Many of these medical technologies are in their infancy but all hold the power to revolutionise the health sector
Well… we say half century but a lot of the health technologies we’ll be discussing today are happening right now.
What may surprise you is that, over the coming years, these technologies are going to become even more advanced but also utterly commonplace, to the point where they’ll be familiar to even the youngest of children.
In years past the tech sector may have looked to science fiction shows for inspiration but the revolution that’s occurring in health technology today, right now in fact, is often beyond the dreams of even the most ‘out there’ of sci-fi writers.
Digital healthcare technologies such as AI, VR & AR, 3D printing, robotics, genome sequencing and nanotech are improving the lives of millions around the globe already so it’s important that people in both the health and tech sectors familiarise themselves with the possibilities of the coming years so that they can play an active part in the revolution currently reforging the health sector.
There’s no doubt the future of the health sector lies in working ever closer with technology, meaning health workers need to allow themselves to be empowered by the possible to remain relevant. Robots aren’t going to replace doctors; AI won’t dictate patient care; genetic testing isn’t creepy.
All the fake news that floats around about technology in the health sector is just that, either fake, misunderstood or misleading.
Technology isn’t scary, at least, it doesn’t have to be.
It’s there to make patients lives easier by supporting health care professionals, giving them better tools to care for people.
Within the healthcare system, digital technologies could help transform unsustainable healthcare models into sustainable ones, provide cheaper, faster and more efficient solutions to problems afflicting millions but… for that to happen, healthcare professionals need to understand the science of what’s possible, what’s coming next and be confident enough in that to feel empowered, rather than threatened by it.
Cloud computing through companies like Microsoft is becoming more and more common in healthcare as it facilitates interoperability so well.
It reduces overheads and operational costs, provides demonstrably better services and improves general processes, making them faster and more efficient.
Patient records can be stored safely within the cloud and if using something like the Dataverse across all departments, all healthcare (with suitable access levels set) would be able to access those records as needed. No matter what department (think health and social organisations) or even device, meaning they could access them on the move if needed.
It’s also one of the safest ways to store data, with a tremendous amount of security that automatically backs up data to prevent any losses.
Over the next few years, as department after department goes through a digital transformation, it will be common place for all data to be stored in the same format (think Microsoft’s Dataverse) meaning disparate departments and organisations can all easily access it to improve interoperability.
AI has the potential, if adopted in the right way, to completely transform the healthcare sector.
A well-designed AI algorithm would be capable of data-mining patient records, looking for common trends and past behaviours and then creating a treatment plan that would just need approving by a medical professional, all in a fraction of the time it would usually take.
It goes much further than that though.
Google’s DeepMind created an A.I for breast cancer analysis that outperformed human radiologists on detecting breast cancer by 11.5%.
Just think what might be capable in the years to come!
The healthcare sector was forced to adopt new remote strategies during the COVID pandemic, technologies that allowed healthcare professionals to provide essential services, patient care and diagnosis’ when not directly present with the patient.
One huge example of this would be Microsoft Teams.
Rather than going back to the way things were however, these remote technologies are becoming the ‘new normal’.
Going forward it will become more and more common place to see Doctors remotely in the comfort of your own home. No more long queues at the hospital, no more picking up colds in a GP’s waiting room. Instead, for most minor symptoms (and some larger ones) you’ll be able to speak to a
healthcare professional through convenient apps, either on a mobile device or your laptop.
Alongside Telehealth, another big trend that’s likely to be seen coming to the forefront in coming years will be wearable teach capable of monitoring an individual’s health.
Wearable technology for healthcare goes hand in hand with the goal of empowering patients, allowing a person to truly take control of their own health and treatment.
This tech already exists in the form of pacemakers remotely sending back feedback through a Wi-Fi connection but imagine if that process was taken to its logical conclusion and technologies such as Fitbit watches could inform doctors (or more likely an AI) of a patient’s live health, altering both them and if necessary, the emergency services should something go wrong.
That’s the dream of every medical professional, isn’t it?
An all knowing, all encompassing medical device that can just be waved over a patient, measure their vitals and instantly diagnose what’s wrong with them.
