G(e)nomes and trolls – DNA sequencing and risk

2017 was intended to be a landmark year for the development of ‘genomic services’ – a term coined by the Department for Health in 2012 when it launched the Genomes project. Whilst this year’s initial deadline has passed and been pushed back to 2018, all signs are still pointing towards DNA sequencing being the next big revolution in healthcare advances, with the intention of sequencing 100,000 genomes from NHS patients.

In the early noughties, scientists were hard at work developing the publication of the first complete genome in an effort to provide a DNA bible by which future medicine would abide. However, in 2017 DNA sequencing is now making itself uncompromisingly known in the daily lives of healthcare practitioners in some of the most important fields of treatment.

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Can your voice reveal an illness?

With Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot speaker systems amongst the most popular gifts under the Christmas tree last month, speech recognition and voice control has taken a big step closer to becoming mainstream. What would have appeared cutting edge technology only a few short years ago is now available to households everywhere, at consumer prices.  We can now control our homes using our voices.  Feeling a bit cold?  Ask Alexa to turn up the heating.  Shuffle your music, set an alarm, order groceries or consult the internet.  We can do all of this and more with our voices and now it seems that our voices can also help in diagnosing our symptoms and reveal if we have an illness.

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Life, but not as we know it – the future of healthcare

The fundamental change about to occur in the healthcare market is the shift in risk which will affect all aspects of life and health will be no exception.  History has shown that medicine has changed from a risky and hazardous patient experience to a professional and expertly managed process which has moved the outcome of success ever forwards. The fundamental relationship between  health professional and patient is one of trust and integrity. Taking the three main drivers of change this blog will demonstrate the new risks to healthcare.

Firstly, in other sectors, the impact of robotics and machine learning have altered the balance of manufacturing and logistics which are becoming increasingly automated. For example the decision by Foxconn, the main manufacturer of Apple’s iPhone to replace 500,000 production line workers with 1 million robots is case enough to see the emergence of an age of automation and machine based production.

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Is the healthcare sector suffering from PBSD (Pre-Brexit Stress Disorder)?

Funding the NHS formed a key part of the Leave campaign, with pledges to spend £350m per week on the NHS from the savings made on EU contributions.  Within hours of the referendum result being announced, Nigel Farage admitted that this pledge was “a mistake” and that this additional funding would not in fact be available post-Brexit.

There remains uncertainty at this stage as to the precise long-term effects Brexit will have on the NHS and the healthcare sector as a whole.  Ahead of the referendum, the Economist Intelligence Unit produced a white paper on the likely impact Brexit would have on the healthcare industry and its predictions have so far proved to be particularly accurate.

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Health data from wearable devices and apps

Medical devices in the EU are currently regulated under the Medical Devices Directive (93/42/EEC). The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) produced guidance in March this year on medical device software, including apps. Health apps are considered a medical device if they have a “medical purpose”. Where an app provides decision support or decision-making software, which applies some form of automated reasoning, such as calculations or symptom tracking, such software is very likely to meet the definition of a medical device and therefore be regulated by the MHRA Continue reading

Anti-ageing

To ease pressure on hospitals managing chronic conditions, preventing disease and slowing its progression when it does occur, we need to invest in the maintenance of health[1].  The Targeting Ageing with Metformin (“TAME”) clinical trial claims to do just that – slowing down the ageing process by looking to “increase health, not look for eternal life”[2].

The difficulties of obtaining approval for such a trial, due to the number of “spurious claims of ‘anti-ageing’ technologies and therapies on the market”, are noted in the Telegraph article[3].  In addition, there are many pressures that are created by an ageing population – whilst these trials may be able to prolong life, can they really preserve its quality?  Will people be expected to retire later? Otherwise, the burden on the working population to support the growing retired population could increase significantly.  Would independence be maintained? At what point, for example, would one become unfit to drive?  The GMC is already alive to the issue of unfitness to drive, consulting on changes to its confidentiality guidance, which would place on doctors a duty to report patients who are unfit to drive to the DVLA if they continue to drive and cannot be persuaded to stop.[4]  We can already envisage difficulties arising for doctors, in situations where accidents occur and no report had been made – where will the burden of responsibility fall?

[1] Rifat Atun, Harvard University, in “Defying death is causing back pain, bad teeth and depression”, New Scientist (6 June 2015)
[2] S. Knapton, “World’s first anti-ageing drug could see humans live to 120”, The Telegraph, 29 November 2015
[3] Ibid.
[4] GMC Confidentiality: draft guidance for consultation


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Written by Greg McEwen, healthcare partner

What about consumer rights when it comes to mHealth?

mHealth applications for smartphones are increasingly employed in everyday life, providing information on treatment options, tips on managing illness, and helping to monitor conditions from high blood pressure to diabetes. The market is growing to such an extent that it has been estimated that by next year some 500 million people will be using healthcare apps.

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Checking your M-Health? Check the risks

We are all aware that the world is becoming more connected. It is estimated that there will be around 26 billion internet connected devices worldwide by 2020 –a large proportion of which are related to health and healthcare. According to research – students are spending between 9 – 10 hours per day ‘engaged’ with their mobile device managing their banking, fitness and retail in addition to communication. If we are relying more and more on our devices to manage our lifestyle, including our health, what are the risks?

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