Living to 150: The Future of Healthtech

Original article was published by Gary Fowler on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Living to 150: The Future of Healthtech

With the introduction of such technologies as artificial intelligence, virtual/augmented reality, nanotechnology, and many others, the world of medicine is evolving one step at a time, introducing more and more technological elements to its operations and solutions — and expanding the horizons of what is possible in healthcare.

In many ways, this transformation was inevitable — but the truth is, the global pandemic accelerated the transformation process so quickly that it’s not a matter of choice or personal pace anymore. It’s a necessity, a prerequisite for qualifying for the next “level” — the future — we all thought was further down the road, but ended up being closer than we assumed. And today, not implementing any of these tech innovations means failure, irrelevance, a fiasco, and fading into nothingness.

And the technology itself is not the perfect solution by default. For technology to do its magic, it needs the support and openness of the people implementing it. Progress requires a symbiosis between the technology and people using it; and to achieve this, it’s crucial that people — medics, medical professionals, doctors, academics — understand and acknowledge the value of technology and begin the implementation process one step at a time. To succeed, professionals must embrace technology — and develop strategies around how to most effectively introduce it into such a reputable industry.

So, what are these advancements that promise a new, technologically advanced future for the world of medicine?

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is one of those buzzwords that has been circulating everywhere for quite some time now. In the case of medicine specifically, it promises to open many doors when it comes to research, treatments, patient care, and even saving lives.

The main ideas behind AI technology that can transform medicine are based on pattern recognition, smart analytics, and natural language processing, as well as machine learning, which will increasingly improve its results the more it is used.

There is a myriad of virtual assistants that can assist patients with reminders, nudges, easy communication with their healthcare providers, and data tracking. Machine learning can also be used to identify anomalies — such as malicious cells or moles, for instance — in a patient’s body using algorithms that have been trained on massive amounts of data to differentiate between normalcies and deviations.

With patients recovering from physical trauma, robots and robot assistants will be trained to aid patients in quick physical recovery and reliable therapy; trained on the best practices in the field, the robots will be able to assist the patients through their deep understanding of the patient’s unique situation and needs and take the necessary action to accelerate their recovery.

And these are only a few of the many promises that AI gives in this field.

Virtual reality and Augmented Reality

Because of the pandemic, the world fully shifted into the digital realm — work became remote, classes became online, relationships began thriving in the digital space. And for medicine, there is a dire need for high-tech solutions that can offer the same experience and accuracy as real life to move treatments, research, operations, and doctor-patient communication into the digital space effectively.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of the most promising solutions to this end — a way to accurately recreate the real environment in the virtual space in an immersive, realistic way. The technology can be used to help young surgeons perform initial surgeries and train for more complex ones in the future; in addition to education and training, it will also facilitate remote procedures when a patient’s principal doctor is not available in person but needs to oversee and supervise treatment.

One final — but in no way insignificant — method to use VR is also offer immersive palliative experiences that help patients cope with pain. During procedures, patients can be transported to picturesque nature sites and listen to calming sounds to forget the effects of the pain in the process.

Augmented reality (AR) may sound very similar to VR but it offers a whole new variety of advanced solutions to enhance medicine. Unlike VR, it doesn’t completely detach the users from reality; instead, it enhances it. The best applications of AR are for educational reasons, allowing students to visualize human anatomy in a lot more detail.

Wearables and trackers

This is probably the most widely accepted and ubiquitous technology that has essentially become part of people’s daily lives beyond industry-specific use cases. Think of all the Apple Watches and FitBits or Oura rings you notice on people’s wrists and fingers; yes, they are accessories — but they can also be gateways to better, more personalized, more accurate medical solutions.

These devices already track heartbeat, oxygen levels in the blood, and sleep quality. But imagine if these devices could be applied on a more granular, case-specific level, targeting individual medical issues? If they could share information with medical professionals to identify problems ahead of time, administer appropriate treatment swiftly, and monitor patient recovery closely?

These devices have already proven to be successful for self-monitoring, giving patients the power to be in control over their own bodies. So why not take this a step further and let them manage their health with the support of medical professionals who can help identify risks well in advance?

Nanotechnology

This minuscule technology offers vast possibilities in improving treatment and solution precision for patients’ conditions — and their impact is very promising.

With nanotechnology, medical professionals will be able to reach a new level of detail in observing patients by administering nanobots into their bodily fluids. With such a non-invasive way to take a close look at the patients’ vitals, doctors will be able to remotely inject drugs highly targeted at problem areas, conduct an in-depth analysis of patients’ health data, monitor wound healing from within, and maybe even enable microsurgeries in the not-so-distant future.