As the country’s healthcare infrastructure continues towards the vision of the Five Year Forward View, we’re now starting to see a shift towards an any-time, any-place healthcare model, one that can flourish thanks to the technology that supports it. If this is the beginning of this transformation, what technologies could we see at the end?
Within the healthcare sector, it’s interesting to see that a number of its technological advances have a foundation in the Internet of Things. As sensors and devices connect with networks and analytics, we can start to see improvements across all areas of the medical ecosystem, including:
- Patients with wearables, applications and devices
- Home with activity monitoring, digital coaching and home-based medical equipment
- Community with mobility support, automated prescription kiosks and supply chain logistics
- Clinic with clinical-based medical devices, care coordination plans and embedded laboratory technology
- Hospital with smart operating rooms, patient biometric surveillance and connected medical equipment
We’ve picked 8 developing technologies that could soon see real-time applications in the healthcare sector, many of which are already at early prototype stage today.
- 3D Printing
- An advancement originating from the industrial sector; 3D printing already has several applications in the healthcare market including 3D printed implants and prosthetics. Another recent development is 3D printed medicines that will allow for personalised medicine and customised drug formulations, essentially targeting treatments based on the conditions of the individual. There is also bioprinting – the printing of organic tissue. This can help with everything from skin tissue for burn victims to organ replacement for patients on the transplant list.
- We’re already seeing advances with artificial intelligence in the form of Google Deepmind and IBM Watson Health. With machine learning, the applications for healthcare technology are truly limitless. AI today is already providing vital support including digital diagnoses, therapy efficiency predictions and medical data mining.
- A.R. / V.R.
- Advances in Augmented and Virtual Reality can have significant benefits to both sides of the doctor/patient dynamic. V.R. can be used to complement medical training whilst A.R. can be used to overlay patient data and biometrics during surgery. There are already solutions in place, with a surge expected in the next few years.
- Digital Avatars
- In the future, after we self-diagnose, we will most likely require further medical support. Whilst Telehealth will no doubt be an option, especially considering how popular digital doctor visits are becoming, we could soon see support from a purely digital source. When you combine AI with advances in holographics, a digital avatar could use your medical information to support your query. Beyond answering questions, this avatar could book appointments, share notes with your doctor or even request further medical assistance. The provision of medical care is paramount; however digital avatars could alleviate pressure on the healthcare system.
- Nanorobots play completely different roles when compared to their larger siblings. Research is already exploring their potential – monitoring vitals, carrying oxygen, destroying infections, targeting drug delivery – the list goes on. There are even studies into nanorobots performing in situ surgery themselves!
- Quantum Computing
- Whether it’s mapping a genome or looking into population-wide health data, we’re already experiencing short-falls with our computing power, even with supercomputers! With quantum computing, we’ll have a far higher calculation capacity that can help not only help solve complex healthcare problems, but provide insights from large data sets.
- Healthcare has an established history with robotics. Whilst not all applications are advanced as the Da Vinci surgical robot, there are successful cases from across the technological spectrum. For example, there are telepresence robots that will allow a doctor to virtually examine a patient from long distance. There are also robots that can transport supplies autonomously, can lift patients from beds or wheelchairs as well as robots that can complement treatments.
- “The Medical Tricorder”
- Whilst many will be familiar with the tricorder from the Star Trek franchise, there is research into the development of a hand-held diagnostic device that can scan the body and diagnose ailments without intrusive tests or examinations. The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize competition was launched in 2012 in the hopes of developing a consumer-friendly interface device that could diagnose medical conditions. The winners are set to be announced in 2017.
It’s astonishing to think that in 5, 10 or even 20 years, we could wirelessly diagnose a condition, speak to an AI doctor, program nanorobots to target infected cells and then use Augmented Reality for rehabilitation – treatments that today, are just concepts or prototypes. Whilst our own NHS continues its transformation, we’re seeing more cases where these paradigm-shifting technologies are not only changing lives, but the future of the global healthcare industry. If The Singularity is predicted to occur in the 2040s, will this technology bring it closer or will our improved health push it further?