Welcome to the latest episode of Digital Health Interviews! Before we delve into our discussion, it is crucial to acknowledge the ongoing war in Ukraine and emphasize the importance of supporting the nation in any way possible during these challenging times. Our conversation today will also somehow focus on Ukraine in the context of digital health. We are honored to introduce our amazing guest for today’s interview — Philippe Gerwill.
Philippe Gerwill: Digitalization Humanist, Futurist, and an esteemed Innovation Key Opinion Leader (KOL) with a remarkable 30-year career in the specialty chemicals and pharmaceutical industry. He is frequently invited to speak at international events, sharing his extensive knowledge on a wide range of cutting-edge subjects, including Digital Health, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, AR/VR, 5G, and Healthcare in the Metaverse. With significant experience working at prestigious organizations such as Novartis, Lonza, and Ciba, he has consistently played a vital role in driving innovation within the industry.
Philippe Gerwill: “I spent approximately 30 years in the sphere, primarily in the pharmaceutical industry (about 15 years) and previously in the specialty chemicals industry (about 15 years too). I’m actually already on early retirement from Novartis, but I started even before to focus more on healthcare, especially on all the technologies that are seen from the moment around: I like Blockchain and IoT. I also have a lot of roles now as an advisor in many different companies. I also do a lot of keynote speaking internationally around healthcare and digital health. One of my latest hot topics is Metaverse, I’m just coming back from Dubai, where I had two talks about that. I’m at the age now when it is also very important to give back to the community. I really try to support the new generation, startups, and younger people. I have some extraordinary talents of 15 and 16 years old in my network, and I’m really amazed about them.”
Since Philippe has a lot of experience in the field of Pharma, we couldn’t help but ask him his opinion on the current trends in the industry’s acceptance of new technologies and cooperation with startups: “I think most Big Pharma is actually trying with more or less success to cooperate with startups. Sometimes it is very challenging because the character of course is very different. One of the main things about startups is that they are flexible, agile, and have the qualities that Big Pharma doesn’t have. It is very conservative and needs a lot of consensus; you need to talk a lot before you take a decision. Today things are going quicker, so there’s a need on the market for fast decisions. It’s very different from one pharmer to the other, but sometimes they still think about the startups in the mentality of a big corporation which isn’t the case.”
Lately, he’s much closer connected to Ukraine since he’s become a Member of the Advisory Board at DeHealth, a startup originally created in Ukraine: “The main reason why I joined DeHealth is exactly that they are from Ukraine. It was a great driver for me to help them because they have done an amazing job already. They had millions of users, thousands of doctors, and hundreds of hospitals already onboarded on their solution, using it, but it was in Ukraine. And then the war came, so I really felt sorry for them. Anyhow, these kinds of solutions usually have a big portion of a local. Although you have a technically global solution, you have to address it country by country because of the regulations.”
Apart from DeHealth, Philippe also acts as an advisor to other projects: “It’s coming from both sides: from the company and from me, but it’s always very important what the specificity is. If you look at my profile, I have too many advisory roles, but for me, they are like pieces fitting together, and usually, there aren’t two companies doing exactly the same. So there’s always something which I could pick from one or the other. I’m a big believer in the ecosystem, where you might have different companies doing different things, and for specific projects, you can bring them together. Now is the other side: all of them have something special I’m interested in. Recently, I joined the board of a company in India focusing on conversion AI. Before that, there was a company in Hong Kong who is doing all about the Metaverse, not in healthcare, but in other expertise. I was also a mentor for incubators in the UK, in Singapore. I can give companies an opportunity to add that expertise to another bigger ecosystem.”
Our guest usually talks a lot about Metaverse, Chat GPT, and Blockchain. Which one out of these three might have the biggest impact on healthcare in the near future? “I think it’s time when these things are coming together. I may not even put them into a competition. Speaking about Blockchain, my focus on it was never on cryptocurrency, because, for me, cryptocurrency is just one use of this technology. If your application is not working with Blockchain you might not have a Web3 solution. For me, Chat GPT should be a part of the Metaverse: in the Metaverse we talk about virtual avatars or whatever. And who is going to make the conversation for these avatars? Who is going to generate the dialogue, the content of that discussion? That’s where I’m welcoming technologies like Chat GPT, which is coming up quicker than a lot of people were expecting. Chat GPT has other advantages as well in terms of languages. You’re not limited to English or whatever, so I think this is a big step forward in the technology to imply that even in the Healthcare Metaverse.”
Philippe’s point concerning Chat GPT in healthcare is about not having complex tasks for it: “Why should somebody go to the doctor for the flu? I think giving a recommendation for the flu isn’t an issue for Chat GPT. If you talk about cancer — it’s another thing. There are symptoms and diseases where you have to go to doctors, that’s why we need them. Today most doctors are not looking at you anymore, they’re looking at the screen, entering data for electronic health records, or are busy with paperwork. I want a doctor to be back as a human, who is looking you in the eyes and talking to you. Chat GPT can’t fully replace them, although some people may argue saying it would be giving better results than doctors. I don’t want that competition, it’s not healthy, because it is building a gap between doctors and AI. AI, in its turn, shouldn’t be an artificial intelligence, it should be an augmented intelligence. Helping the doctors get rid of some work issues, Chat GPT can really make them do more in the near future. But let’s concentrate on simple tasks. Why shouldn’t we use Chat GPT for them?”.
