January 27, 2017

Digital health

The combination of low-cost gene analysis, improved computerised bio-informatics, robotics and increased connectivity will revolutionise the way we interact with medicine.

The amazing growth and connectivity of technologies such as connected digital medical records, robotic surgery, nano-medicine and genomics will provide us with a health eco-system that will allow greater emphasis on preventative health and re-direct medical budgets on improving quality of life rather than focusing it on the last few years of a patients existence.

Health services the world over struggle to deal with a variety of problems; increasing cost, unfavourable demographics, access variability, fragmentation, waste and the slow adoption of technology. Technology can have a positive impact in addressing all these issues.

The increasing power of the smartphone alone is providing a new and increasing range of innovations. It is already possible to test for STDs, blood sugar levels and many other symptoms using sensors or patches linked to smartphone apps. Graphene patches will be even smaller and cheaper. We are seeing a massive increase in the adoption of quantifiable self solutions. The popularity of wearable wristbands and smart-watches allow us to monitor our health in realtime and take preventative actions. It will not be long before clothing will incorporate sensors that will monitor all aspects of our health and warn us of any problems.

Another area of huge change is in imaging, which is getting increasingly faster and provides far higher resolution. This enables improved diagnosis and supports the surgeon in decision making. Advanced robotics also provide surgeons with the tools to conduct operations that would not previously be possible. This can be combined with internet connectivity to allow sharing of information by surgeons during surgical procedures. Technologies such as augmented reality and even motion detection have potential in medicine, for example in detecting or monitoring stroke victims.

Medical scientists are also carrying out extremely advanced research on devices that allow brain-computer interface as a means for helping quadriplegic patients to restore certain functions. Artificial retinas will help restore sight and robotics are either replacing or augmenting limbs.

The reduced cost of the genome sampling to less than $100 will allow us to predict the likelihood of developing certain hereditary disorders , this combined with environmental data, and will allow us to take preventative actions.

In general, technology offers the possibility to bring a new approach to medicine that focus resources on prediction and prevention, bringing a higher level of personalisation and participation. In so doing, technology will increasingly help to empower patients, enable physicians and enhance wellbeing.