It goes without saying that our society is moving faster than it ever has in the past. From digital networks to wearables, the health care industry is undergoing massive technological changes. As medical technology surges forward with unprecedented speed and accuracy, many of us are left in the ensuing dust storm of obsolete procedures that were commonplace mere decades ago. But if we look up and gaze into the near future, we can see the beginnings of a whole new world of medical treatments that the doctors of yesterday couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Ray Kurzweil says technology is improving at an exponential rate. Peter Thiel says technological innovations couldn’t live up to the expectations. There are plenty of philosophies and schools of thought, but regarding the future of medicine, only two things are certain.
Technology will not solve the problems that healthcare faces globally today. And the human touch alone is not enough anymore, therefore a new balance is needed between using disruptive innovations but still keeping the human interaction between patients and caregivers. Here are 10 technologies that could enable this.
For the first time in the history of medicine, on 14 April 2016 Shafi Ahmed cancer surgeon performed an operation using a virtual reality camera at the Royal London hospital. Everyone could participate in the operation in real time through the Medical Realities website and the VR in OR app.
The potential application of virtual reality goes far beyond gaming and entertainment. Healthcare is one of the biggest adopters of virtual reality which encompasses surgery simulation, phobia treatment, robotic surgery and skills training.
Medical students will study anatomy on virtual dissection tables and not on human cadavers. What we used to learn from huge textbooks will be transformed into virtual 3D solutions and models using augmented reality. We can observe, change and create anatomical models as fast as we want, as well as analyze structures in every detail. Different Softwares are being developed for medical training.
Hospitals are a place to go when you’re sick to get treatment, but did you know that in the United States, more than 2 million people are affected by hospital-acquired infections every year, and 100,000 people die as a result. And it costs an estimated $20 billion to treat these infections.
The main cause for spread of infection could be through the input devices. These input devices are swiped with a disinfectant cloth but are not cleaned properly. Imagine how many germs from 100’s of patients is collecting in the crevices.
A holographic data input like a keyboard or mouse may help reduce the amount of infections people are exposed to. With this we will probably not even need hardware to add data to a laptop or PC as screens and keyboards will be projected on the wall or on the table making it simple and accessible everywhere in the clinical settings.
A Novartis chief announced that the digital contact lens patented by Google would become available in 2016. As it will measure blood glucose from tears, it is supposed to change diabetes treatment and management. Moreover, HoloLens from Microsoft also comes out in 2016 which will have a huge impact on fields from medical education to architecture and engineering. It could help medical students do dissections for many hours a day from any angles without the formaldehyde smell.
A clinic in Germany started experimenting with an application using augmented reality on iPads in the OR. During operations, surgeons can see through anatomical structures such as blood vessels in the liver without opening organs. Therefore, they can perform more precise excisions.
Organovo has been in the focus because of 3D printing biomaterials for years. They announced successfully bio printed liver tissues in 2014 and they seemed to be 4-6 years away from printing liver parts for transplantation. But first, these bio-printed livers could be finally used in the pharmaceutical industry to replace animal models when analyzing the toxicity of new drugs. Once they are through examinations, we could expect to have 3D-Printed Liver Transplants by the next decade. Bionic ears and simpler organs will be printed at the patient’s bedside.
Using 3D printers, researchers at Washington State University have developed a hybrid material that has the same properties—the same strength and flexibility—as real bone. The printer they’re using is a ProMetal 3D printer. The hybrid material is a combination of zinc, silicon, and calcium phosphate that works well—so well, in fact, that the entire process has already been successfully tested in rabbits.
The printed bone can then be placed in the body at the site of the fracture while the real bone grows up and around it like a scaffolding. Once the process is complete, the model disintegrates. When the bone material was combined with stem cells, the natural bone grew back much faster than normal.
The real benefit of this technology is feasibility to print any tissue or full organs with 3D printers once we have the right combination of starting materials.
Even the most acclaimed professors can only keep a few studies in mind, but there are actually 25 million papers in the database of Pubmed.com. It is humanly impossible now to keep up with these. But help is coming. IBM’s supercomputer named Watson has been tested at several clinics in the decision making process. While the doctor talks with the patient, Watson checks the medical records and the global literature, then makes suggestions. Every time, the doctor makes the final call with all the required information being available.
IBM’s Medical Sieve project aims to diagnose most lesions with a smart software, leaving room for radiologists to focus on the most important cases instead of checking hundreds of images every day.
AtomWise aims to reduce the costs of medicine development by using supercomputers to predict, in advance, which potential medicines will work, and which won’t. Google Deepmind Health is used to mine the data of medical records in order to provide better and faster health services. The project is in its initial phase, and at present they found a partner in the British hospital Moorfield’s Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to improve eye treatment.
Ian Pearson wrote in his book, You Tomorrow, about the possibility that one day we will be able to create digital selves based on neurological information. It means we could upload our minds to a computer and live on in a digital form. As Google hired Ray Kurzweil to create the ultimate artificial intelligence controlled brain, this opportunity should not be so far away. We might have been looking for the secret of immortality in the wrong places.
In my next post, I would discuss the other 5 technologies in the list impacting the future of Medical and healthcare.