'JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE' OF DIGITAL INNOVATION IN HEALTHCARE
27 September 2016, Written by James Perkins
AUSTRALIA is one of the best health innovators in the world, but has a poor record in commercialising new technology, says Jannsen Australia and New Zealand managing director Bruce Goodwin.
It is something that Johnson & Johnson, Jannsen's parent company, hopes to solve through events such as its recent HaTCHathon.
The Sydney event brought together some of Australia's best young minds to work to solve modern health challenges using today's advanced technology.
The eventual winner, Kneehab (pictured), developed a smartphone app to monitor post-knee reconstruction rehabilitation in the space of one weekend.
Digital technology can revolutionise healthcare and Goodwin says HaTCHathon brought some new ideas to the fore.
"Some of the ideas that came through from the 10 teams were in the forms of health-related apps, which were probably going a step further than what we are seeing today in terms of connecting data sources in order to connect patients better with doctors and other health professionals," he says.
"We are just scratching the surface of what is possible once we start working with big sets of data in the health space. It is a very interesting time."
These innovations could be particularly beneficial for rural and remote patients who find it difficult to access doctors and nurses.
Goodwin spoke to Business News Australia following the event.
What did the judges like about the winner and runner up?
The winning group called themselves Kneehab, and their idea tackled rehabilitation exercise after a knee reconstruction. In Australia, there are 54,000 knee reconstructions per year and the success of those reconstructions can often by affected by how well the rehabilitation is done after the operation.
The Kneehab team used the smartphone, a common device for most Australians. They presented a working prototype by the end of the weekend. It was a fabulous idea and amazing to see when people from different skill backgrounds come together to produce something so quickly.
The runner up was a team called Jax and they created something of a 'forget-me-not toolbox'. The question they were trying to address was the difficulty people face taking their correct medication. If you don't take it, it won't work, and there are also dangers if the patient takes too much. In a day and a half, this team developed hardware which senses when a pill has been taken out of the box and communicates that message through to the carer.
This is the second time you have done an event such as this, what benefits do you see from bringing people together to answer a challenge within a short timeframe?
What is attracting us is that when people think about Johnson & Johnson they think baby products and band aids, but actually a large proportion of the business is innovative products in the pharmaceutical and medical areas.
To stay in business, we do need to innovate and turn over the portfolio quite regularly. Engaging with people who know some of these technologies better than we do is a good strategy.
It does accelerate the process. We have our own internal processes for our own employees, such as an innovation space that they are able to access where they can apply ideas big and small. This is an evolution of that idea.
How does it differ from posting a challenge to your website and asking people to go for it?
What really works at a hackathon is that you have teams coming along already formed, and have been selected based on the expertise they think they will need. In the second instance, you have individuals forming teams on the Friday night. Some teams formed themselves with people from a variety of different backgrounds.
Even a rocket scientists came along and worked with a team, as he was interested in doing something to help his wife's allergies. He was using existing data sources to predict where pollen is going to be in order to reduce allergies.
The teams get coaching from subject matter experts, who are available all through the challenge. We were also working with partner organisations such as Billy Blue Design School, which helped teams with the innovation process; something that doesn't always come naturally to people. The teams can get their ideas worked through and challenged pretty quickly.
We had multiple examples of health apps where we had working prototypes going by the end of the event. That could usually take months or years, so it is a rapid way of getting things moving.
Currently, we are working through a process with all of the 10 teams where we have six weeks to decide whether we are an organisation are going to partner with them on a particular idea. In some instances, we might elect to do that or we can put them in contact with other organisations that might be interested.
Are we seeing digital technologies playing an increasing role in healthcare?
Absolutely. We are seeing an absolute explosion in the science and technology space. If you can match great treatment options with technology it can put more of the health outcomes in patients' hands while also facilitating communication between patients and carers and healthcare professionals, which will lead to better outcomes.
We are just scratching the surface of what is possible once we start working with big sets of data in the health space. It is a very interesting time.
Johnson & Johnson has a global director here in Australia whose job is connecting with the science community in order to be a good partner and to help commercialise early stage ideas.
Currently, Australia is ranked number five by Scientific American for innovations in the health sector, however we are nowhere near the top five for commercialising health innovation ideas. It would be good to see that developing and we want to play a role in that.