As Denmark’s healthcare system confronts an ageing population and the pharmaceutical giants are increasingly challenged by big tech, they are each looking to improve the patient journey.
As the population continues to age, the healthcare system is attempting to balance resources to manage more chronic diseases and illnesses that endure longer in life. Copenhagen’s healthcare system is already confronted with capacity issues. Not only is it difficult to get an appointment with a general practitioner, patients often wait several months to see a specialist. And the challenge is only growing worldwide:
By 2035, it is estimated that the system will lack the 13 million healthcare professionals required to respond to the needs of our demographic shift.
As part of LEO Pharma’s strategy to use technology to meet the needs of the future healthcare system and patient journey, the company launched LEO Innovation Lab in 2015.
“Tech giants are starting to be very interested in health care. They already know the end-user better than we do, so if we do nothing we will become a supplier to the tech giants,” Kristian Hart-Hansen, CEO of LEO Innovation Lab, says.
LEO Innovation Lab has analysed the market trends and technology and based on that launched a new way of thinking about the patient journey of the future.
A journey filled with pain points
The group discovered that the journey for a typical patient with a skin disorder begins with online research to investigate their symptoms prior to seeing a general practitioner.
“In up to 50 per cent of cases, general practitioners misdiagnose skin conditions. This is understandable, given the fact that there are more than 3000 skin diseases, and many of them look very similar”, according to Kristian Hart-Hansen, the CEO of LEO Innovation Lab.
If the GP is not prepared to diagnose the skin condition, the patient is sent to a dermatologist – with a waiting period of up to 5 months.
Within this time-frame, symptoms can change significantly and health outcomes can worsen.
As Hart-Hansen points out:
“Even in dermatology, the misdiagnosis rate is around 10 per cent, as it is a highly complex area of medicine. It can take years for patients to receive the correct diagnosis and this creates frustration to the point where some patients give up because there are so many pain points along their journey to health”.
The patient journey of the future is personalised
LEO Innovation Lab predicts that we will dispense with this linear path for a technology-enabled journey that enables a diagnosis in several stages.
In Hart-Hansen’s words:
“In the future, the patient journey may start with an app. You will take a picture of the affected area of your skin, and the app will provide a possible diagnosis (e.g. there’s a 92 per cent probability that you have psoriasis, and your best-suited treatment is A, B, and C). These recommendations will be based on real-life data from thousands of other patients with your profile, not just clinical data”.
Expanding on this view, if the diagnosis can’t be confirmed via app, the next step will be telemedicine, where you will be able to talk with experts and send them an image. Healthcare professionals will be able to follow your disease and its development with the data you’ve already fed the app, and you will even be able to get appropriate medication sent directly to your home.
Algorithms and telemedicine will thus make it possible for many people to be diagnosed and treated without moving from their couch:
“We envision that up to 60 per cent will be diagnosed through an app; 20-30 per cent will consult with a doctor through telemedicine; and only 10-20 per cent will need to see their doctor face-to-face”, Hart-Hansen concludes.
Not merely an exercise in cost savings, this journey will provide value to patients. They will be assessed more quickly if they have a common condition, and specialists will have more time for in-person meetings with the small percentage of patients with advanced diagnoses that require their care.
Science fiction or reality?
Moving beyond basic research, LEO Innovation Lab has launched projects and invested in start-ups to support their mission. In fact, the first step in their new journey – an AI-powered app that can recognise skin diseases – is already in progress.
Cautiously optimistic, Hart-Hensen points out that, from a technnical point of view, this can be done:
“We can now identify several diseases to the same degree of accuracy as an experienced specialist (e.g. psoriasis with 92 per cent accuracy). The technology is catching up, but legally we cannot diagnose in this way yet because of regulations and ethics. Only doctors are legally permitted to diagnose”.
In fact, the business has already created an app that can track the development of skin diseases over time, which – with the right legislation and approvals – will also be capable of offering diagnoses. It is currently only available in closed environments to test how it can be applied in clinical settings with medical experts.
Hart-Hansen is confident that there will be “far more” opportunities to use digital technologies in healthcare in the near future:
“We can’t make AI-powered skin diagnosis available to the public yet, but hopefully some years into the future – when the technology is more mature and the legislation is more favourable towards implementing new digital health solutions – we will be able to play a significant role in care delivery and the patient journey”.
Similarly, he does not see the vision of a fully-tech-enabled patient journey as a science fiction dream. New technologies continue to evolve but regulatory barriers need to be addressed for them to fulfill their full potential.
“If we can help doctors get better at diagnosing, it’s already a huge win. The full loop can be done, and that’s the only way to get our healthcare system to cope with this huge pressure that’s on it – and that’s only growing,” he says.