The future of healthcare is shaping up in front of our eyes with advances in digital healthcare technologies, such as artificial intelligence, VR/AR, 3D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology. We must familiarize ourselves with the latest developments to be able to control technology and not the other way around. The future of healthcare lies in working together with technology and healthcare workers must embrace emerging healthcare technologies to stay relevant in the coming years.
Technology and Humans’ Better Healthcare
I honestly believe that this is the only way forward. Technology can only aid and improve our lives if we stand on its shoulder and if we are always (at least) two steps ahead of it. But if we adhere to this rule, cooperation between people and technology could result in amazing achievements.
In medicine and healthcare, digital technology could help transform unsustainable healthcare systems into sustainable ones. Equalize the relationship between medical professionals and patients, and provide cheaper, faster, and more effective solutions for diseases – technologies could win the battle for us against cancer, AIDS, or Ebola – and could simply lead to healthier individuals living in healthier communities.
But as the saying goes, one must be a master of his own house. So it is worth starting the future with the betterment of our own health through digital technologies. As well as changing our own attitude towards the concept of health as such and towards medicine and healthcare.
I believe that artificial intelligence has the potential to redesign healthcare completely. AI algorithms can mine medical records, and design treatment plans. Or create drugs way faster than any current actor on the healthcare palette including any medical professional.
Atomwise uses supercomputers that root out therapies from a database of molecular structures. The start-up launched a virtual search for safe, existing medicines that could be redesigned to treat the Ebola virus. They found two drugs predicted by the company’s AI technology which may significantly reduce Ebola infectivity.
More recently, Google’s DeepMind created an A.I. for breast cancer analysis. The algorithm outperformed all human radiologists on pre-selected data sets to identify breast cancer, on average by 11.5%!
These are only two of the many examples of companies using A.I. to advance healthcare from designing new drugs to disrupting medical imaging to mining medical records.
Virtual reality (VR) is changing the lives of patients and physicians alike. In the future, you might watch operations as if you wielded the scalpel or you could travel to Iceland or home while you are lying in a hospital bed.
VR is being used to train future surgeons and for actual surgeons to practice operations. Such software programs are developed and provided by companies like Osso VR and ImmersiveTouch and are in active use with promising results. A recent Harvard Business Review study showed that VR-trained surgeons had a 230% boost in their overall performance compared to their traditionally trained counterparts. The former was also faster and more accurate in performing surgical procedures.
The technology is also benefiting patients and has been proven to be effective in pain management. Women are being equipped with VR headsets to visualize soothing landscapes to help them get through labor pain. Patients suffering from gastrointestinal, cardiac, and neurological. And post-surgical pain has shown a decline in their pain levels when using VR to distract them from painful stimuli. Patients undergoing surgery lessened their pain and anxiety and improved their overall hospital experience.
Augmented reality differs from VR in two respects: users do not lose touch with reality. And it puts information into eyesight as fast as possible. These distinctive features enable AR to become a driving force in the future of medicine. Both on the healthcare providers’ and the receivers’ side.
In the case of medical professionals, it might help medical students prepare better for real-life operations. As well as enabling surgeons to enhance their capabilities. Using this method, medical students have access to detailed and accurate, albeit virtual, depictions of the human anatomy to study the subject without the need for real bodies.
Another promising company, Magic Leap, will also bring its slightly different, mixed reality headset to healthcare. Magic Leap has partnered with SyncThink for brain health, with XRHealth for developing a therapeutic platform, and with German healthcare technology company Brainlab to bring its spatial computing technology to healthcare. However, no commercial products are yet available from these organizations however we will undoubtedly see them populate the healthcare market soon.
Healthcare trackers, wearables, and sensors:
As the future of medicine and healthcare is close to the empowerment of patients. As well as individuals taking care of their own health through technology. I cannot leave out health trackers, wearables, and sensors from my selection. They are great devices to get to know more about us and retake control over our own lives.
