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Digital healthcare guru Koen Kas predicts a world without disease

Koen Kas presents Sick No More, a future without disease. He shows how we are already moving in that direction and what's left to do.

Koen Kas presents Sick No More

"So let me get this straight," I asked the man in front of me with a not so subtle hint of disbelief in my voice. "You're saying that in 10 years we will live in a world without disease?" 

Koen Kas nodded and casually added: "And in just a few years you and I will be talking to AI-driven robot doggies to share our deepest feelings. It prevents depression, you know."

It was a sunny Friday morning at Bagaar HQ. I was one of the lucky people able to talk to Koen right before his Breakfast Session presentation. He is a healthcare visionary who owns the talent of amazing his audience with every sentence that leaves his mouth. He definitely amazed us with his presentation aptly named Sick No More.   


Influencing the future

“We can’t predict the future, but we can influence it.”

With that statement health futurist Koen Kas started his presentation. We all nodded; it seemed pretty clear to us that humans are able to influence the future. What we didn’t know, however, was in what ways we could.

Did you know, that in Peru local governments have put WiFi points on beaches that only send a signal to your smartphone when you’re surfing the internet in the shade? Bye bye, skin cancer!

And were you aware that doctors can use joysticks to meticulously insert miniature packages of medicine into a tumor? It seems that the XBox generation has an advantage over their older counterparts. Who knew that playing Grand Theft Auto and Halo would one day contribute to global welfare?

Writing these words makes Azimov’s Fantastic Voyage come to mind. Do you remember how they used joysticks to perform surgery in that film? The future can definitely be found in many cultural classics. Who knew sci-fi would one day become just sci!



How to introduce change?

Why are hospitals so miserable?

At one point during his presentation Koen Kas asked his audience a simple question that turned out hard to answer: Why are hospitals so miserable?

“The reason is,” Kas states, “that hospitals have not found a way to make their business more profitable by making it less miserable. We should never forget that hospitals want to make money — lots of money. So do doctors. So do pharmaceutical companies. Sure, many of them genuinely care about their patients, but we have to keep in mind that we are talking about a multi-billion dollar industry with high profit margins. So why would they change anything if they are making money anyway? Why invest in delight if you don’t have to?”

Koen Kas was about to answer his own question. And to do this, he used good ol’ Kodak as an example.

 The Kodak moment of healthcare

Back in the days Kodak was the market leader in photographic film products. Kodak refused to believe in digital photography though. “That will never catch on,” they said.

Well, it did. Other companies believed in the advantages of digital photography and invested in it. We all know what happened next: it became a huge success and Kodak became a minor player in the field of photography.

“This is what hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies fear most,” Kas said, “they fear missing the boat. They don’t want to end up like Kodak. And that is why they — albeit reluctantly — start investing in delight.”

Bringing delight to healthcare

From robobears to voice cloning

The best gifts are the gifts you didn’t know you wanted. And when you’re ill you don’t expect any gifts. So how much more tolerable would being ill be if at least some elements of it (like, let’s say, taking your medication or visiting a doctor) were delightful.

In Japan healthcare companies are currently experimenting with a project called RoboBear, a robot nurse shaped like a bear that washes patients, feeds them and talks to them. It’s the Japanese way of taking care of staff shortages — but in a delightful way.

The San Francisco-based company Descript has developed Lyrebird, some ultra-realistic voice-cloning software that is already being used in the medical industry. A machine equipped with this technology can remind a terminally ill person: “John, it is time to take your pill.” But instead of using a cold, synthetic robot voice, it sounds exactly like John’s son.

Taking away friction

Kas adds that bringing delight to healthcare does not always involve flashy gadgets like talking robot bears. “It's often just a matter of taking away friction.”

Let’s say you need to get your blood tested. The amount of times patients get hurt by medical staff because they can’t find a vein are countless. “So what if we had a piece of equipment that would highlight the patient’s veins? It would take the patient’s fear away. It would remove friction between the patient and his doctor.” Kas mentions that such a device was in fact recently introduced into hospitals to much delight from both staff and patients.

Another example: people who suffer from schizophrenia have to take medication. Family members often worry whether the patient has taken his medication. What if we could invent a pill that has a sensor that sends a message to the family members’ smartphones: Daddy took his pill today. It would take a tremendous amount of friction away.

“The possibilities are endless,” says Kas. “We only get slowed down by a lack of imagination, insufficient funds to develop delightful products, and an unwillingness from certain parties involved.”


Unravelling the genetic code

Wonderfull (or should I say: delightful?) as this all may seem, it still doesn’t explain why Koen Kas expects to live in a world without disease in the near future.

“And that’s why we now will enter the territory of DNA,” Kas announced halfway through his presentation. “Did you know that you can now buy a little machine developed by Oxford Nanopore Industries that will give you your genetic code within a couple of hours? And it will only cost you a mere 500 dollars. Compare that to the first time scientists unraveled DNA back in 2003; this cost more that 3 billion dollars!’

It does seem amazing that you can get insights into something as complex as your DNA for the price of a flat screen TV.

“I’ve known my DNA for a while now,” Kas say, “and I found out that I will be blind. I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m heading towards blindness. Now, some of you might not want to know such a thing, but I think it’s an incredibly useful piece of information to have. I now take a supplement to postpone my blindness. Knowing my DNA enables me to stop blindness.”

Kas continued to say that if everyone would get their DNA tested, and if everyone would take action accordingly, we will head towards a disease-free planet.

Do we want to live forever?

Even if Mr Kas is right about his vision for our future (and wouldn’t it be fun if he was?), an entirely different dilemma arises: do we even want to live forever? According to a New Scientist Asks the Public survey only 1 in 5 UK adults would take the immortality pill.

When I afterwards confronted Koen Kas with this fact, he smiled and said: “We’re not talking about immortality here; we’re talking about getting very old. No one will live forever - ever. Even in a world without disease humans will remain mortal. The only difference is that there will be a whole lot less suffering involved in getting older.”

Bagaar and digital healthcare

Koen Kas is quite clear: if everything goes well, we live in a world without disease within 10 years. Advancement of medical science and the increasing affordability of testing ones DNA will make sure of that.

Here at Bagaar we want to contribute to a better world. That is not some wishy-washy hippie talk, but a genuine feeling. As an Internet of Things organization it is our role to work with the medical world to achieve Kas’ vision. Read this page to find out exactly how we are going to do this.


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