Sia Partners UK Digital Series: Disease Prevention through Smart Technology

The digital phenomenon was a key topic for discussion at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Middle East and North Africa Conference that took place in Jordan from 19th – 21st May. The conference was themed on ‘Enabling a Generational Transformation’ and brought together the foremost business, government and civil society leaders.  Sia Partners were delighted to be part of this controversial and stimulating debate. Some key findings from the conference are outlined below:


It is a well-accepted fact (and certainly one that was expressed numerous times at the WEF) that 80% of our household spend goes on the following four utilities:

  • Housing
  • Education
  • Food
  • Healthcare

If we take Healthcare for example, a topic that speaks to many of us – technology can play a big role.

Right now, Healthcare funds are focused on diagnosis and maintenance as opposed to prevention.

In Europe, only 3% of the money allocated for health is going on prevention testing as opposed to diagnosis where the bulk of the investment is being made.

But to make this real, let’s look at an actual example of a person with Diabetes and how technology can make their life better. Someone with Type 1 Diabetes needs to do the following on a regular basis:

  1. Take blood and measure sugar levels
  2. Have meetings with doctors and specialists
  3. Have regular conversations and meeting with specialist nurses and GPs
  4. Research and read regular medical information about Type 1 Diabetes
  5. Visit hospitals and surgeries

A simple app could:

  1. Track sugar levels
  2. Enable quick and easy dialogue with the person’s medical team
  3. Store and push out hints and tips
  4. Enable the person with the disease to connect with people – therefore bringing people together

This sort of app would completely transform the experience of dealing with diabetes. It would become about wellness management as opposed to disease management, minimising the wastage of time and money of all involved in the process (including taxpayers’ money in the case of NHS). It would allow the person with the disease to take control, rather than have to ask every time they have an appointment with their medical practitioners (a personal case here).

My central belief is that if you have access to your data, you should do something with it. Data is information that empowers you to take decisions, to act, to take a direction equipped with information you own. Having an understanding of your data helps you make the right decision.
Often, in my own situation, I have had to take decisions to do with my health based on ‘gut feel‘ or someone else’s ‘expert view’ or opinion. Often the decision was right, but sometimes it was wrong and I walked away thinking – “that doctor was guessing” or “he doesn’t know me”, or a combination.

Having access to data would flip the entire model on its head. It would allow the person with the disease to become his/her own decision maker whilst the virtual team of doctors would act as coaches.

In the US, by 2030 fifty percent of people will be obese. In MENA, 35 million people are obese. By 2040 that number is projected to rise to 70m. Could this statistic come down through education and availability of data in the healthcare system?

Another fact; 20 percent of brain tumours stem from a dental cavity. That was news to me. Going forward, gamification of toothbrushes is already taking place. These toothbrushes can analyse the quality of breath and brushing and this data would be uploaded to the cloud. You self-manage and get connected to dentists as required – simple. The technology is driving you to behave in a different way.

Technology that allows both intervention and an opportunity to change people’s behaviour is well underway in Healthcare. There are already programmes being developed that are targeting people ‘at risk’. For example, programmes steering people towards better food and sleep. These programmes are a combination of devices and software. Where the interface is easy, the only obstacle to overcome is attitude.

Not all Healthcare issues will be solved by using technology and making decisions based on algorithms. But it can make a significant difference. We need to empower people. The more people know, the more they are connected virtually to a peer group, they more they can take better decisions and change for the better.