Interview: Fard Johnmar, Digital Health Futurist

Fard Johnmar is the the Founder and President at Digital Health Innovation Consultancy, Enspektos, LLC and co-author of new book ePatient 2015 – 15 Surprising Trends Changing Health Care. Here I ask Fard questions about the book and digital health in general. You can find Fard on Twitter at @fardj.

Please introduce yourself and what you do

I describe myself as a digital health futurist and researcher. This means that I think carefully about how technology will influence health and wellness. Specifically, I look for patterns and meaning behind the events or news of the day in order to help executives in health understand what’s coming in digital health and why it matters.

As for research, I’ve been conducting studies for about a decade focusing on a range of key questions important to the future of health. One of my areas of focus has been working to understand how consumers and medical professionals perceive and use a range of emerging and established health technologies, including wearables, 3D printing, sensors and more. Another has been on uncovering how online and social media content influences people’s health perceptions and behaviors. This could include understanding how content shared on Facebook influences dietary choices to the influence of anti-vaccine message boards on subsequent parental vaccination behaviors.

All of this work is conducted via my firm Enspektos, which is an innovation consultancy based in the United States. Some of our research is delivered to individual executives via a syndicated market intelligence service we produce called enmoebius bronze and custom engagements and studies conducted for agencies, pharmaceutical firms, think tanks, public health organizations and others.


Give us an elevator pitch of the book

ePatient 2015 is designed to not only help people understand what’s coming in health — especially from a technological perspective — but put a human face on the digital revolution that’s sweeping health globally. My co-author, Rohit Bhargava, and I have seen many digital tsunamis hit health, from the Internet, to social media and now mobile. Each time, few have been prepared for the changes wrought by these tools and have been left scrambling to keep up. We want ePatient 2015 first and foremost to serve as a guide for those seeking to not only understand what’s coming, but why. Also, we’re focused on helping increase understand of what living, breathing people think about the digital revolution, which is why the book features original research conducted by my firm Enspektos with digitally savvy health consumers, or ePatients.

Why now and why this book?

As you’ve chronicled on this blog and in your talks and presentations, we’re at a critical moment in health currently. The digitization of medicine is proceeding rapidly, consumers are being asked to use powerful technologies that deliver sophisticated health information and much more. There’s a critical need to cut through the clutter and confusion surrounding digital health and provide people with clear, well-supported and understandable guidance about what’s happening and why it’s important. We wrote ePatient 2015 to meet this need.

The book makes numerous predictions around health and technology are there any in particular that you feel will make the greatest impact to health?

One of the goals we had with the book was to talk about trends that are either starting to emerge or having a significant impact on health currently. So, on the one hand, you could describe the trends as predictions, but on the other, we view them more as memorable explanations of emerging technologies and issues that are important today, but will be vital tomorrow.

We organized the 15 trends outlined in the book (click here to view an infographic outlining them) into 3 overarching themes. One of them is the Personalized Health Movement, or the use of genetics, behavior, digital tools and more to individualize care. Most of the trends in the book are organized under this theme, which gives you a sense of how important we believe these trends are to the future of health and medicine globally.

Other than us the consumer, who else stands to benefit from this kind of digital health revolution?

While the book is purposefully focused on how technology, culture, legislation and more will influence patients over the next few years, there are other players in health that also stand to benefit. One key beneficiary is medical professionals, especially physicians, as technology provides them with tools they can use to understand how patients are doing at a very granular level — from what they are eating to how their genetic profile contributes to disease risk and expression. Doctors are very data-oriented and will take advantage of information that helps them make better decisions and deliver better care. One caveat here is that the data needs to be accurate, understandable and actionable.

Another group that will benefit is caregivers. We’re seeing a range of technologies being developed, especially passive sensors that are providing people — especially those who are responsible for taking care of their children and parents simultaneously — with better information that will help them understand how their loved ones are doing and how best to help them maintain optimal health.

Thinking beyond the next 25 years, what are your thoughts on the concept of the Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity? Can you envisage a time when our minds will be downloaded to an artificial intelligence computer?

That’s an interesting question. In fact, we’re focusing on how man and machine are merging in health in a series of courses I’m co-producing with Health 2.0 taking place this spring. So, this topic is very much on my mind.

There are a number of issues we’ll have to overcome before we’re able to download our minds into computers. The first is getting a much better understanding of how the brain functions. This is not just about imaging the brain, but mapping its architecture, from how memories are stored to capturing the mysterious processes that support and encode consciousness.

[quote align=”right”]There are a number of issues we’ll have to overcome before we’re able to download our minds into computers. The first is getting a much better understanding of how the brain functions.[/quote]

The second is computing power and storage capacity. Some research suggests that many of the brain’s processes operate at the quantum rather than molecular level. We’ll need to develop computers with immense processing power and — more importantly storage capacity to even attempt to mimic the brain’s most basic functions. Finally, we have to have a much better understanding of what makes humans human. This is not just a question of science, but metaphysics, spirituality and more.

These are huge hurdles to overcome, but people such as Ray Kurzweil believe they are surmountable. Of course, if we’re talking about downloading consciousness into a powerful computer and mimicking life, some believe that this has already been achieved and that we are living in a simulation. Some researchers believe we can construct experiments to determine whether this is the case.

So, do I believe we’re 25 years or so away from downloading human consciousness into a computer? I’m not sure. I’d like to see some progress made on uploading insects, or even nemotodes, into computers before I believe we’re close to this accomplishment. But, it’s more probable that we’re going to see a rapid acceleration of human-machine hybrids, whether it be using our minds to control computers, using exoskeletons to allow the paralyzed to walk again or grafting prosthetics to severed limbs that people can operate with a thought. Cyborgs are already here and will become more sophisticated and commonplace with time.

Finally, what’s next for you in digital health?

Speaking of merging humans and machines, one of the themes I’ve been talking a lot about recently is the movement in health technology from engagement to what I call “embedment.” What I mean by this is that previously people had to actively adopt or use technologies such as mobile and the Internet for it to have an impact on health. Where things are going is that various technologies will be embedded into what I call the health stream, from the act of taking a medication to supporting people when they leave the hospital.

A range of companies are developing sensors, telepresence tools and other technologies that will be embedded into the environment, and take advantage of data collected from mobile devices, wearables, refrigerators, thermostats and more to predict when someone will be sick and nudge them to engage in healthier behaviors. People don’t have to actively use these tools for data collection and information delivery to take place. Instead, these technologies will be integrated into devices already available to both the affluent and poor and will transform health in ways we can only imagine. If you look closely at moves by companies like Apple, Google and Aetna, you’ll see how they’re positioning themselves to dominate this emerging health data-device infrastructure.

Personally, I look forward to continuing to learn about the digital health future from people like you and help others understand how it is evolving in the short- and long-term.

One Ping

  1. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *