Healthcare has its permanent place on every list of most lucrative human activities. Rest assured that at least a third of that list is an enumeration of branches of medicine, medical professions and certain aspects of healthcare that are generating steady and seemingly inexhaustible revenue for private practitioners, hospitals, insurance companies and other businesses.
Here lays the problem (actually, problems – plural). The most important of them being the ‘redirection of responsibility’. Since maximizing shareholder value is the end-goal of any corporation (and MDs, at least in the US, prefer to be incorporated), today’s medical profession as a business is being questioned very harshly: cost of coverage and accessibility vs. profitability, state vs. private, cold calculations vs. warmth and compassion, selective vs. universal care, bad vs. good and so on. Not having Karl Marx or Nietzsche nearby to explain stuff is not making things any easier.
Not to worry. Humanity had had some significant revelations lately in regards to the cost of human life. Be it the single payer system where (not to disambiguate much) the State takes care of your hospital bills. Or the invention of medical insurance (one would hope that the insurers will eventually figure out the way to both cover the most sophisticated medical procedures and stay in the green profits wise). Some of us prefer to go holistic and ditch health care system altogether.
But whatever route we will take in the future, it’s clear that technology is going to be a decisive factor every step of the way. It may even help us solve those pesky aforementioned dilemmas and marry once and for all the healthcare’s sustainability as a business with healthcare’s core function, which is to bring an affordable and effective cure to the ill. See for yourself:
The current healthcare paradigm is mostly about treating acute situations. In the future, however, healthcare may be more focused on prevention and long-term health maintenance. The benefits of regular medical examinations are already well known. Imagine the future when our vitals are monitored and analyzed constantly in real time via dozens of various wearable accessories.
Modern society has a love-hate relationship with wearable electronics because today the designer’s desire to self-express, a consumer’s personal style, marketing efforts and actual functionality of a device collide in most unpredictable ways. But soon all those considerations are going to be set aside in exchange for a small and practical tool to track your health condition and to signal an appropriate specialist if something goes wrong.
The future of medical wearables is a total integration into the user’s life cycle and seemingly endless list of options tailored to accommodate specific needs. Thus, it can be designed as a system that closely monitors all vital data or just a device to perform a check on a generally healthy and active person. No more bumping tastes.
Today’s smartphone has more computing power than an entire room of supercomputers that made the U.S. Lunar program happen. These are the kinds of the everyday state of the art solutions that make formerly complex medical procedures much simpler. For example, gone are the times when it took days to analyze blood and get the data back from the lab. A Canadian startup, ChroMedX Corp, effectively created a handheld version of a medical appliance that until very recently could only be seen in hospital labs.
The HemoPalm Handheld Blood Analyzer can perform full CO-oximetry as well as analysis of blood gasses and electrolytes via a disposable cartridge. And without the need to get an arterial blood sample (which takes time and required special training) it’s truly portable. You get an ouchie on your finger, and your doc gets to know everything there is to know about your blood. Beautiful!
Once we’ve gathered an ocean of digital readouts from many millions of wearable devices and a huge host of medical test results that had been performed in just minutes or even seconds worldwide, we need to ask ourselves: how this new data can be used to cure patients and advance our medical knowledge?
Well, that’s a million (actually, a billion, or perhaps even a trillion) dollar question, because it’s all about the Big Data now, the new champion of healthcare.
The term refers to computing manipulations of huge arrays of unstructured or poorly structured data. And significant part of medical data analysis and filing is still conducted in a messy and ineffective 20th-century manner. But that unsorted data contains vital information about the course of chronic and acute diseases, reaction to drugs, methods of treatment and so on. To learn how to study, properly store and disseminate copious amounts of raw medical data means, among other things, to finally be able to link science with practical medicine.
The importance of this approach is evident to everyone in the industry. That’s why the European Medicines Agency has recently established a task force to explore the potential influence of the Big Data on the medical profession, and to create a roadmap for implementation of its findings Europe-wide.
We’ve already established that right or wrong, healthcare is heading the list of the most profitable sectors of a world economy. Naturally, this implies that the giants at the top of the medical profession always must be, and are always going to be well compensated. But is there a way for a top-tier doc to be physically available for consultation and treatment anywhere and everywhere on the planet? Not to be a cynic, not in a million years. So, we’ll just dream about the future, in which virtually every Earthling will not only be entitled to a timely and comprehensive medical consultation by a qualified physician, there will actually be a process in place allowing for such a luxury by today’s standards. And a technology to boot.
Imagine, your wearable registers a concern, rings an alarm bell. Your HemoPalm quickly analyzes your blood, other home devices quickly and accurately assess the rest of your vitals. Data processed in real time by a home computer, diagnosis is in in a jiffy as well as the course of treatment. But you’re 110 years old, you still more comfortable with a live human dispensing advice and writing prescriptions. You want to talk to somebody…
Turns out, some do more than dream. Enters telemedicine. This algorithm of the doctor-patient communication is the future of the medical profession and it can be implemented in many ways. It could be as basic as a smartphone app or as a complex and advanced as the Xerox Virtual Clinic Services.
Planning for a long life
Life extension gradually leaves the realm of futurism and becomes part of practical medicine. These changes mean, again, right or wrong, that very soon the general public will turn into clients rather than remain patients, and that people will have to abide by a plan (maybe even a contract) drawn up by healthcare consultants, not doctors. It actually may be a fairly good way to go, since your genes, your DNA, your entire organic structure will be thoroughly mapped out for the software of the future to plan your well-being for years to come. And if this model of healthcare is acceptable to you, forget about ethics vs. profit and the rest of the today’s dilemmas and get ready for a long and happy life.