A sneak peek into the future of healthcare

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Healthcare is at the cusp of transformation, thanks to disruptive technological innovations and an emphasis on personalization. Cell phones and smart phone sensors have become synonymous with health today as they facilitate remote monitoring, low-cost home care and efficient healthcare. Telemedicine provides virtual care to under-represented regions that have a high demand for specialists. Emergency vehicles outfitted with computerized tomography (CT) scans and telemedicine devices allow neurosurgeons to assess potential stroke sufferers and recommend a course of immediate treatment so as to lower the chances of permanent disability. In a future world carved out of path-breaking technologies such as AI, Big Data and virtual reality, the implications are significant in terms of affordable and better healthcare, and empowerment of the patient.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made giant strides in the field of medicine. It is a vital tool in data management and digital automation of medical records, as it collects, stores and traces data at a humungous level. AI drastically cuts the time spent in data analysis and this can have a positive effect in data-intensive medical disciplines such as Cardiology and Radiology. AI helps in processing x-ray and CT scan images, analyzing tests and in performing mundane tasks such as data entry faster and more accurately. In the fight against disease, pharma companies are deploying AI to study the relationships between biology and disease, and develop remedial measures.

Big Data

There have been tremendous advances in the amount of data that is generated and in our ability to analyze and understand the data. Big Data is being deployed in healthcare to predict epidemics, cure diseases and improve the general quality of life, in light of an increase in lifespan and global population. As data becomes extensive, personalized and more readily available, it is set to revolutionize diagnosis and treatment procedures.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) offers fascinating possibilities in the field of medicine. A doctor can assist in a surgery, a medical student can prepare himself better for actual surgeries and a patient can escape from pain through the VR experience.

Internet of Medical Things

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is the system of medical devices and applications that are connected through online computer networks to monitor patient conditions and pass on the necessary information to care-givers and healthcare providers. Smart pills, smart home care, personal healthcare and biosensors are some medical devices that are riding on the internet of things bandwagon. It may not be far-fetched to think of a future in which IoT-enabled examination rooms capture conversations between physicians and patients and upload crucial, real-time data for analysis of experts located anywhere in the world.

Robotics

Robotics has a disruptive potential in medicine because it can dramatically change the scale and location of care delivery, and complete health care tasks on their own. Some robot prototypes are already functional in hospitals. For example, the Eve robot delivers vital samples and supplies at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center and the Da Vinci robot has the ability to manipulate smaller surgical instruments than the human hand.

3-D printing

3-D printing has the potential to revolutionize the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, inorganic devices, prostheses and implanted inorganic materials. It also holds tremendous promise in regenerating damaged and diseased human tissues. 3-D printers are being used to produce medical devices such as plastic tracheal splints, limb prosthetics, and titanium replacements for jaws and hips, 3D-printed skin for burn victims and airway splints for babies afflicted by tracheobronchomalacia. 3D-printed ankle replacements, 3D-printed casts, and 3D-printed pills have also been developed in the recent past.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a potential game-changer in the healthcare space. Blockchain is the log of transactions that can be replicated and distributed across multiple decentralized locations, thereby offering a secure mechanism for knowing what data is and how it changes over time. Blockchain can help in managing clinical trials data, regulatory compliance and medical records.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is a promising area in healthcare. It replaces a missing or mal-functioning gene in a patient’s DNA with a working gene by replacing and fixing mutated genes and making diseased cells more recognizable to the body’s immune system. Gene therapy is still in a trial phase at present, but it will allow doctors in the future to treat disorders by inserting a gene into a patient’s cells instead of taking recourse to drugs and surgery. Gene therapy holds promise for the treatment of an array of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and AIDS, and in areas such as eye care, diabetes management and overall healthcare.

Wearable digital devices

Wearable digital devices are ubiquitous everywhere and the healthcare space is no different. For example, ECGs can send real-time updates through the patient’s smart phone and deliver constant updates to the doctor. Implanted monitors can measure parameters such as blood pressure and blood flow in real time and without any human intervention. Built-in sensors in artificial hips, artificial knees and pacemakers can connect to the smart phones and send data across the world. And this is just the tip of the ice-berg in terms of the immense potential for the future.

To conclude, healthcare is changing at a breakneck speed. Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, medicine is getting personalized to suit the genetic make-up and lifestyle of each patient. Technological advances are ushering a new wave of patient-centric technology even in the treatment of sensitive areas such as brain and breasts. It is just a matter of time before ageing is viewed merely as a curable disease, and human body and diseases are perceived as engineering issues alone.

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