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AI & Blockchain in Healthcare: Generating results or rose-tinted idealism?

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Ryan Green
Principal Consultant

Imagine a world where healthcare is dominated by artificial intelligence, blockchain and data analytics.

We're not as far of as you think.

Technology is changing every part of our lives (and it's not all negatively).

From the way we source the food we eat to the way we get around town, there are very few areas in which technological innovation isn't making waves.

The healthcare industry is no exception: artificial intelligence and other data science tools are having a revolutionary effect on the sector, causing an impact on finding people equipped to drive this change.

This article will explore exactly how three different types of technology are changing the pharmaceutical industry, and what the coming months might hold.

Let's get into it.


AI: a silver bullet for cost-effectiveness?

Let's face it:

Barely a day goes by without the rising cost of healthcare being discussed in one national forum or another.

In British contexts, it's often related to the expenditure of the National Health Service (NHS). In other contexts around the world, the focus is largely on the costs of health insurance – whether covered by individuals or the government.

And it's a talking point which only becomes more relevant as the years go on. But there may be a solution in some cases:

Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As a revolutionary tool which can deliver real efficiencies, artificial intelligence can be a unifying force which delivers cost savings for any type of provider.

Given that pharmaceutical costs are one of the highest outgoings on a healthcare provider's to-do list, any pronouncement which offers a way to cut these costs is often well-received by healthcare professionals.

For example:

Sir John Bel, the UK government’s life sciences tsar, recently disclosed that a hospital in Oxford is now using artificially intelligent tools for diagnosis purposes – which has the potential to shave over £2 billion from the NHS' budget.

Yes, BILLION.

The real innovation, however, lies in the private sector – and in the talented individuals who drive forward change there. All sorts of firms are now entering this market, and are innovating their way to cheaper pharma through AI.

One firm named Optellum have developed an artificial intelligence tool with the potential to provide life-saving earlier diagnoses to cancer sufferers every single year: not only does this kind of development deliver direct benefits to patient outcomes, but it also plays a role in keeping healthcare financially sustainable.

I think you'll agree, there's a lot of benefits to these innovations.

And what about the skilled individuals behind these developments?

As artificial intelligence beds in and more and more, healthcare providers begin to realise the immense benefits of mixing in some data science with their diagnostic and medication-dispensing functions, demand for these skills will continue to rise.

Alongside direct social benefits in the form of improved patient outcomes, it's a rewarding industry path for a data scientist to take too.

If you're looking for a new job as a data scientist, you can view our live roles here.

And we're not done there:


Blockchain is the next step

In the minds of most people, the word "blockchain" evokes images of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

In reality, any blockchain professional worth their salt will know that the situation is much more complex – and that blockchain has a lot of diverse applications (including in pharmaceuticals).

Here's one example:

The sector-specific problems that blockchain can at least increase the chances of fixing are diverse, but perhaps the most pressing one is the risk of fake drugs.

In the age of the Internet, this is a real problem.

The dark web enables people to self-medicate by buying drugs from unspecified sources. Consumers who think they are going through legitimate channels may discover that they are being scammed with fake – or even dangerous – spoof drugs.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for example, 10% of every single drug which circulates all but the high-wealth countries are either fake or what's known as "low-grade".

This is crazy:

Attempts to regulate drug manufacturers and maintain databases using traditional technologies are out there, but they're vulnerable to all sorts of problems like hacking.

It is thought that blockchain could offer some defence against this problem. As a decentralised and highly secure technology which isn't administered by a central authority, it's next to impossible to hack a blockchain-powered system.

If all patients, medical practitioners and pharma companies could participate in such a system, it could well have more legitimacy than any pharma database system in history.

So while blockchain professionals are often in high demand due to the needs of finance companies, it's likely that in 2019 a broader understanding of blockchain's many use cases will emerge – and pharma will be high on the agenda. For a skilled blockchain professional, this will represent a spike in demand and no doubt huge salary growth.

As if that's not enough:


The genius of new medications

Understandably, challenges in pharma – and how they intersect with tech – are often dealt with in terms of commercial or security-related focuses.

However, for those tech professionals who are interested in working at the cutting-edge of medical technology (and in making a real and direct difference to patient outcomes), 2018 held lots of developments and innovations – and 2019 is likely to hold even more. 

Just this month, for example, it was reported that gene therapy firm Novartis' CEO sees his firm's muscular atrophy gene tech Zolgensma as "potentially foundational medicine".

Novartis was the first-ever pharma firm to secure worldwide permissions for gene therapy – and with many other firms out there leading in such an innovative way, you're sure to have an exciting experience if you decide to apply your tech skills to a firm which is changing history.

Overall, what's clear is that when it comes to pharma, the competitive edge that mastering technology gives is not going away. Whether it's cutting-edge new medical tech, the impact of security tools like blockchain or even the efficiency potential of artificial intelligence, there's a whole host of choice for tech professionals looking to make their mark and develop a rewarding career.