By Robin Farmanfarmaian
Vice President, Strategic Relations
In a classic “Star Trek” episode, Captain Kirk and Spock lean over the battered body of Dr. McCoy. Spock waves a shiny device over the doctor’s chest.
He glances at it, “Severe heart damage. Signs of congestion in both lungs. Evidence of massive circulatory collapse.”
Spock may be smart, but he's no physician. However, his casual civilian access to medical data might be a reality very soon. As technology advances, care will increasingly shift into the hands of patients who have access to high-tech devices and state-of-the-art resources.
Current research reveals exciting possibilities as technology and healthcare continue to advance. Here’s a look at five ways technology is revolutionizing the medical field:
- 3-D Printing: California-based research company Organovo has printed human liver tissue to test drug toxicity on specific sections of the liver. Although printing organs for transplants may still be far off, this technology could be used in the near future with individual patients to test their toxicity reactions to specific drugs.
- Artificial Intelligence: IBM’s Watson is just the first step of using artificial intelligence in medicine. The supercomputer, which defeated two human champions in Jeopardy two years ago, is now being used to diagnose and manage lung cancer treatment. Imagine a computer that could evaluate and analyze your entire genome, biometric data, and environmental and personal data including your diet and activity level. The quantity of information is too much for a person to analyze efficiently, so adding an artificial intelligence component could help us get to a new level of understanding.
- BCI and BBIs: As Brain-Computer Interfaces become more advanced, healthcare will incorporate more complex human-computer connections. The uses range from helping people manage pain to controlling robotic limbs and more. Harvard University researchers recently created the first brain-to-brain interface that allowed a human to control a rat’s tail and another human’s movements with his mind.
- Robotics: Robotics are quickly advancing medical treatment. Ekso Bionics has already launched the first version of its eksoskeleton, which enables paraplegics to stand and walk independently. Emotionally and physically revolutionary, the technology allows a person who has spent 20 years in a wheelchair to stand on her own. This holds huge promise for the next generation of robotics.
- Electronic diagnoses: Technology promises to put the burden of care and diagnosis directly in the hands of patients. The XPRIZE Tricorder Challenge is sponsoring a $10 million race to develop a hand-held, non-invasive electronic device that can diagnose patients better than a panel of doctors. This could revolutionize how we see diagnostics. You will no longer have to go into a doctor’s office or hospital. Instead, a device in your home will analyze your data, diagnose the problem, and send your information to a doctor who can treat you remotely. Such a device could make healthcare more accessible in rural areas and developing nations. One of the devices up for the challenge is being developed by Scanadu, which also has an electronic urinanalysis stick similar to a pregnancy test that performs up to 12 different tests and sends the results through the cloud to your physician, eliminating the need for routine lab visits.
Changing patient experiences
Advances in technology are already making healthcare better, easier, more accurate, and more efficient for physicians, patients, hospital staff, and administrators.
These changes will no doubt affect the role of hospitals and emergency rooms. As continuous monitoring of biometric data becomes the norm, I see the ER being used as a dispatch center, with patients’ information reaching the hospital before they do. This will eliminate wait times and decrease the risk of disease transmission, especially important when immunocompromised patients face hours in the ER.
Patient-physician interactions will also be affected by changing technology. In a typical doctor visit, which lasts just 15 minutes, the provider must evaluate electronic and paper records, check vitals, diagnose, and communicate with a patient, and then provide effective treatment. Advancing technology means the first three of those tasks could be done automatically, giving the doctor more time to spend interacting with the patient and providing more accurate treatment. Patients will soon be monitoring their own vital signs. MC10 is prototyping a temporary tattoo (epidermal electronics) that remains for two weeks and effortlessly and continuously captures biometric data.
All of these advances translate into one main objective — improving patient outcomes. With access to more powerful tools that are cheaper, faster, and better than their predecessors, people will become increasingly responsible for their own health. This will lead to more effective care as people can detect problems much earlier in the process. Patients will no longer delay physician appointments for years because personal health will be ever-present. This will reduce healthcare costs on several levels and change the type of medical professionals the industry needs most.
I can’t even begin to anticipate much of what will come after all of this, but the possibilities for technology and healthcare really are endless. Now, if we could just get a transporter.
Robin Farmanfarmaian, a major driving force behind building the successful medical conference at Singularity University, has spent most of her career focused on making a positive impact on medicine and healthcare. Robin is the Founding Executive Producer of FutureMed and the Vice President of Strategic Relations for Singularity University. Connect with Robin on Twitter and LinkedIn.