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October 26, 2016

50% population will rely on virtual personal health assistants for primary care in 2025

Virtual personal health assistants (VPHAs) could replace the human interface, and do a superior job, according to Gartner in a report on the development of automated continuous primary care. The market research company predicts that by 2025, 50 percent of the population will rely on VPHAs for primary care, finding them more responsive and accurate than their human counterparts.

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Gartner presented these ‘Maverick’ research findings at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. Gartner’s Maverick research is designed to spark new, unconventional insights and to deliver breakthrough, innovative and disruptive ideas from the company’s research incubator. This should to help organizations get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact IT strategy and the wider organization.

Healthcare visits of little value

Laura Craft, research director at Gartner, believes there is significant evidence that the majority of primary healthcare visits are of little value to the patient, and represent a massive drain on trained physician time. Physician demand is outpacing supply, begging the need for alternatives. "Technology has advanced to the point where computers have become superior to the human mind; they are more accurate and consistent, and they are better at processing all the determinants of health and well-being than even the best of doctors."

Gartner sees many indicators that show people adopting technology to track and manage their health. They are moving past reliance on the physician for all things medical. The internet, wearables, and health and wellness apps are helping people to manage their health and are providing unprecedented access to a lot of medical information. Additionally, the millennial generation has a very different relationship with technology than its parents and grandparents, and is much more likely to use an app over a human interface.

Remote and virtual monitoring

Health monitoring devices that gather health data from people are only the beginning of the journey away from in-person exams and diagnoses to remote and virtual monitoring. VPHAs will become the referee of all data and information and the primary interface for communicating with people on health, wellness advice and recommendations based on the processing of the data collected and the individual’s health goals and needs.

Leading indicators prove that technology has advanced in this direction, and mainstream maturity is likely within 15 years. Eliminating the physician for annual exams and primary health will happen, but, Craft continous, “we need to recognize that this is a radical departure from primary care today. New channels of medical care create the need for changes in behavior, thinking, and perhaps even law. However, many barriers that might have been perceived as obstacles are already fading."

Of course there are barriers that may hinder massive adoption of VPHAs, such as:

Legal Barriers
Medical errors will likely be reduced once human judgment is taken out of the equation. Once smart machines — powered by precision algorithms — take over, the entire notion of what constitutes medical malpractice will change.

Regulatory Barriers

These new technologies do need to be regulated. There will be diversity from country to country in what the standards are. However, regulatory barriers for getting devices to market are no different than getting innovative drugs and therapies approved today.

Funding Barriers
Smart machinesVPAs and personal health hubs are part of a much bigger picture of how healthcare will be funded in the future. Globally, the shift toward population health management programs that emphasize lower costs, improved quality, decreased disparity and increased access, and a better experience for the patient incentivizes the use of technology to stay healthy and be connected to a care network.

Primary care still needed

Technology will not replace the primary tier of medicine for everyone, Craft concludes. Primary care physicians will be needed to care for the chronically ill, the elderly, and special needs patients to coordinate their care and the more complex care plans their conditions call for. But for the vast majority, replacing primary and routine care with technology is within our grasp and a highly likely possibility.

 "People will come to prefer their VPHA to a primary care physician and will develop the same, or perhaps a better, relationship with it. It will be more accurate, more responsive and more personal. In fact, most medical professionals we shared this notion with, ultimately agreed — it’s in the future; it’s inevitable."

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