A health innovator’s guide to the tech galaxy

New technologies continue to transform how we live our daily lives. While some of this change has already entered healthcare’s orbit (e.g., smart watches as commonplace health trackers), there are many emerging technologies which have not yet crossed into the industry’s stratosphere. As we set our gaze beyond today’s near-term predictions for tech in healthcare, we’re exploring how maturing technologies will create novel opportunities in healthcare. Innovators, consider this a guide to the galaxy!

We see opportunities in four constellations of fundamental human needs—physical (how we sustain ourselves), social (how we connect to others), community (how we engage with society), and infrastructural (underlying enablers).

In this article, we’ll highlight several interesting opportunities within each of the four needs groups of this framework, starting from the inner orbit and moving outward.


Novel technologies have created an opportunity to shift from meeting basic physical needs to measuring and optimizing how they are met. Below, we focus on potential innovations for physical needs typically met inside the home, and transportation that connects home to the outer world.

Home: It’s the gravitational center of basic physical needs. From nutrition and sleep to (now more than ever) exercise, there are several home technologies with clear healthcare opportunity that we’re keeping our eyes on:

Smart home assistants (e.g., Amazon Alexa), monitoring systems (e.g., Ring), TVs, fitness equipment (e.g., Peloton), fridges (e.g., Samsung Family Hub), and toothbrushes (e.g., Oral B Smart Series) are all boosting home IQs. As sensor specificity improves and artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) continue to mature, home tech is poised to unlock novel healthcare applications.

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • The first signs of some diseases are detected by smart home devices. Your smart toilet or toothbrush might analyze your stool or saliva and spot early-stage colorectal or oral cancer, or your smart home fitness equipment might analyze your activity patterns and intercept onset of cardiovascular disease.
  • Connectivity across home devices will unlock additional applications. Consumers may choose to combine data from multiple devices into “smart home hubs”, whose actionable health data could be shared at their discretion. Dietary data from your computer vision-enabled smart fridge might be combined with sleep quality data from your sensor-equipped mattress, and mood or stress levels inferred from a home monitoring system analyzing your facial expressions and movement patterns. Smart home hubs could generate a health score to help consumers optimize wellness and providers understand baseline health before treating a patient.

Transportation: Transportation is poised to change drastically because of new technology. Drones are increasingly used for autonomous deliveries and seven driverless vehicle manufacturers (e.g., Google’s Waymo, GM’s Cruise, Amazon’s Zoox) collectively logged 4.1 million test miles last year. Meanwhile, Tesla has engineered attention-sensing vision into its cars and Panasonic teamed up with Tascent—a biometric sensing company—to apply its tech to in-flight entertainment systems. And let’s not forget the advances in space tech that are enabling individuals to go into orbit for kicks.

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • Autonomous vehicles (AVs) and drones become the backbone of medical supply chain logistics and non-emergency medical transportation. Medications could be delivered to hospitals, pharmacies, and directly to consumers autonomously. AVs would likely enable quicker, (long-run) cheaper, and more trackable deliveries, and could support efficient redistribution of drugs and medical supplies between sites of care to alleviate supply shortage issues. Payers might expand coverage programs with rideshare companies to extend some of AVs’ benefits to vulnerable populations requiring support getting to and from medical visits.
  • Gig economy algorithms direct AVs to intelligently match supplies to consumer demand to support at-home care models. These algorithms might enable same-day delivery of medications, at-home diagnostic tests, and care delivery services (e.g., nurse administration of at-home infusions or liquid biopsies), and predictive resource management for local care sites (à la Amazon Prime Now).
  • Personal vehicles (e.g., cars) and public transportation (e.g., buses, trains, planes) use sensors to enable real-time infection control. Cameras and microphones on in-flight entertainment systems or cabin filtration systems with diagnostic capabilities may identify passengers or flights carrying dangerous pathogens.


Technology has transformed social connection—the second orbit in our framework—perhaps more than any other needs group. The smartphone turned telephones into portals to global digital social life. Similarly, alternate reality technologies are leveling up digital life from 2D to 3D (or in some sense, 4D). As social life further virtualizes, these two technology groups will underpin some of the most intriguing future healthcare opportunities.