How does Gerwill imagine Healthcare Metaverse? “Things are going so quickly. The good thing is it still goes in the direction to remove the points of care to the Metaverse in an immersive way for getting advice or recommendation. Don’t forget that the Metaverse isn’t about just “doctor-patient,” it can be a community “patient-patient.” If we talk about mental health, where we already have technical solutions that help pain management, and anxiety. One of the most important points in talking with doctors and patients is trust. But in things like mental health, we have also another issue that people don’t want to talk about: they are afraid or they are ashamed. Maybe talking with the Metaverse, in that case, could help, there are many different opportunities. For my key point speaking in Dubai on the topic “Healing the Metaverse,” I took an example about gaming. The gaming Metaverse did a lot, and I thank it for that in terms of technology. But do I want the same one for healthcare? No, I need a healed metaverse for healthcare, not a sick metaverse, and that’s the point. I definitely support that we need that, but I’m also afraid that we will talk more instead of doing it. It can take years: GPT took six years. So I’m not saying GPT is bad but six years to decide something at today’s pace would be a nightmare.”
Concerning Healthcare Metaverse, our today’s guest has a regular newsletter with articles on the topic. The material about Healthcare in the Metaverse in China has the biggest feedback at the moment: “Many people aren’t aware of what is going on in China in that space, we are focusing on ourselves. From a technological point of view, huge things are happening there, too. Gaming is something that is different in China. It’s very controlled now concerning the whole thing about key opinion leaders, online marketing, and more, and all of that is at the other level in China. The Metaverse is already used for that. The other topics were quite different, some of them were really controversial: I talked about patient communities, medical tourism in the Metaverse, and so on. Medical tourism in the Metaverse is a special topic because initially, it is very physical. You may include wellness and SPA topics, that’s something we want to smell and feel. So how can you say: “We can do that on the Metaverse?”. Medical tourism was probably one of the most touched industries in healthcare because it was a big hit. Some of the companies that are restarting now are clever and try to restart differently. That’s why the Metaverse discussion is open for these companies. I also wrote about Chat GPT and Metaverse as something that is coming together. In my network I have a lot of doctors, that’s why it’s important for me that these people are embracing the discussion. They are interested in the Healthcare Metaverse which I was surprised by. The key case for me is about an old example where you don’t have to go to see physically a doctor, moving to the point of care; I also know nobody who likes to go to the hospital. In the Metaverse you can visit the hospital before, talking to people, so when you come to the facility for your surgery you’re already familiar with this place. There’s an opportunity for Metaverse, it’s just maybe smaller or bigger.”
Concerning the relationships between patients and clinicians and their expectations changing over the next few years, Philippe is dreaming about giving more human time back to doctors: “A person isn’t a robot, and you can’t deal with everybody the same way. Some people are entertained by making competitions between doctors and AI, I hate it. It’s not a competition: we need doctors, and they aren’t going to lose their job. There is a saying: “Doctors may not lose their job because of AI, but the doctor who uses AI will take over the doctors who don’t use AI.” We should not be afraid of this technology: it should help and will help. It depends also on the disease that a patient has. Sometimes a community may help more than a doctor because a patient is trusting more to another patient who is having the same disease and went through a certain experience than a doctor who has no feelings for that pain. The human time is unfortunately decreasing and I want it to get back on track.”
Traditionally, at the end of the interview, our guest gave some recommendations for startup founders in digital health: “I still think it’s easy to provide digital health solutions that really help. It’s going to take from five to ten years to get more doctors, but digital health solutions can be much quicker. There are huge opportunities, but if you have no experience, it’s difficult: sometimes you underestimate regulations, validation, and clinical tests, depending on what you’re doing. The whole topic of validation of digital health solutions isn’t that easy and is also different from country to country. I’ve seen incubators that are discouraging startups to go in the health direction. These incubators want to be quick and to take a return. Luckily I know that because some of the startups are still coming to me and saying: “Despite the fact they don’t want us to go to healthcare, I would still like to have your feedback, your support, and what we should do.” That’s why I’m working for different companies as an advisor because there’s still enough space, and there will be no one taking over everything. If you talk about Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, going now to healthcare, they will not “eat” everything. Their business was always around data, so the whole database is one of their key specialty. I think there’s still a lot of space for startups in digital health, I see opportunities popping up daily. The thing is just keep in mind that it’s still not easy. If you have no background in healthcare, it’s going to be a long journey.”
Our previous episode was with Anish Shindore: Healthcare Innovation: an Investor’s Perspective
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