No matter whether you would like to manage your weight, or your stress level. Or your cognitive capabilities better or you would like to reach an overall fit and energetic state. there is a device for all these needs and more! The beauty of these new tech-fuelled devices is that they really make patients the point of care. With the ability to monitor one’s health at home and share the results remotely with their physician. These devices empower people to take control of their health and make more informed decisions.
When it comes to gadgets and instant solutions, there is a great dream for every healthcare professional. To have one almighty and omnipotent device, with which you can diagnose and analyze every disease. It even materialized – although only on screen.
With the exponential progress in healthcare technology, we now live in a world where similar devices, which were once a figment of sci-fi enthusiasts, are available! The Viacom CheckMe Pro is one such palm-sized gadget that can measure ECG, heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, blood pressure, and more! There are also other companies working on similar devices like the MedWand which on top of measuring multiple vital parameters, packs a camera for telemedical purposes. Then there’s the FDA-cleared BioSticker from BioIntelliSense which, despite being tiny and thin, can measure a wide range of parameters like respiratory rate, heart rate, skin temperature, body position, activity levels, sleep status, gait, and more.
Although the currently available products are a bit far from the tricorder, we will get there soon. You will see high–power microscopes with smartphones, for example, analyzing swab samples and photos of skin lesions. Sensors could pick up abnormalities in DNA or detect antibodies and specific proteins. An electronic nose, an ultrasonic probe. Or almost anything we have now could be to a smartphone and augment its features. And we must get ready for it!
Revolutionizing drug development:
Currently, the process of developing new drugs is too long and too expensive. However, there are ways to improve drug development with methods ranging from artificial intelligence to in silico trials. Such new technologies and approaches already are and will be dominating the pharmaceutical landscape in the years to come.
Companies like Turbine, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, and Deep Genomics are leveraging the power of A.I. to develop new drug candidates and novel therapeutic solutions in record time and speed up the time to market all while saving costs and lives.
Another promising healthcare technology is in silico drug trials. These are individualized computer simulations used in the development or regulatory evaluation of a medical product, device, or intervention. While the current technology and biological understanding don’t allow for completely simulated clinical trials. There is significant progress in this field with organs-on-a-chip, which are already being put into use. Hammond, or the “most complete, mathematical model of human physiology ever created”, is being employed in several research projects. Virtual models have also been created by the Virtual Physiological Human (VPN) Institute which is used to study heart diseases and osteoporosis.
Imagine if we could test thousands of new potential drugs on billions of virtual patient models in minutes. We might reach this stage in the near future.
One of the most exciting and fastest-growing fields of healthcare is robotics. Developments range from robot companions through surgical robots to pharmaceutics, disinfectant robots, or exoskeletons.
It saw Europe’s first exoskeleton-aided surgery and a tetraplegic man capable of controlling an exoskeleton with his brain! There are loads of other applications for these sci-fi suits from aiding nurses through lift elderly patients to helping patients with spinal cord injuries.
Robot companions also have their place in healthcare to help alleviate loneliness. Treat mental health issues, or even help children with chronic illnesses.
3D printing can bring wonders in all aspects of healthcare. We can now print bio tissues, artificial limbs, pills, blood vessels, and the list goes on, and will likely keep on doing so.
In developing a method to 3D-print living skin along with blood vessels. This development proves crucial for skin grafts for burn victims. Also, helping patients in need are NGOs like Refugee Open Ware and Not Impossible which 3D-print prosthetics for refugees from war-torn areas.
The pharmaceutical industry is also benefiting from this technology. FDA-approved 3D-printed drugs have been a reality and researchers are now working on 3D-printing “polypills”. These contain several layers of drugs to help patients adhere to their therapeutic plan.
We are truly living in revolutionary times for healthcare thanks to the advent of digital health. Our mission is to spread the knowledge and developments in healthcare that will be in the real era of the art of medicine.