to make healthcare sustainable in the 21st century.

In one of your TEDx talks, you’ve said that startups with a wealth of innovation can improve modern healthcare. What areas of innovation need startups the most?

Maneesh Juneja: Personally, if we think about the biggest users of healthcare, i.e. patients living with multiple long term conditions and/or aging populations, we need to focus on what those people need in terms of technology. Naturally, the starting point should be asking those people what they want and need. However, what I’ve noticed is that whilst there is quite a lot of focus from entrepreneurs on helping those living with long term conditions, there is less of a focus on helping people to grow old and live healthy lives. I think that’s partly because we put many old people in care homes and many of the young entrepreneurs can’t relate to the problems of older people, and so those two parts of society need to be having more conversations. Additionally, I always suggest to people wanting to build a digital health startup that they look at all problems in healthcare, especially the boring ones behind the scenes, as we need solutions for all problems, not just the big ones that grab the headlines.

A few years ago wearables were on the top. Each day, new company introduced something innovative which can be worn. Now, it’s over. It’s 2018 and people forgot about wearables. But when it comes to healthcare “wearables” significantly improve people’s quality of life. Telecardiology and wearables are now connected vessels, here you can see a breakthrough. What are other fields of medicine which need wearables the most?

Maneesh Juneja: Wearables are a transition technology. I would ask you to think about sensors rather than wearables. For example, there will be more sensors embedded in our homes, offices, cars and clothes that we wear. These sensors will open up new possibilities in tracking our health 24 hours a day 7 days a week, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Naturally, we have to utilise these sensors in a systematic manner. We can’t just scoop up data from every sensor in our lives and hope that healthcare can derive value from it. I think remote patient monitoring could advance dramatically, leading to less patients needing to visit healthcare facilities for check ups, which isn’t just more convenient but cheaper for both the patient and the healthcare system. Potentially, if we use the data from the sensors correctly, we may even shift to a world where we can detect some diseases much earlier than we detect them today, which is a fantastic dream to work towards.

Telemedicine and virtual care are becoming major topics for insurance companies in Europe. From my observations, companies stopped caring about cost-saving innovations. The started to take care of patients and the quality of healthcare they are providing. Healthcare is becoming more patient-centered than ever before. Do you agree with me, Maneesh?

Maneesh Juneja: I partly agree with you. There is still a long way to go before we become patient centred. It’s going to take decades to complete this cultural transition. It won’t happen just because we build one app for our patients to book appointments online. We frequently forget just how complex healthcare is, and that transforming an entire system has to be done with care and attention. The biggest mistake I see organisations doing is rushing into digital transformation projects, investing a great deal of time and money, but without fixing flawed processes first. The end result is a very expensive layer of digital veneer on the surface of a set of badly designed processes.

I would like to refer to your other TEDx keynote. During TEDx Porto, you were talking about Artificial Intelligence. Is AI next big breakthrough in healthcare?

Maneesh Juneja: Yes and No. Whilst AI is evolving very rapidly and provides us many new possibilities in healthcare, there are also many areas of concern that we are seldom contemplating. For example, will AI powered apps, chatbots and devices become the new layer of primary care in the future because it’s easier and cheaper to deploy and maintain than training more GPs? We can’t afford to ignore the value that AI can add, but we must not fall into the trap that AI will become the instant solution to every problem.

The world is changing faster than we can predict, but what areas of digital health will be on the top in 5 years time? If you can predict, what it will be?

Maneesh Juneja: One of the biggest areas of growth is self-care, i.e. direct to consumer products and services. So whether it’s more genetic testing, or smart home products (such as smart connected toilets that analyse our urine in real time), or AI powered robots that care for those living with Dementia, more of the advances will be coming from outside the healthcare system itself, purchased directly by consumers and the challenge for healthcare will be how to integrate with these new products and services.

What are the best places to get information about digital health and TechMed innovations?

Maneesh Juneja: I find Twitter to be incredibly useful, provided you can filter through the content. However, I’m also finding LinkedIn to be incredibly useful in recent months. However, none of these routes beat meeting new people in person at digital health events. There are great events all around the globe now, you don’t have to travel all the way to Silicon Valley in America to find new ideas anymore. I see innovation coming from all around the globe.

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