Imagine it’s 2035 and the world is a little different: we’ve finally adopted some of the emerging technologies in healthcare that people have been speaking about for years.
You wake up one morning with a headache, feeling sore all over your body and that’s when you notice your phone is blinking. There’s a notification directly from your doctor.
While you realize that the feeling in your body is awfully similar to that of the, now mostly eradicated, Coronavirus fifteen years ago, you get a note that your doctor has already compared your vitals against billions of other people’s health records while you were sleeping.
She confirms that it is, in fact, the very early stages of the Coronavirus. This variant is well known in other parts of the world but not dangerous any more as you’ll be able to do a preemptive ‘strike’ that nullifies it.
Back in 2020, when the virus was first discovered, it killed thousands of people but as they say “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”, and your doctor points out that you’ll be fine in just a couple of hours.
How is that possible?
With advanced AI and machine learning, doctors will be better equipped to discover life-threatening diseases so early that we can properly prevent them — just like we’ve now eradicated many diseases that would kill people just a hundred years ago. Maybe it will even help us avoid the dangerous drugs so many of us depend on these days.
This is an example of the emerging technologies in healthcare we’ll explore in this article.
4 emerging technology trends for healthcare in 2022
We might argue that examples of emerging technologies in healthcare such as automated medication reminders, delivering personalized medicine dosage recommendations or voice search will change the game of humanity. In the grand scheme of things for our entire species, the human race, it seems like there are bigger fish to fry.
Instead, I’d like to explore a few different examples of emerging tech that are being built or considered right now:
- AI and machine learning will improve diagnostics, let us live longer and prevent many existing diseases
- Telemedicine improves the logistics and accessibility of basic care in rural areas around the world
- Elon Musk’s Neuralink may be able to fix brain damage and diseases like parkinson’s disease
- Wearables that can track what we can consume, not just our workouts and sleep
1. AI and machine learning will improve diagnostics, let us live longer and prevent many existing diseases
Over time, AI and machine learning will improve medical records and accessibility by comparing them across the globe to faster and more accurately diagnose us when we feel sick. The idea is that it’ll help us live longer by offering stronger prevention to diseases because we’ll understand them better and discover them earlier.
Ideally, doctors will be able to better diagnose patients before they get sick and it can help generalists cover many specialist areas in edge-cases.
2. Telemedicine improves the logistics and accessibility of basic care in rural areas around the world
While telemedicine might not be as exciting for those of us who live in big cities with lots of opportunities to see physicians and specialists whenever we want to, a large portion of the world lives in rural areas where it isn’t possible — or feasible — to hire great talent and build quality clinics.
Telemedicine can help physicians get to those hard-to-reach places, even if it isn’t as great as having the doctors there in person. As internet connections become faster and cheaper, they seriously compete with having to drive for two hours to visit a tiny clinic that looks like a bus stop.
3. Elon Musk’s Neuralink may be able to fix brain damage and diseases like parkinson’s disease
One of Elon Musk’s projects, Neuralink, is building a high-end solution to connect computers and humans through a sort of brain chip implant.
It sounds incredible what it might be able to solve such as serious diseases or brain damage caused by accidents.
4. Wearables that can track what we can consume, not just our workouts and sleep
One of the most frustrating things for health-oriented people is that we can track our workouts, sleep and vitals but not what we consume. Meaning that we miss half of the equation.
Instead, we are left to manually input it into an app and work to guess if the app’s premade templates of dishes are correct in terms of portion size and preparation, not to mention how long it takes to do every day and how easy it is to forget to log it in the first place.
It’s an important part of our health and necessary for us to move onto the next step in understanding our own health. This might not be the most revolutionary change of emerging technologies in healthcare but it’s one of those important things that enables us to build meaningful things on top of when we are able to accurately and effortlessly track what we put into our bodies.
Let’s dive into how AI and machine learning might help us live longer and discover it can potentially prevent a number of diseases that we struggle with today.
Emerging technologies in healthcare: How AI and machine learning might allow us to live longer
Just like we use data to help fly airplanes on autopilot, send rockets into space and allow cars to drive themselves, we’ve somehow not yet figured out how to use data to protect or fix our fragile health.
We go to the doctor and tell them our back hurts and they’ll try to diagnose us as best they can based on scans, educated guesses and the attempt of patients to explain what’s wrong–something we usually know little about.
We love that when something hurts we can get a pill that fixes it in an instant. It saves us from all the boring and inconvenient chores of exercising and minding what we eat or drink. Who wants to be bothered by that anyway?
The harsh reality is that there is a reason the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” caught on. Prevention tends to be worth a lot more than a quick fix, especially to our fragile bodies. But we hate prevention. If that wasn’t the case, the pharmacy business wouldn’t be as big as it is.
Considering how important prevention is, have you ever wondered how crazy it is for our wellbeing to go visit a doctor only after our back hurts?
