9 Predictions for the Future of Medical Technology
This decade began with one of the most extraordinary events in medical history. The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world during 2020, but it also saw a coordinated effort to tackle the disease with technology.
The COVID response saw some impressive breakthroughs: rapid sequencing of the virus; use of AI and data for epidemiology modeling; and several vaccines brought to trial in record time. We also saw how technology can help preserve the things we care about, like the doctors who maintained patient relationships using video calling apps.
Technology has been changing healthcare for centuries, but right now is the cusp of a whole new era. Let’s see what the rest of this decade might hold.
9 Ways Medical Technology Will Change in the Next Decade
The 2020s will be the decade where all of technology’s promises come true. For years, people have been talking up the potential of artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and data analytics. In the coming years, we’ll start to see exactly how much potential these technologies offer.
1) Patient files will enter the Big Data era
Healthcare has missed the Big Data revolution, partly because of infrastructure, but also because of privacy restrictions because of laws like GDPR and HIPAA. Patients and healthcare providers are both clamoring for a data revolution, and many healthcare technologies depend on it.
So, expect to see a boom in patient data consolidation platforms such as Airstrip ONE. These platforms will pull data from multiple disparate sources to create a Single Source of Truth – a single patient record shared among healthcare professionals. This will allow for a more consistent level of care, while helping HCPs to perform analytics and identify healthcare broader trends.
2) Biosensors will get smaller and more versatile
Researchers have discovered a new technique for printing biosensors onto a patient’s skin. It’s a simple, cost-effective process, and the biosensors provide rich data about temperature, heart function and oxygen levels. This kind of innovation will appeal to both ER medics and elite athletes, both of whom need versatile ways of collecting health data.
Consumer biosensors will continue to be a big market, with 900 million people expected to use a healthcare wearable by 2022. These devices are becoming smarter and sleeker, with sophisticated apps that can make well-being recommendations based on data. Doctors can also consult wearable data, with many devices now offering medical-grade ECGs.
3) Virtual Consultations eliminate the waiting room
When the pandemic hit, telehealth visits increased by 154% almost overnight. Telemedicine has been growing in popularity in recent years, but COVID forced doctors to find alternative ways to connect with patients, while patients were keen to avoid the risk of the waiting room.
Dedicated virtual care platforms like eVisit and American Well allow doctors to provide an approximation of a real visit. As platforms develop, they will integrate with data from patient devices. So, for example, patients could connect their health wearable to the telemedicine platform, which would allow the doctor to check vitals in real-time.
4) AI becomes a core part of healthcare delivery
We may still be a few years from robot doctors, but artificial intelligence already plays a major role in healthcare. AI-powered chatbots can already provide a realistic conversational experience, allowing patients to book appointments, check prescriptions, and seek help for minor ailments. As these systems grow, they will provide a more in-depth and reliable level of medical support.
Artificial intelligence is also a lifesaver on the other side of the physician’s desk. AI tools can scan millions of documents per second, including scans of handwritten notes. These Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools can help search patient records for important details, or analyze research papers for relevant information. Technology of this kind could massively reduce a doctor’s admin work and help improve the quality of care.
AI also plays an enormous role in diagnostics. One company offers a technology that uses AI to create 14 trillion data points from a single tissue sample. The AI can then compare the data points to medical literature to find a match, which can help diagnose and monitor the progression of conditions such as cancer.
5) 5G will tie everything together
5G is a major breakthrough for the healthcare industry. It offers a high-speed, flexible infrastructure, even in remote areas. This will make it easy for healthcare providers to share and access large medical files, such as MRI scans. Doctors and patients will also enjoy HD video calls during telemedicine consultations. 5G also supports the Internet of Things (IoT), which will enable a new generation of biosensors and wearables.
In the long run, 5G will support some astonishing new leaps in medical technology. For example, 5G provides the perfect data infrastructure to operate a self-driving ambulance. In this model, paramedics would focus on the patient, while a smart vehicle drives itself to the ER. 5G can also support VR surgery, a system that depends on high-speed, low-latency data transfers.
6) Vaccine development will get faster
Before COVID-19, the record for developing a working vaccine was four years. We didn’t have to wait that long for COVID inoculation, with jabs happening within 12 months of the first recorded cases. They designed one vaccine in a mere 48 hours.
Why the sudden increase in pace? Much of it came down to the mRNA platform used to develop many of the licensed vaccines. Using this platform, researchers can chemically synthesize vaccine candidates in a matter of days, rather than the months involved in traditional biotech. Researchers hope that this platform will allow much faster development of vaccines to tackle both existing diseases and future pandemics.
7) Superpills change the way we think about medicine
Pills haven’t experienced a redesign in a long time, but that could be about to change. Researchers are exploring the world of 3D pill printing to create bespoke pills for patients. For instance, this tech can print a child’s pill that contains a smaller dose in a bright color, which is better suited to younger patients. There’s also a growing market for polypills, which deploy multiple drugs in a single dose.
The next generation of superpills may even include IoT devices and biosensors. Current models include adherence monitors – a sensor that checks whether the patient is taking their meds at the right time. In the coming years, these pills might monitor gut health or take images, which would remove the need for a colonoscopy.
8) Genome sequencing becomes standard for everyone
The first genome sequencing project cost around $2.7 billion. These days, genetic testing costs closer to $1,000. While it’s a miraculous breakthrough, it’s substantially more expensive than other forms of medical diagnostics. Most people won’t seek genome sequencing unless their doctor already suspects a genetic condition.
But the price of genome sequencing is still falling, with most players aiming for a base price of $100. Companies like Illumina reckon they’re close, while Chinese researchers say that they’ve already hit this target. When a genetic test is as cheap as a blood test, it will open up a whole new world of healthcare and lead to a democratization of genetic data. Soon, everyone will be able to find out if they’re in a high-risk category for hard-to-detect diseases.
9) Health providers will follow the Netflix model
Health insurance is a controversial product. It’s expensive, monolithic, and offers little immediate value. This means it’s ripe for digital disruption by a company that follows the Netflix model—subscriptions instead of premiums, transparent pricing, and everything within one ecosystem. As Millennials and Gen Z become the prime target for health insurance marketers, expect to see more companies adopt this model.
As part of this shift, health insurance providers will reposition themselves as wellness partners. The goal will be to enable people to manage their own health through wearables, analytics, and access to AI-driven chatbots. Telemedicine will make it easy to have virtual consultations with a doctor, as well as a nutritionist, fitness instructor, and wellness coach. Instead of trying to treat illness, the new goal will be to stay healthy.
Future Medical Technology Predictions – Final Thoughts
We’re currently standing on the brink of the biggest wave of tech innovation since the internet launched. AI, 3D printing, IoT, and data analytics are transforming every aspect of life, from the way we live to the way we work.
These technologies are also going to change the way doctors care for their patients. Healthcare will become smarter, more efficient, and better tailored to the needs of the individual patient. Providers will have groundbreaking tools to help diagnose and treat in a way no one ever dreamed possible.
And patients will feel more empowered than ever. Wearable tech and self-service medical portals will help people take control of their own well-being, and build a happy, healthy lifestyle. This, above all else, is the ultimate goal of healthcare.
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