Elon Musk shared the second part of his Master Plan at Tesla. His vision for the transportation industry:

  • creating stunning solar roofs to generate cheap electricity;
  • expanding the electric vehicle product line;
  • provide self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual – potentially decreasing car accidents 90%;
  • and enabling cars to make money for their owners when they aren’t using them.

Driverless car

It’s brilliant and draws a clear plan for the industry and people who are interested in it. Musk is not only a visionary but he also executes his plans in practice (see SolarCity, Tesla or SpaceX). He is changing the industries of space travel, energy and automobiles at once.

Moreover, his long term plans are worth fighting for. He wants to bring humanity to Mars, ensuring our survival as a species by making space travel affordable. He wants to save our planet’s ecology by persuading companies to switch to clean energy.

But Musk cannot succeed without digital health solutions

First, a trip to Mars is not only about developing spaceships and rockets. Astronauts must also survive the trip and life on a new planet. For this, we need to be able to assess their health for years in advance and interfere from a distance when emergencies arise. Telemedicine, health sensors, powerful but portable diagnostic devices, in-depth knowledge about predicting health from genomics, on demand 3D bioprinting solutions are all needed if we want to get to another planet alive.

Health station on Mars
Concept art of a Mars lab with 3D bioprinters and sensors.

Driverless car as the point-of-care

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Second, the future of transportation is autonomous – cars and other vehicles will eventually be able to navigate by themselves completely. This means we will keep spending a lot of time sitting in vehicles, but we are going to be passive passengers. And if Musk has his way, vehicles will act like self-driving taxis, generating income while their owners are not using them. As such a system would allow many more people to use cars than today, it will create a huge medical opportunity for car manufacturers. Cars could become the point-of-care.

Today the point-of-care is the practice, a lab or the hospital. Soon, it will be where the patient is. This could be an entirely new market where basic health parameters and vital signs are determined by the car with sensors located in the seats or the safety belt. Measurements could be analyzed with supercomputers such as IBM Watson in the cloud. If something is wrong, the patient would receive a notification, making the whole experience seamless and user-friendly. Not using cars for this purpose would be a missed opportunity.

Life in driverless cars

Though many think digital health is a revolution of disruptive technology, it is first and foremost a cultural revolution. 

Just like Elon Musk’s visions for transportation, we will need to change our approach to healthcare, whether we’re patients, doctors, or regulators. If we do not persuade people that the upcoming technological changes mean a new chance for humanity to improve the skills that make us exceptional human beings; and extend our capabilities, we will fail. If we cannot demonstrate the advantages of disruptive innovations in making care more affordable, efficient and personalized through evidence-based studies, we will fail. If we don’t push regulatory agencies to create a framework that welcomes innovation rather than keeping the over-regulated healthcare system, patients will look for their own solutions for their health problems and, we will fail.

What we need, is a plan. Though Mr. Musk might jump into healthcare to make this revolution happen, we already know how we could bring science fiction to reality. Here are the four grand challenges that we need to tackle:

1) We need to embrace disruptive technologies

Technological advance is not the solution for healthcare problems, I acknowledge that, but I firmly believe that only disruption can change healthcare from the bottom. We need to massively discuss worldwide how amazing and dangerous disruptive technologies can be. This way we can prepare in time.

2) We must put patients in the center of care

This is an ongoing movement worldwide, but we are far from finishing the job. We have to invite patients and their organizations to every project from hospital advisory boards to conferences in order to let their voices heard. They are the most important elements in healthcare and today we design care without their participation. This must stop.

3) We need to shift from treatment to prevention

We will spend a similar amount of knowledge, money and energy on preventive care, but this will allow us to catch diseases and even prevent them from arising in time. This is only possible with measuring data at home, at the practice and in hospitals. The swarm of wearable sensors and portable diagnosti devices should be incorporated into everyday care.

4) We need to digitize the process of care

We can only improve a system if we measure data in it. Today’s healthcare fails at this. Let’s measure and analyze the vast amounts of data from medical records, patients’ sensors and insurance claims with Watson-like algorithms.

I think Elon Musk’s vision for a cleaner, safer and more efficient world is an example to follow. Imagine how our lives would change if that most important of all industries, healthcare would be similarly transformed. I invite you all to join me in making this change happen. 

 Free guide and infographic: 40 trends of the future of medicine