I’m not a doctor…but I am a patient.
I’m also a keen observer of the world around me—especially when it involves my health.
For many healthcare professionals, I believe the recent challenges surrounding the industry have taken some of the enjoyment out of their work. Issues such as new and changing regulations, increased lawsuits, escalating costs, and barely manageable patient loads, among others, have all taken their toll on the doctors, nurses, and administrators who, I believe, entered the healthcare field to have a fulfilling, lifelong career serving people and helping them live better lives.
This situation presents a real issue for literally everyone fortunate enough to have access to modern healthcare. Population growth and aging populations in many countries around the world mean we need more healthcare professionals, not fewer. Happier, more productive doctors and nurses mean better care for their patients. And, people who dedicate years of their lives to practice medicine should have a satisfying work experience.
For healthcare professionals (and the rest of us), I have great news—we are at the cusp of a renaissance in healthcare. Technology—including the Internet of Everything (IoE), robotics, 3-D printing, wearable technology, cloud, mobility, and many others—promises to usher in this new era in healthcare. In short, the best is yet to come.
To make my point, here are a couple of examples that I believe will transform healthcare over the next 10 years. (For those of you attending the HIMSS13 conference March 3-7, I will be presenting several more examples in my keynote speech.)
1) Scaling expertise to broaden quality care: One of the challenges of healthcare today is that expertise is often contained in a fixed location or individual person. For example, a surgeon who has become an expert in performing a challenging, life-saving operation can be in only one place at a time. In the future, the combination of video, robotics, sensing, gesture recognition, and IoE will allow surgeons to perform operations at specially equipped, remote locations.
While Intuitive Surgical greatly improved patient outcomes with its ultra-precise robotic machines, one of the barriers to performing remote operations has been the lack of sensory feedback from robotic systems. Imagine using your hands to perform a complex operation if your fingers can’t feel pressure, temperature, and other sensations. Just recently, the FDA approved the first bionic hand that allows amputees to feel the sense of touch. This same technology, for instance, could be applied to a glove that allows surgeons to feel the remote surgery as if they were there in person.
2) Your patients…only better: Advances in 3-D printing are creating realistic-looking, anatomically correct and functional ears for patients. The ears are created by squirting (like an inkjet printer) living cells into an injection mold. In just three months, each ear grows cartilage in the shape of the mold. According to medical researchers and surgeons, the ersatz ears could soon replace the ears of children with congenital deformities or be used to reconstruct ears that have been damaged due to accidents. When it comes to sight, the FDA just approved Argus II, the first prosthesis to restore limited vision to patients blinded by retinitis pigmentosa. Meanwhile, researchers at Duke University have equipped rats with implanted sensors that enable them to see and respond to infrared light (normally invisible to human and rodent eyes). Could this technology help the blind to see? I believe the answer is “yes.”
Another key impact of technology on the healthcare industry is the changing role of medical facilities such as hospitals and doctors’ offices. Just as the Internet democratized information previously accessible to a privileged few, the technologies we just discussed could do the same for healthcare.
Just as these advances transform the care that can be delivered, it is important to understand that the physical structure of our healthcare system (hospitals, doctors’ offices, and more) will also change. For example, as healthcare becomes more pervasive and localized, hospitals could become centers of healthcare excellence that oversee the delivery of services to ensure quality and security, and deliver the best patient experiences possible. Healthcare will be both everywhere and nowhere.
Another important change is that healthcare will become more of an ongoing process in our daily lives rather than a series of static events when we need care. For example, imagine receiving a mini-checkup from your bathroom mirror every time you brush your teeth. Virtual reality, smart surfaces, cloud computing, gesture recognition, and new sensing advances like Eulerian Video Magnification can literally measure vital signs such as your heartbeat. This, and other information about your health could then be sent to your personal physician. Using resources such as advanced analytics and IBM’s Watson in the cloud, your doctor could be alerted to any issues that need to be addressed.
While technology will play a critical role in transforming healthcare, real and lasting change will come from people who have the passion to make a difference. Just as in the original Renaissance, all of the components for change are present (in this case, science, technology, physics, networks, and communications). It is now up to us to bring the pieces together to usher in the new era of healthcare.
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