Computing power, tech, and science are all advancing at a breakneck pace — but innovation also breeds uncertainty. For example: It’s possible to genetically engineer babies, but lawmakers don’t understand what’s happening well enough to propose rules or laws about how the practice should be used.
Right now there are cancer therapies that take a patient’s T-cells and reprogram them to hunt down the cancer cells. But even though the FDA has already approved this treatment, the practical questions of how the therapy should be used — and who should have access to it — loom large and unanswered.
That said, as we survey the intersection of advancing tech and healthcare, there are eight significant innovations that seem to point toward more effective healthcare system.
On their own, each innovation is exciting. But when taken together, these eight trends have the power to completely disrupt the healthcare industry as we know it.
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In my book, Need To Know, I share practical and objective strategies for navigating the flaws of our current healthcare system, along with predictions and guidance for its ever-changing future.
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1. The internet of things (IoT)
As predicted decades ago, we’re now seeing the Internet of Things, where products containing sensors with microchips can communicate via the Internet.
One advantage of the IoT is the ability to quickly collect large amounts of data. This could change the way medical care is delivered by making it more proactive.
By having access to real-time data delivered by the IoT, healthcare providers can identify issues before they become critical and provide intervention, which has the potential to save countless lives.
Imagine being able to detect cancer within minutes. The IoT and its sensors and networks can help identify leading indicators, as opposed to lagging indicators.
With cancer, a colony of cells develop before a tumor grows. However, the right sensor can detect and monitor these colonies, and help identify cancerous growth or activity far before it becomes life-threatening.
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2. Cloud computing
Cloud computing (or the “cloud”) consists of a network of connected sensors and processors that work together online. Many of us utilize cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive to have access to our files on any device no matter where we are.
Cloud computing not only solves the time/distance problem but allows you to add computing power anytime you need it since the servers are networked.
The big advantage for the healthcare industry is that doctors now have the ability to anticipate things before they happen and make faster, more accurate decisions.
As more people begin to suffer chronic conditions, being able to anticipate problems and make faster diagnoses based on the data is critically important.
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3. 3-D printing
Three-dimensional printers are like little on-demand factories that will fundamentally disrupt the supply chain of products worldwide as they become more prevalent.
The practice of making something in a factory, shipping it around the world, and delivering it to a brick-and-mortar store to reach consumers is going to radically change.
Three-dimensional printers will be able to print many different things—even our food.
Being able to produce enough food to feed eight billion people, especially proteins from animals, is a problem we’re going to have to face. With 3D printers, we can help remedy this issue by printing meat-like food items using sources like bean protein.
There are even companies using 3D printers to produce human organs like ears and noses. The possibilities are almost endless.
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4. Robots & drones
You’re probably familiar with industrial robots, which build things like your car.
But have you heard of nanobots?
Nanobots are tiny robots that can be put inside the human body to help fight against disease.
Robots help outside the body, too. There’s an exoskeleton now that augments a broken spine and allows people to walk who were previously bound to a wheelchair.
Artificial limbs – the idea of which were recently limited to only the most ambitious science fiction – are now commonplace.
We know drones can deliver packages to your home, but they can also save your life.
Recently, off the coast of Australia, a drone was used to drop a floatation device to swimmers who were at risk of drowning, and this saved lives. Swedish researchers are also using drones to drop defibrillators to people who are in cardiac arrest.
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5. Artificial intelligence (AI)
One of the biggest ways AI will improve our health is through driverless cars.
Over 37,000 people a year die in car accidents, often because of human error. Driverless cars will make fewer errors than humans, reducing the numbers of wrecks and deaths.
AI will also be able to detect things that human caregivers miss.
Take radiologists for example, who evaluate medical images using two eyes and their brain. AI, on the other hand, can spot things the radiologist misses because it has better sensors and access to all the radiology studies that have ever been done.
Finally, AI will remove the need for medical professionals to perform mundane and time-consuming tasks, allowing them to put more effort into developing and implementing personalized care for each of their patients.
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6. Materials science
Every day, scientists are creating materials that have never been seen before. As more research is conducted, once expensive materials are also coming down in price.
For example, there are a significant amount of people that have titanium hips.
As the field of material science evolves, the practical applications of these materials are only going to become more significant and impactful..
For example, there now exists a gel that spurs the growth of nerve cells and could eventually be used to regrow lost or damaged brain cells.
One day we’ll likely be able to replicate natural materials like collagen, nanocellulose, and resilin, and use them to make stronger, longer lasting artificial hearts.
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7. Virtual & augmented reality (VR & AR)
Virtual and augmented reality is an exciting field, and its technologies can be used in many different ways. The entertainment possibilities should be obvious, but it’s an obvious fit for military and medical training, along with education.
In the medical field, VR and AR technologies are already used in teaching and demonstrations. For example, there are special glasses one can wear to simulate looking and interacting with cells that are inside the human body.
Patients can also swallow a camera sensor that images their digestive tract as it passes through it, giving doctors a chance to explore it in detail using VR.
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8. Synthetic biology
Synthetic biology is all about genetic reprogramming.
There was a case where a child had leukemia. All the treatments had failed, but doctors were able to take out T cells and send them to a lab where their DNA was altered.
They put a message in the cells to allow them to recognize cancer and injected those T cells back into the child. It was an experimental treatment, and although there were some safety concerns at the onset of treatment, the treatment worked flawlessly.
Another example: adding computing power to the mapping of the human genome will enable the reprogramming of cells, but that leads to significant ethical questions. Should we have designer babies?
If we’re able to edit genes, will we see a world of rich people who can take advantage of that technology and poor people who can’t? The laws and regulations around this technology will be very interesting to watch unfold.
This article was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.
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