The future of healthcare is shaping up in front of our very eyes with advances in digital healthcare technologies, such as artificial intelligence, VR/AR, 3D-printing, robotics or nanotechnology. We have to familiarize ourselves with the latest developments in order to be able to control technology and not the other way around.
The future of healthcare lies in working hand-in-hand with technology. Healthcare workers have to embrace emerging healthcare technologies in order to stay relevant in the coming years.
Be bold, curious and informed!
Fear of robots taking over healthcare jobs, AI taking control of the world and growing virtual reality addiction are common and may seem unrelated, but ultimately they all represent a fear of the unknown future. But no matter how scary the future might seem at the moment, we cannot stop technological development; and sooner or later we will find out that whole areas of our lives have been transformed through various technologies.
Thus, our task is to turn to technologies with an open mind and to prepare for the changing world with as much knowledge as possible.
Technology can only aid and improve our lives if we stand on its shoulders and if we are always (at least) two steps ahead. But if we adhere to this rule, the cooperation between people and technology could result in amazing achievements.
By embracing digital technology in healthcare, we can create sustainable systems, equalize doctor-patient relationships, and find more effective solutions for diseases, ultimately leading to healthier individuals and communities. It’s essential to start by improving our health and attitude towards health, medicine, and healthcare through digital technologies.
As you are probably well aware, we did our fair share in this preparation, writing hundreds of articles, creating hundreds of videos, publishing dozens of studies and research papers, and of course, writing a good number of books.
So what does it all look like in practice? To serve as an introduction, this article will explore 10 ways in which medical technology is reshaping healthcare. For more in-depth analysis and further examples, I invite you to check The Guide to the Future of Medicine.
1. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence has the potential to redesign healthcare completely. AI algorithms are able to mine medical records, design treatment plans or create drugs way faster than any current actor on the healthcare palette including any medical professional. And with the recent generative AI revolution, they finally became available and useful for everyday people and everyday healthcare professionals.
Atomwise aims to reduce the costs of medicine development by using supercomputers to predict from a database of molecular structures in advance which potential medicines will work, and which won’t. Their deep convolutional neural network, AtomNet, screens more than 100 million compounds each day.
Google’s Med-PaLM is the first large language model specifically trained for medical purposes, and its second iteration is reported to be significantly outperforming the first version. While it is not accessible to everyday folks, it’s already being tested in an extended circle of hospitals
These are only two of the many companies using AI to advance healthcare in numerous ways from designing new drugs to disrupting diagnostics. We’ve collected our favourite examples of how some of the players currently on the market are keeping their eyes on the future in a recent article. Imagine what horizons would open for humanity if early utilization of AI results in such amazing discoveries!
2. Extended reality
Extended reality (XR) holds the potential to be the next major computing platform. Collectively, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) fall under the umbrella term of XR – and all of them are relevant in terms of the future of medicine.
While the technology is still maturing, AR already has some promising use cases in healthcare. Neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins University performed their first AR-assisted spinal fusion surgery in 2020. A similar procedure with the technology was successfully completed in December 2022 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in the State of New York.
Mixed reality adds an additional layer of depth and perspective to the virtual elements that enable further interactions which are not possible through AR. MR use has largely remained in the realm of industries – rather than that of the general consumer – through devices such as the Microsoft Hololens and the Magic Leap. In this example, physicians employed the MR headset to hold hands-free conversations with colleagues and patients while viewing medical notes and X-rays for clinical decision-making.
3. Health trackers, wearables and sensors
As the future of medicine and healthcare is closely connected to the empowerment of patients as well as individuals taking care of their own health through technologies, I cannot leave out health trackers, wearables and sensors from my selection. They are great devices for getting to know more about ourselves and retake control over our own lives. I also use a dozen health trackers on a daily basis to live healthily.
I personally use a Withings watch and sensors to monitor my sleep and track my workout. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the years I have tested over a hundred digital health devices and wrote multiple times about how we can harness these new capabilities.
Regardless of whether you would like to manage your weight, stress level, cognitive capabilities better or would like to reach an overall fit and energetic state, there is a device which is guaranteed to meets your needs and do even more! The beauty of these new tech-fuelled devices is that they really make patients the point-of-care. With the ability to monitor one’s health at home and share the results remotely with their physician, these devices empower people to take control of their health and make more informed decisions.
4. Portable diagnostics devices
When it comes to gadgets and instant solutions, there is the great dream that every healthcare professional shares: to have one almighty and omnipotent device, with which you can diagnose and analyze every disease. It even materialized – although only on screen – as the medical tricorder in Star Trek. When Dr McCoy grabbed his tricorder and scanned a patient, the portable, hand–held device immediately listed vital signs, other parameters, and a diagnosis. It was the Swiss Army knife for physicians.
Thanks to the exponential progress in healthcare technology, we now live in a world where similar devices, which were once a figment of sci-fi enthusiasts’ imaginations, are available! The Viatom CheckMe Pro is one such palm-sized gadget which can measure ECG, heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, blood pressure and more! There are also other companies working on similar devices like the MedWand which on top of measuring multiple vital parameters, includes a camera for telemedical purposes.
Then there’s the FDA-cleared BioSticker from BioIntelliSense which, despite being tiny and thin, can measure a wide range of parameters such as respiratory rate, heart rate, skin temperature, body position, activity levels, sleep status, gait and more. And of course, we shouldn’t forget about portable ultrasounds like the Philips Lumify and the Clarius Portable Ultrasound we tested a while ago or the Kosmos by EchoNous, so far the only portable ultrasound benchmarked against cart-based machines I could try. The AI-backed, portable device still impresses me.
5. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing
The whole Human Genome Project cost the US government approximately $2.7 billion, which is an insanely huge amount of money. Especially if you consider that a few years later DNA sequencing giant Illumina unveiled a new machine that the company says is “expected one day” to order up your whole genome for less than $100. Just recently we started reading the first news reports about this prediction becoming a reality.
Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has come very far in the past few years. A great number of companies have started offering valuable insights, implementing new methods, while the technology in other areas is still not delivering too much.
DTC genetic tests provide individuals with personalized information about their genetic predispositions to various health conditions, enabling them to take proactive measures in prevention and early intervention, which is crucial for maintaining a good quality of life for longer. Additionally, it empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their lifestyle and healthcare, which can lead to better overall well-being and longevity.
6. Revolutionizing drug development
Currently, the process of developing new drugs is too long and too expensive. However, there are ways to improve drug development with methods ranging from artificial intelligence to in silico trials. Such new technologies and approaches already are and will remain to dominate the pharmaceutical landscape in the years to come.
Companies like Turbine, Atomwise and Deep Genomics are leveraging the power of AI to develop new drug candidates and novel therapeutic solutions in record time and shorten the time necessary to release these to the market, all while saving costs and lives.
Another promising healthcare technology is in silico drug trials. These are individualized computer simulations used in the development or regulatory evaluation of a medical product, device or intervention. While the current technology and biological understanding doesn’t allow for completely simulated clinical trials, there is significant progress in this field with organs-on-a-chip, which are already being put in use. HumMod, or the “most complete, mathematical model of human physiology ever created”, is being employed in several research projects.
Imagine if we could test thousands of new potential drugs on billions of virtual patient models in minutes? We might reach this stage in the near future.
7. Digital therapeutics
Digital Therapeutics or DTx in short is one of the latest buzzwords in the digital health ecosystem. Unlike others (NFT, Metaverse just to name a few) however, we see DTx as a meaningful trend that has the capacity to create short-term, substantial improvements in personalised healthcare.
DTx delivers evidence-based, clinically backed solutions to manage and/or improve health conditions via software and/or other digital health technologies. Drugs and digital therapeutics (DTx) have a symbiotic relationship. While DTx brings unique advantages, it works best in conjunction with traditional therapeutics. Together, they can deliver impressive results, such as reducing readmission rates and managing chronic conditions more effectively.
DTx solutions are typically delivered through smartphone apps. In other words, via a channel pretty much everyone has access to. Not only is that important because accessibility is one of the key factors for any new solution to become widely used. It also allows a certain kind of privacy, bringing treatments to the patients’ homes, removing stigmas typically connected to a number of therapies, either in substance abuse care or in mental health.
DTx represent a whole new pathway of healing that requires a bit of acclimatization: we visit app stores in addition to the pharmacy and use our phones next to, or sometimes in instead of, swallowing pills
8. Consumer medical robotics
One of the most exciting and fastest growing fields of healthcare is robotics; developments range from robot companions through surgical robots to pharmabotics, disinfectant robots and exoskeletons.
We’ve already seen Europe’s first exoskeleton-aided surgery and how a tetraplegic man became capable of controlling an exoskeleton with his brain! There are loads of other applications for these sci-fi suits from aiding nurses through lifting elderly patients to helping patients with spinal cord injuries.
Robot companions also have their place in healthcare to help alleviate loneliness, treat mental health issues or even help children with chronic illnesses. The Pepper, Paro and Buddy robots are all existing examples.
AI-powered prosthetics is another interesting field with breathtaking potential, although such prosthetics are not yet widely available. But with time, the costs of components will go down and these technologies will become an integral part of creating artificial limbs. We’re still years from seeing AI-limbs being commonplace but it’s a time to look forward to.
9. 3D-printing & bioprinting
3D-printing can bring wonders to all aspects of healthcare. We are still quite far from easily printing ready-to-use organs – and get rid of transplant waiting lists forever -, but the field is advancing in a steady pace with exciting announcements arriving regularly.
The pharmaceutical industry is also benefiting from this technology. FDA-approved 3D-printed drugs have been a reality since 2015 and researchers are working on 3D-printing “polypills”. These contain several layers of drugs so as to help patients adhere to their therapeutic plan.
A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany and the University of California at Davis have developed a method for 3D printing pills that can control the rate at which drugs are released. And in February 2023, a hospital in Spain launched a study to test the efficacy, tolerability, and acceptance of a drug produced for children using a 3D printer.
10. Patient empowerment and patient design
What is the difference between patient design and patient centricity? The latter has been the buzzword of the past two decades, however, the only thing it actually meant was “we might think about you when we make decisions”. It kept patients in a passive role, the decisions were made by the traditional stakeholders of the medical ecosystem.
Patient design is a different concept, one that invites patients to be active participants – and stakeholders – at the highest levels of decision-making in healthcare. This is called a “co-design” approach, and is defined as “a creative practice that can be used to improve customer experience and enhance value”. Patient empowerment has been evolving for decades, but information liquidity and access to technology made it explode in this century—and it became visible to the naked eye.
Healthcare carries many concepts that are no longer valid but are ingrained so deeply that we mostly never even stop to think about them. Involving patients in decision-making will help identify these fossils and look at them with fresh eyes.
Food for thought
We are truly living in revolutionary times for healthcare thanks to the advent of digital health. Our mission is to spread the knowledge and developments in healthcare that will usher in the real era of the art of medicine. Join us in this mission by sharing our articles and your thoughts with us!
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