People are living longer. That’s the good news, but longer life spans are bringing with them a number of chronic diseases, placing a significant strain on healthcare systems around the world. Driven by a public funding crisis, patients are spending more on private health insurance and healthcare services; yet overworked doctors, a fragmented system and non-transparent practices are often leading to misdiagnosis and over or under-treatment. However, despite the difficulties just listed, we are actually living in one of the most progressive eras of healthcare. Thanks to the exponential growth of technology in the last decade, we are on the cusp of an opportunity to provide advanced, personalised healthcare that will improve the lives of people all over the world. From hacking our own DNA through genome editing to AI and bio-printing replacement organs, the healthcare industry is going to be given the means to radically re-create what we think of when we talk about medicine. This is not technology that will create and apply itself. Everyone from practitioners to insurers to the patients themselves will be responsible for making sure this technology is used to create the future of healthcare.
Data and AI
In the future, existing healthcare institutions will slowly be crushed as new business models, with better and more efficient care, emerge. Big data giants (Google, Apple, Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Tencent, Alibaba, etc.) are trying to revolutionise healthcare by analysing vast amounts of medical data and reaching conclusions on how to treat disease, and ultimately prevent it.
One of the advantages technology companies have is their ability to capture this data through wearables. 24/7 feedback on biometric signals will offer patients a running data model of their own health, offering the chance to receive live advice and preventative measures.
Helping make sense of all this will be a AI, which will analyse big data to find patterns, associations, insights and ultimately make predictions, based on algorithms. AI can help doctors reach the right diagnosis faster and suggest to doctors and patients the correct course of treatment.
we are on the cusp of an opportunity to provide advanced, personalised healthcare that will improve the lives of people all over the world
Genetics and personalised medicine
Ten years ago, it cost US$1 million to have your full DNA sequenced. Today it costs $1,000 and soon this will drop to $100. Genome sequencing and machine learning will allow us to better understand the root cause of many of the most debilitating diseases today. With the abundance of information that could be stored in the cloud, we will be able to diagnose illnesses and identify the best treatment through personalised matching.
Nanobots, robots that enter then repair or monitor designated parts of the body, aim to bring about medical breakthroughs at the most microscopic scale. As part of this trend, researchers are developing solutions which include: a nanoparticle that can combat the ‘superbug’ bacteria, a solution to avert a crisis that was long considered unavoidable; improving drug delivery of existing medications, using nanobots to help guide drug molecules towards specific cells in the body; and nano-sensors for a range of diseases to aid the early detection and treatment of medical conditions at a molecular level.
a future of efficient, high quality, personalised and accurate healthcare awaits
Genome editing is a way of making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism. Enzyme cuts the DNA at a specific sequence, and when this is repaired by the cell, a change or ‘edit’ is made to the sequence. Genome editing can be used to add, remove, or alter DNA in the genome and therefore change the characteristics of a cell or an organism. The implications of this are huge as we will be able to remove parts of our DNA that cause specific diseases
Gene therapy and stem cell therapy
One issue that has always been around is the lack of suitable organ donors. Through regenerative medicine and bio-printing we will be able to regrow a heart, liver, lung or kidney without anyone else involved. As well as being able to grow new organs, advancements in stem cell research will allow for previous incurable diseases to be tackled though modifying genes.
Finally, another exciting development for the future of healthcare comes in the form of robotic surgeons able to carry out autonomous, consistent surgical procedures perfectly. Linked with AI and augmented reality (AR), robotic surgery will be a game changer.
A day in the life of the future
These exciting and disruptive technologies mean that healthcare implications for individuals are infinite. Consider this scenario:
- A patient’s genetic data, blood tests and scans are uploaded into the cloud. They immediately receive highly personalised genetic profiling, risk profile and cloud medicine.
- Their diagnosis is made via big data analysis. Supported by multi-disciplinary discussions with specialists across the world, big data and AI will predict what treatment will work best for the patient.
- A world-leading surgeon in New York City remotely controls a robot to perform a complex surgery on a patient in London.
- The patient recuperates at home with wearables transmitting vital signs and alerts in real-time to the hospital catching complications on time.
Technology is not a magic bullet and the above certainly won’t appear from nowhere. To ensure that it’s used correctly, everyone must play their part. But once this is done, a future of efficient, high quality, personalised and accurate healthcare awaits. ■