How technology is shaping our health
The Covid-19 pandemic has probably done more for the adoption of technology in healthcare in the past two years than any other period of time and the industry is primed for the next generation of innovation and, much like the dot com boom in the early 2000’s, the business of healthcare technology is seeing huge opportunities to launch devices, treatments and medicines into the market that will benefit, primarily patients, as well as medical service providers themselves.
Traditionally, we have considered medicine and healthcare to be a highly labour-intensive field; anyone who knows a doctor or nurse knows just how many hours of physical and demanding work it takes to look after patients. Throughout history, our knowledge of anatomy has thankfully come on leaps and bounds, but if we were to transport a 19th century doctor or nurse into a modern-day hospital, they would likely recognise much of what they see in the way we treat patients, ward after, ward of beds and sterile operating rooms, just as it was in their day. What would stand out however, would be all the technology used in modern diagnostics and treatment.
It is these developments in technology which are driving the advances that will allow scientists and medical professionals to fight new diseases, discover cures and identify new treatments for common illnesses, with a goal to improve the quality of, and save, more lives.
The role of artificial intelligence in medicine has been around for as long as the technology itself. It helps to mine medical records and design treatment plans faster and more accurately than anyone in the medical field, doctors included. From Google’s Deep Mind AI algorithm that can identify breast cancer more than 11% more accurately than radiologists, to a supercomputer that uses a database holding the molecular structure of known medicines to identify drugs that can be redesigned to treat new viruses.
Much of the same can be said with virtual reality, with a Harvard Business Review study demonstrating that surgeons trained with VR assisted technology and apps preformed more than 230% better than those who trained through traditional methods only, as well as being faster and more accurate.
If there’s one good thing to have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the benefits to global healthcare, albeit benefits that have come about by necessity. From improvements in testing, diagnostics and genome analysis, to improved access to healthcare around the world, through electronic medical records (EMR’s), accessible from anywhere, remote GP appointments and proof that when it is needed, development and deployment of medicines and vaccines can be achieved quickly.
One way this was achieved was through In Silico drug trials, where individualized computer simulations are used to evaluate a drug, device or method of intervention; effectively, virtual models of human organs and physiological systems being tested to study diseases and their treatments. While the technology isn’t at the stage where we can rely solely on simulated trials right now, fast-paced development means we could soon have the capability to test thousands of new drugs and devices on billions of test subjects all at the same time.
From robotics revolutionizing the world of prosthetics and orthopeadics, 3-D printing and nanotechnology, technology is the largest driving force in medicine and healthcare. A recent McKinsey study found that by 2040, there may be a 40% fall in global disease as populations live healthier and longer lives. In part, up to 70% of this fall will be due to improved preventative measures, made possible by developments in technology, some of which already exists today. We make use of fitbits, food trackers and wellness apps to monitor our health at home, make more informed decisions and take control before it gets to the point where we need to see the doctor.
While we continue to learn and discover every daFy, a lot of the technology around us today would have been nothing more than something from a H.G. Wells novel not even 60 years ago, and it stands the same to suggest that what we think of as science fiction today, may likely become reality tomorrow and it is this technology that will allow us to enjoy more personalized and empathetic experiences when we are at our most vulnerable.