Communication: Since the birth of the smartphone ~15 years ago, the number of human-computer interactions (HCIs)—digital actions like views, taps, and scrolls—has skyrocketed. Social tech companies like Meta and Twitter have used HCIs and linguistic analysis (e.g., sentiment and syntax analysis) for years to optimize user experience. Now, Apple is reportedly exploring analysis of typing patterns and facial expressions as potential indicators of health status, following the lead of start-ups like Mindstrong.

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • AI applied to HCI data aggregated across a consumer’s device and social platform activity serve as clinical biomarkers for early diagnosis, disease recurrence, and progression. For example, substance abuse relapse might be detected from a signature of content-specific (e.g., reading articles about opioids), content-agnostic (e.g., reduced frequency of communications), and contextual data (e.g., unusually high sedentary and solitary behavior or vocal biomarker detection).
  • Smartphone cameras and microphones are staple fixtures in the care team’s diagnostic and monitoring toolkit, both standalone and as companions to HCIs. A neurologist treating a patient for migraines over a virtual consult might receive a notification that the patient’s facial expressions, word choice, and tone indicate that she is relapsing into depression. The neurologist might also be monitoring an at-home stroke patient whose HCIs indicate that he is at risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s (e.g., higher than usual rate of unfinished tasks).
  • Caregivers and families have deep and real-time insight into loved ones’ health and wellness. Aggregated home monitoring and HCI data from increasingly digitally savvy seniors might detect that your mother is limiting some activities of daily living before she or those around her even realize.

Shared Experiences: You guessed it—the metaverse. While there are many technologies and social platforms impacting how we share experiences, those linked to the metaverse are at the top of tech’s future playbook. Some technologies we’re monitoring from a healthcare lens are simulation tech like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR); robotics (we’re looking at you, Hyundai and Boston Dynamics); gaming (e.g., Microsoft / Activision); and digital twins. Although digital health has already found some applications in the metaverse, we expect future iterations to increasingly blur the line between physical and virtual reality.

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • Immersive environments become gold standard therapeutics or management tools. People with chronic pain, post traumatic stress disorder, autism, or neuro-visual disorders (e.g., amblyopia) may be prescribed VR/AR/MR experiences that yield better outcomes than drugs or cognitive therapy can alone.
  • Digital twins serve as sophisticated simulations of our real selves, combining multi-omic data with real-time consumer behavior data (e.g., smart homes, HCIs, social activity). For example, your digital twin created from the totality of your physiological and behavioral data might enable prediction of future health complications. As digital twins are built on increasingly complex behavioral data and predictive analytics, they might also serve as the personas underlying our avatars in the metaverse, through which our twins may complete health tasks for us like filling a prescription.
  • Connected robotics enable physical interactions and sensations within simulated reality. A child with cerebral palsy might wear a metaverse-connected exoskeleton that enables his physical therapist to virtually monitor and coach his exercises using haptic feedback. Or your primary care provider might conduct your annual wellness exam through a virtual consult in the metaverse, whereby connected devices and wearable robotics enable physical palpation.


Community—the outermost orbit of our needs framework—is the most quintessentially human of needs. We contribute to society and find meaning in life through identity and connection to social structures and systems larger than ourselves. Here, we touch on a few ways emerging technologies could impact health in these spheres of life.

Occupation and Education: Adapting to a post-pandemic norm of remote work and school has prompted shifts in learning and collaboration. The increasing application of devices and AI in the classroom is enabling educators to tailor individualized learning experiences and introduce young students to more technical subject matter through guided digital lessons (e.g., BioDigital Human, Molecules). Remote working has fueled new models for virtual team collaboration (e.g., Sophya SoWork), improved simulation of physical co-working (e.g., Meta Horizon Workrooms), and data-driven space management for optimizing physical space (e.g., Wisp).

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • Medical schools and pre-medical secondary school programs use adaptive, AI-driven and AR-enabled digital learning tools to create more effective and engaging lessons. Students may learn surgery through interactive visualization apps that use AI to understand why students struggle with certain lessons and adapt to each student’s learning style. Procedural training and complex decision-making scenarios may be simulated using immersive technologies.
  • Hospitals and clinics implement AI-driven space management software to reimagine their physical spaces and support dynamic utilization amid the increasing shift to hybrid care models. Sites might downsize physical space and reallocate resources for “smart” patient rooms, as some physicians may increasingly split time between clinic-based care and at-home virtual consultations.

Hobbies: Hobbies live on the web now more than ever before. Whether it’s binging a new Netflix series, watching TikToks, online shopping, or playing online sports, people are drawn to platforms powered by algorithms that personalize content to their preferences. As we move into a cookie-less future, preference analysis and content optimization will become even more reliant on improvements in AI and modeling human behavior. AI is even transforming in-person shopping experiences (e.g., Amazon Go stores linked to digital accounts with “just walk out” computer vision and RFID technology).

What could this look like in healthcare’s future?

  • Digital social activity data and AI support hyper-personalization of health content (e.g., preventive health information, condition-specific education), similar to how Netflix and Amazon algorithmically optimize our entertainment and shopping experiences.
  • Celebrities and social influencers play an increasingly important role in patient education, acquisition, and retention as healthcare brand strategy consumerizes (anyone else notice those Super Bowl commercials?).
  • Identification of health signals and interventions become real-time as AI taps into the wealth of individual purchasing patterns and preference data. You might be shopping for clothes on Amazon and decide to add in an anti-nausea supplement and extra toilet paper for some digestive issues you’ve been experiencing. With consent to use your data for health promotion, Amazon might determine that you’re at-risk for colorectal cancer based on your recent shopping behavior and demographics. Upon check-out, you could receive a health warning and suggestion to purchase an at-home screening test from Amazon Care.
  • Providers and payers offer patients to opt-in to using browser plug-ins (e.g., Honey) to incent healthy purchasing behaviors in real-time and support adherence to healthy living goals and care plans.

Enabling Infrastructure

Any discussion of human needs would be incomplete without talking infrastructure. If you think infrastructure is a snoozefest, you’re sleeping on some of the most exciting innovations that will spill into healthcare.

Infrastructure is the gravitational field underlying all of the innovations addressing our other needs—and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. In the past couple years, infrastructure across sectors has gotten a facelift—5G networks and internet of things, cashless payments and digital currencies, and more accessible home solar power converters are quickly becoming new-age norms. We could spill a lot of ink on the applications for infrastructure innovation in healthcare, but here are a few at the top of our mind:

In the future:

  • Completely interoperable and de-siloed health data enable comprehensive person-centric and -owned health records equipped with AI to suggest real-time interventions
  • Broadband infrastructure and 5G projects aimed at expanding rural access create more cost-effective technology and models for expanding access in developing geographies
  • Blockchain secures health data exchanges and payments between organizations, care teams, and patients
  • Fintech solutions centering transparency and payment planning become embedded parts of digital front door and care navigation solutions
  • Investments in clean energy infrastructure power “always-on” smart homes that can sustainably support continuous health monitoring, and around-the-clock networks of AVs transporting patients, medical supplies, and care teams

The ideas we’ve outlined are just the tip of the iceberg of what the next wave of technology innovation can infuse into healthcare. Our hope is that innovators take these vignettes of the future and test, refine, and develop concepts that usher in the next generation of healthcare. However, one thing is clear—to maximize the benefit of these technologies for humanity, equity innovation must outpace technology innovation. The future must be built on technologies that maximize accessibility, proactively mitigate bias, center patient privacy and transparency, and invest two-fold in earning the trust of communities that healthcare has mistreated. Starry-eyed ideas must take a backseat to mending the cracks in a system that already fails those who need it most. We’re optimistic that healthcare innovators are up to the challenge—developers, ready your engines and prepare for launch!

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Rock Health Consulting works with enterprise companies on digital health strategy and innovation. For more information, reach out to advisory@rockhealth.com.