Often physicians mention that if the patients had only gotten checked earlier, it would be an easily preventable fix but because they didn’t, it’s now a real challenge fixing it.
Considering the power of prevention, it doesn’t make any sense that we the non-expert are in charge of when to consult with the experts with something as life-changing as our physical health. When we go to a high-end barbershop, we don’t tell them what we want but rather expect them to tell us because THEY are the expert. Why isn’t that the same with our health?
We’ll be much better off if the doctor has data on our vitals and tells us when there’s something worth diving deeper into. It doesn’t make sense to track when we are sick but rather when we are healthy and look for abnormalities so we can catch serious problems and diseases early.
Take skin cancer for example. We look for moles on our skin that are out of the ordinary and we have to get them checked every now and then. Do that enough times with a false alarm and the “passion” fizzles out as it’s cumbersome to drive to the clinic, wait in line and get a scan. Instead, the doctor ought to let us know that we have a pre-stage to a pre-stage of something bad and we can get in there to fix it before it becomes a problem.
Hopefully this will take care of the anxiety many of us walk around with, not wanting to see a doctor because it’s been forever since our last visit and we don’t want negative surprises that might’ve happened in the meantime.
How will this work practically in everyday life?
Rather than using AI to diagnose people instead of doctors, the first step is for AI to support doctors as AI has to earn our trust and that’ll take many years.
That means AI and machine learning can help support doctors by comparing, for example, X-rays with data points from billions of other X-rays and look for both common and rare diseases that are usually only catered to by specialists. That means we’ll get a significantly more accurate diagnosis, which leads to better treatment with less unhealthy and addictive drugs. It might suggest to the doctor that there is A% likelihood of B disease and C% of disease D, and the doctor will then work to confirm or deny that and move forward appropriately.
In order for this to work, there’s obviously some development needed but since that’s very complex, let’s instead look at how it can work on a practical, everyday level in our own life. How would we even track our vitals and health data?
Smartwatches already track our workouts and basic vitals to some extent, and with more advanced technology they can track our health data more in-depth as well. We might need to track what we consume as that tends to have a big impact on our health and we can’t remember, or might even tell the doctor a white lie because we are embarrassed about our habits, which doesn’t help our case when the doctor is attempting to diagnose us.
The problem with tracking what we consume is that the main approach is via a food journal on our phone where we manually enter what we consumed, when we remember and it’s easy to do. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass and never something that will catch on in the mass market so we need to make it easier.
One solution suggested by an expert a lot smarter than I, is that it might be possible to simply take a picture of our dish before we eat with something like a fork next to it, for sizing comparison, and the app will be able to figure out what we are eating and calculate the nutrition within it. It sounds straightforward for western meals with one plate for one person but for shared meals with many small plates (that happens to be more common around the world I believe) it’s a lot more challenging to get correct.
There’s no way this will work if it isn’t ultra-easy or automatic. And even so, there are a number of challenges to overcome that are not tech-related but rather challenges with the way we think and societal adoption.
We are our own worst enemy.
This leads me to the other side of the coin, the challenges with implementing these great ideas of emerging technologies in healthcare into the real world.
The counterintuitive challenges of emerging tech in healthcare
This idea might lead to a burden on society as more old folks will likely live longer but are unable to work as it extends their retirement age, meaning that the rest of society has to take care of us when the time comes. And the world population will grow tremendously as fewer people will die which is a good thing but requires us to mitigate the increasing world hunger and climate challenges created by ourselves.
Overall, I imagine that the emerging technology in healthcare is not likely going to be the biggest problem but instead, bringing it from the lab to the real world and practical everyday life so we can all benefit from it.
Just like the internet, many people will feel afraid of adopting it and being comfortable with the entire idea of tracking our health as it imposes itself on our privacy. Some people are already on board but the mass market likely won’t be for a while, in fact, it might take an entire generation before it becomes the norm.
Some people might even end up hating the solution if it suggests them not to drink that glass of wine on a Friday night when it doesn’t correlate with their goals or general health. In fact, they might be so frustrated with it at times, that they might throw it out the window as they binge. I’m sure people will also get mad when there’s the inevitable error.
It could appear like healthcare startups with technology created to control us but it doesn’t have to be as we can choose to act on the knowledge. But we might find that ignorance is bliss at times. The main benefit is that the doctor has data to base their diagnostics on rather than our personal opinion and limited expression of how we feel and being able to compare that data with that of millions of other patients to give everyone a more accurate assessment, which ultimately improves our health and understanding of our body as a species.
On a more general note, this also brings an inevitable challenge with protecting our data through cyber security. It is hard to defend against cyber attacks because the attacker can plan out how the best in class security tools will defend and then prepare how to navigate that before that attack is even set in motion.
- Solving how we can accurately track what we put into our bodies on a day to day basis will help us solve many other healthcare challenges but has yet to be adopted properly
- Emerging technology might not be the biggest challenge to move us forward as a species but rather the human adoption of the same tech