With advances in digital healthcare technologies, like AI, 3D-printing, VR/AR, nanotechnology, and robotics, medicine’s future is taking shape before our very eyes. We must become familiar with the latest creations in order to manage the control of technology, not the other way around. Medicine’s future lies in working in partnership with technology and clinicians to embrace the changes in the healthcare world, allowing us to stay relevant for years to come.
Maybe you are worried that robots and AI will take over the jobs of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals? Perhaps you are scared that AI will take over the world in a few years’ time?
These are all fake news, half-truths, and other imagery dystopias, and perhaps a more fashionable way to display alternative facts about the future of healthcare. More importantly, though, these questions all have one thing in common: the fear of the future unknowns and what might be brought upon us.
No one can stop technology from evolving. At some point, every part of our lives will be changed through the power of digital technologies. Therefore, we must allow our minds to stay open to the possibility of technology changing the world as we know it.
Technology and humans hand-in-hand for better healthcare
Many consider technology to be the only way forward. They believe that it can only aid and enhance our lives if we get on board with technological advances, and we are always at the forefront. If we make sure the rule of “two steps ahead of it” is adhered to, the partnership between technology and humans could reap tremendous rewards.
Digital technology in healthcare and medicine could potentially transform inappropriate healthcare systems into appropriate ones, provide cheaper, faster, and more effective solutions for diseases (such as Ebola or AIDS), and equalize the relationship between professionals and medical patients. Technology could help us to lead healthier lives in healthier communities.
The saying “one has to be a master of his own house” is prevalent. It is important to begin the future by improving our health through these technologies and change our mindset towards the idea of health as such, towards healthcare and medicine.
Revolutionizing drug development
The current process of creating new drugs is costly and time-consuming. Nevertheless, there are new ways to improve the development of drugs using methods like AI. These new approaches and technologies are set to shape the pharmaceutical landscape in the coming years.
Companies such as Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Deep Genomics, and Turbine are using the strength of AI to create new drug candidates and therapeutic solutions at a fraction of the normal cost and in record time.
Another up and coming medicine technology is in silico drug trials. These personalized computer simulations are used in the regulatory evaluation or development of healthcare products, devices, or interventions. This company is already breaking down barriers with its organs-on-a-chip development; with current biological and technology understanding disallowing simulated clinical trials, this development in silico is already in use. Their technology, HumMod is being used in many research projects, and virtual models have been developed by the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) Institute who is using them to study osteoporosis and heart disease.
We could see nanoparticles and nanodevices operating as accurate drug delivery systems, tiny surgeons, or cancer treatment tools in the near future.
Some researchers from the Max Planck Institute, back in 2014, designed small scallop-shaped microbots that physically swim through bodily fluids. These smart pills, such as PillCam are being used for colon exams in a patient-friendly noninvasive way. MIT researchers in late 2018 developed an electronic pill that is wirelessly controlled and can relay analysis information or release drugs in reply to smartphone orders.
Nanotechnology is becoming a bigger player in the market in the form of smart patches. Grapheal, a France-based company, showcased its smart patch at CES 2020. It allows for continual monitoring of wounds, and its graphene core can even help with healing the wound faster.
With evolving technology, there will be far more physical examples of nanotechnology in healthcare. The PillCams of the future may even be able to take biopsy samples, and remote-controlled capsules could take nano-surgery into the future.
Robotics is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting fields of medicine. Robot developments range from disinfectant robots or exoskeletons right through to surgical robots and pharmabotics.
Exoskeletons did extraordinary well in the year 2019. The very first exoskeleton-aided surgery was performed, and a tetraplegic man became capable of controlling an exoskeleton using only his brain. There are many applications for these robots, from lifting elderly patients and aided nursing to assist patients with spinal cord injury.
Loneliness is also alleviated by using robots as companions; they are also used in healthcare to help children with chronic illness and treat mental health issues. Existing examples of robots are the Jibo, Buddy, Paro, and Pepper robots. Some allow their owners to control them using microphones, cameras, and touch sensors.
Bringing a world of wonders in all aspects of healthcare is 3D-printing. The list is growing with printing available for blood vessels, artificial limbs, bio tissues, and pills, and will likely continue to grow.
Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in November 2019, created a method of printing living skin along with blood vessels using 3D-printing. This was a critical development for burn victims and skin grafts. NGOs like Not Impossible and Refugee Open Ware are helping patients in need by using 3D-printing to make prosthetics for refugees in war-torn locations.
The pharmaceutical industry is also a benefiter of these changing technologies. 3D-printed drugs have been FDA-approved and have been in circulation since 2015. Researchers are now developing 3D-printing “polypills.” These will have layers of drugs so patients can stick to their therapeutic plan.
Food for thought
We are very much living in innovative times for medicine, all thanks to the growth of technology. The mission is to share the developments and knowledge in medicine that will push us into the future of healthcare.