Things have changed a lot since then. It was time to give some thought to how those trends turned out and what real-life examples exist today. While reviewing recent advances in each trend shaping the future of medicine, I learned five key ways medicine and healthcare are improving with the digital revolution.
Learn the current state of the 40 trends shaping the future of medicine – from 3D bioprinted tissues to virtual clinical trials and holographic medical education. Get the free Guide!
1) Medical technology is mind-blowing
No matter how hard regulations and the complexity of human biology makes innovating in medicine, the pace of innovation in healthcare is amazingly fast. Announcements and news amaze us every day, even if we grew up reading and watching science fiction. Companies have successfully printed out liver and kidney tissues; customized prosthetics and even drugs approved by the FDA. IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence collects massive amounts of information and plans the best treatment option for patients by checking all relevant medical studies, and deep learning algorithms will do even more. Digital tattoos can measure the major health parameters and vital signs to let us know when there’s something to take care of through our smartphones. Augmented reality devices such as Hololens from Microsoft can project digital scenes on what we see and prepare doctors for difficult procedures. Healthcare innovation just doesn’t stop surprising us.
2) Hype doesn’t help
There are trends which I was too optimistic about. And hype doesn’t help them become viable and sustainable. After a decade of blind expectations, The Wall Street Journal has raised serious concerns about Theranos’ one-drop blood tests. Now we must wait for clear details of their technology. Optogenetics, using light to control cell behavior in living tissues still remains a promise for the far future. The iKnife that can detect cancerous tissue during operation seems to have vanished completely. If something sounds too good to be true in medicine, extreme caution and clear evidence are required before spreading the word about it, or patients can get hurt.
3) Nothing will happen if we don’t lift a finger
There have been technological trends that do not only require the attention of research groups and funds, but also patients, physicians and others from the general public. The swarm of wearable sensors will never become affordable and comprehensive without us buying devices, measuring our health and pushing companies to develop ever more powerful technology. Patient empowerment will never reach mainstream status without us demanding to be informed and engaged in our care. When the New York Times offered a free Google Cardboard to its edition in 2015, people started understanding and experiencing its power at home. But without such steps, technologies will not be able to enter the market in earnest. The E-Nable project brought together makers and experts to deliver very cheap, 3D printed prosthetics to regions where people cannot afford them. The future of medicine is brought closer with every such step.
4) Big companies can speed up innovation in healthcare
There are some directions that haven’t demonstrated their real potential. Robotic nurses are struggling with the “Uncanny valley” effect and there is no consensus about what they should look like not to freak out patients. In 2013, there were rumors about startups revolutionizing adherence control by inserting microchips into drug capsules to let physicians see if and when patients take them. We have been waiting for devices that allow holographic data input but only simplistic, toy-like gadgets have become available. Without large companies investing in them, they will have a long way to go before mainstream adoption. A great example is L’Oréal, the cosmetics company investing into a wearable sensor that lets the wearer know if their exposure to the Sun reaches dangerous levels.
5) Research and data turns ideas into reality
Clear evidence has emerged for many of the trends and technological directions I featured in 2013. There is hope after all that a new healthcare system based on disruptive technologies but emphasizing the human touch will become a reality. Oncompass and Foundation Medicine makes personalized treatment plans for cancer patients using the genetic background of their tumor after doing so for thousands of patients. Researchers at the Wyss Institute work on organs-on-a-chips that mimic the physiology of human organs. The Heal smartphone app in the US lets patients find physicians just like Uber connects drivers to passengers. TrialReach helps patients find open clinical trials in their medical condition. Accurately measuring data and the needs of patients help identify those ideas with the biggest potential. What happens next? It depends on all of us – patients, physicians, researchers and developers. We can’t wait for organizations and governments to realize the future of medicine without our active help. We can change healthcare for the better only by pushing technologies forward, and celebrating the human, personal elements in healthcare simultaneously.