Healthcare at Home

Dr. Philip Edgcumbe wants to make our healthcare system smarter

By Breanna Mroczek

On the health diagnostic website WedMD, seemingly every symptom you might have could be linked to cancer, though the link is often pretty dubious. But what if you could use your smartphone to tell you, with more certainty, that you’re at risk for certain diseases and should seek treatment in a timely manner? That’s what Dr. Philip Edgcumbe is interested in exploring, as his work is primarily focused on disrupting the healthcare system to provide more benefits to patients.

Even in a country with universal healthcare, Dr. Edgcumbe thinks that there are still inefficiencies and to people getting the healthcare they need. “I think if we are thoughtful and smart about harnessing some of the exponential tech breakthroughs, we could very well get to a place one day where we have abundant health care in Canada, and we’re able to provide timely and effective care to all Canadians. A lot of diagnostic equipment is becoming much more accessible. A lot of our ability to monitor health is becoming digitized and de-materialized, which means we now have the capability to push health screening and monitoring into the home of individuals and give a reprieve to our health care system by reducing the number of people that need to stay in hospitals.”

In 2017, Dr. Edgcumbe participated in XPRIZE, an initiative founded by SingularityU’s co-founder Dr. Peter Diamandis that uses crowdsourcing to develop innovative technological solutions to a global problem—think of it as the world’s largest brainstorming session. Dr. Edgcumbe led a team to “crowdsource the end of Alzheimer’s” which developed a proposal for catalyzing the generation of novel and effective ways to identify and characterize the disease, and develop treatment strategies that can slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s — the team garnered $25 million to support their proposal.

“I think Alzheimer’s has the potential to become the economic, emotional, and social sinkhole of the 21st century because of our aging population and the incredible costs of caring for someone who has this debilitating disease,” Dr. Edgcumbe says. “The Alzheimer’s XPRIZE is something I’m very proud of, and I think it’s going to change how we treat Alzheimer’s one day.”

Though Dr. Edgcumbe isn’t involved in the current phase of the Alzheimer’s XPRIZE project, his current project continues to focus on bringing accessible healthcare to more people in order to prevent and better treat severe disease. Intrigued by the possibilities that smartphones offer, Edgcumbe is working with several colleagues to develop a platform and app, called Augos, that will allow the user to conduct very basic eye health assessments at home using their smartphone, then use the results to determine whether they need to seek advice and treatment in a timely manner. Long-term, Edgcumbe wants to establish kiosks in pharmacies for eye-health that are analogous to the blood pressure measuring devices that are already in many pharmacies. These kiosks will be a step-up from at-home eye testing, but more accessible than optometrists and ophthalmologists.

“Eyecare is important for me to explore because vision is very important to our existence, yet for some reason it’s something that doesn’t get included in the annual physical exam by most physicians because [eye disease] is hard to screen for. It’s this forgotten part of health care where I think we have an opportunity to make a big difference with more accessible screening.

In Canada, there are about a hundred thousand people with undiagnosed glaucoma, and one of the ways it can manifest itself is just slowly declining eyesight. People don’t necessarily realize they have it.”

At the SingularityU Canada Summit, Dr. Edgcumbe is interested in discussing how technology has the potential to change society, explore new possibilities in health care, discuss the challenge that physicians have in adopting new technology into their practice and start some conversations about what the priorities in our health care system should be. Dr. Edgcumbe recalls a study associated with the Apple watch, which has the ability to track a user’s heart rate and determine with 85 per cent accuracy whether or not someone had diabetes. “When I read that I was absolutely shocked, because I would have said that diabetes was something that has to do with a person’s metabolism and not their heart rate. And yet using a machine, Apple was able to find out an underlying fingerprint of diabetes. And this is potentially great news for the millions of people who have undiagnosed diabetes—they can put on a smart watch and it can alert them to meet with a physician because they might have diabetes.”

“Health care is on the verge of entering the fourth industrial revolution and is about to be truly transformed by exponential technology, and it’s going to lead to more empowered patients and proactive health care.”

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