Although we’re not quite there yet, we’re also not as far away as you might think…
Multiple companies are working on handheld devices capable of monitoring ECG, respiratory rate, heart rate oxygen saturation, temperature, blood pressure and more. Many of these devices even come fitted with cameras to enable telemedical usage, allowing patients to use them themselves in their own home and relay the results back to their caregivers.
It won’t be long before we start seeing health professionals out in the field (and patients in their own home) with powerful, microscope like devices attached to smart phones, capable of performing all the above functions whilst also analysing swab samples, skin lesions and even abnormalities in a person’s DNA or anomalies in their antibodies.
With the use of an electronic nose or ultrasonic probe connected to a smart phone, physicians will be able to diagnose patients more accurately than ever or patients will be able to do it themselves with the results automatically being uploaded to their medical files.
Virtual Reality (VR) isn’t new, it’s been around since the ‘80’s, almost exclusively for the gaming community. It’s only very recently however that it’s actually started to become any ‘good’.
What does VR have to do with the health sector you ask?
Imagine if surgeons didn’t have to wait for a patient fell ill before getting to practice complex procedures, but instead could learn how to perform them, over and over again in a life like virtual simulation.
That’s happening right now.
A study conducted by Harvard Business Review concluded a VR-trained surgeon would have a 230% increase to their overall performance when compared to a surgeon who had only been ‘classically’ trained. Not only did their performance go up however, but they were also measurably faster and more accurate.
It’s not just doctors benefiting from the adoption of this new wave of VR though. VR headsets given to women in labour whilst showing soothing landscapes have been shown to be effective in pain management. Patients suffering with gastrointestinal, cardiac, neurological pr post-surgical pain have also reported a decline in their pain levels when using VR to distract them from other distracting (painful) stimuli.
Hot on the heels of Virtual reality comes Augmented Reality (AR). It differs from VR in a number of small but important ways. Users of AR don’t ‘lose touch’ with reality as they do with VR, instead information, data or graphics are put in front of someone’s eyes as an overlay over the real world.
Whilst AR is still in its infancy with the health sector, its possibilities are enormous.
Much like VR, AR allows medical professionals to better prepare for real life situations. Many medical students now make use of Microsoft’s HoloLens to use the HoloAnatomy app. This allows students to study incredibly detailed depictions of the human body, complete with labels floating mid-air over the relevant parts.
As these technologies become more refined, they’ll become much more ubiquitous within the health sector as a whole.
From the virtual to the real… of everything discussed in this article, 3-D printing is most likely to turn the healthcare sector upside down.
Technicians, rather than waiting for donor parts, can already 3-D print bio tissue, artificial limbs, blood vessels and more… and that list will only get longer as the technology becomes more advanced and mainstream.
From the macro, we move on to the micro. Whilst many of the other technologies mentioned in this article could be considered already well established, the health sector really is in the early infancy of the nanomedicine age.
That being said however, it wont be long before nanodevices, nanoparticles and even nanodoctors or surgeons will be operating on patients.
Operating alongside wearable tech, experimentation is already happening with ‘smart patches’ that use nanotech to continuously monitor wounds, stimulate faster healing and keep health care professionals updated as to the progress.
The health sector has barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with nanotech and the future of this discipline is filled with advances that will advance peoples health immeasurably.
Robotics is already an established and fast moving field within healthcare, with surgeons already using robotic tools to help them in the theatre. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing medical fields at the moment, with advances being made in surgical robots, pharmbotics, hospital disinfectant robots as well as exoskeletons.
Advances in exoskeleton technology are currently helping many with physical impairments live completely normal lives, allowing paralysed people to walk again and speeding up the rehabilitation of stroke victims and those who have suffered spinal injuries. There was even a case from 2019 on a tetraplegic man able to control his exoskeleton directly with his thoughts through various sensors!
Developing new drugs is currently a long and manual process, requiring testing first on animals, then on humans.
However, the way the pharmaceutical sector is currently heading means AI could completely revolutionise that. Whilst AI is already being used, as the technology grows, it’s use in developing new and more efficient drugs will only increase.
Whilst are current level of technology doesn’t allow for completely simulated clinical trials, that time might not be so far away.
The goal is to be able to test millions of potential drugs and drug combinations on billions of virtual patents in minutes in the very near future, revolutionising the sector with a wave of better, more efficient pharmaceutical options.