(Image | By PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay)
For much of my life, healthcare services have been mostly focused on mitigating health problems but, over the last two decades, large scale providers (particularly HMOs like Kaiser Permanente) have increasingly focused on health preservation and the prevention of problems rather than just mitigating them. This shift in focus was enhanced during the pandemic with technology companies like Peloton which provided exercise services in the home, the increase of in-home patient instrumentation to allow for more efficient outpatient care (particularly critical during times of hospital overcrowding and to prevent already sick patents from getting COVID-19), and the application of AI across the medical spectrum.
While we were stuck at home during the pandemic, many of us (including me) had cosmetic procedures done that we might have otherwise never attempted and considered major changes to our lives like moving out of the area and working remotely.
Let us talk about some of the changes that are coming in medicine this month.
AI in Medicine
One of the biggest applications of AI in medicine was in the initial months of the pandemic when super computers all over the world were focused on finding new treatments for the virus and to help create better anti-virus solutions. The industry immediately discovered that there is a huge problem with doing research like this which is that research hospitals and universities don’t like to share data. Part of the problem was regulations focused on patient privacy, but much of it was focused on the fact that these institutions treat this data as proprietary and don’t want to share.
This led to the adoption of a concept called federated data where the connections to the patients are stripped out of the data set, allowing for sharing without compromising patient or institutional privacy. The use of federated data helps assure that the next time we have a major virus outbreak, we will be able to spin up an anti-virus far more quickly. Getting folks to take it? Well, that remains a whole different issue.
Eventually, we will have far better computer-generated human simulations which will allow us to speed up this process even more quickly, but that capability is not anticipated for another five to ten years.
I experienced this myself during the pandemic by going to Bend surgeon Dr. Higgins who uses the Artis Six robotic surgeon for hair transplant. I had looked at an earlier version of this robot before we moved to Bend and was impressed, so I signed up for the procedure. The result has been a stunning change from almost bald to having a full head of hair and no plugs.
The process takes a while, but can be done over a weekend. I wore a hat for a few weeks but a year later my hair looks great, and I am no longer embarrassed by the view from my video camera during zoom meetings that used to show a very unflattering view of what was left of my hair.
Robots are being developed to assist with home care, to do hospital rounds and to provide companionship to our aging population. Surgical robots can already demonstrate better accuracy and make fewer mistakes, but remain, for now, limited in use. Those limits will be evaporating over the next decade. St. Charles is already using robots that allow medical assistants to work without having to physically be at the hospital.
The Apple Watch is one of the best affordable medical monitoring devices in the market, but Qualcomm based Android smartwatches are rapidly catching up. My latest smartwatch, the TicWatch Pro 3, has close to the same features and looks better than the Apple Watch. But being able to monitor pulse, trigger a help call if you fall, track blood sugar levels and track the quality of sleep are just the beginning.
Over time, we will get even more monitoring tied to robotic response systems that can more rapidly deliver emergency care (like a defibrillator), and will allow for faster response times and fewer catastrophic outcomes to critical problems like strokes.
By the 2030s, many of use will almost never see a doctor unless there is a problem. Our medical service will just remotely monitor the stats, diagnose you and more accurately anticipate problems that might have, in the past, gone unnoticed until too late.
In short, many of us, particularly those of us that are older or have significant long-term health problems, will be aggressively monitored 24/7.
The medical profession is gaining technology at an increasing pace. Robotics, artificial Intelligence, wearable health monitors, in-home digital health services and access to massive amounts of digital data will transform the medical profession over the next decade so that it may have little in common with our experiences today.
I have already noticed that the need for some strange doctor to stick their fingers where no fingers should ever go has become outdated thanks to improvements in blood tests, so I am personally happy with this trend.
Sometimes progress can be an amazing thing.