Observing the development you can see that it’s a step-by-step process that needs the basics first and then new stuff. A kind of “healthcare theory of needs”.
Healthcare 1.0 brought about the solutions to major public health problems. The approaches became evidence-based and smarter. This included preventing infectious diseases with vaccination and making drinking water cleaner.
Healthcare 2.0 was more focused on improving what was achieved. Therapeutics became widely available and antibiotics occurred on the market. Doctors not only became better and more professional but also started specialising into sub-domains to improve the treatment of more complicated conditions.
Healthcare 3.0 is when technology started making its way into medicine. As the computers became smaller they were used in more and better devices. Diseases were uncovered sooner and more accurately. Simultaneously, the internet provided healthcare with continuous access and storage of data.
Times are changing rapidly and healthcare is developing further. It's transforming into the era of smart medicine or healthcare 4.0 - a collection of approaches that make medicine better, more efficient and more personalised.
Precision medicine is adapting care and treatment to the patient based on their characteristics. Just about a year ago, a Slovenian 2-year-old received gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy Zolgensma that completely changed his life. The next step is proteome sequencing, where significant advances were made just two weeks ago at DeepMind. This is also where biology connects with advanced computational techniques.
Artificial intelligence will soon be an ordinary thing in medicine. DeepMind is certainly one example of that, but it goes deeper, as written many times before. We’re collecting more data than ever before, which we must use to develop decision support systems, which will help doctors with diagnostics and decision-making. I think developing such systems is not a problem, they’re already being made and to some extent even used. The bigger problem is to shift the mindset of healthcare workers that this is not their replacement, but rather a helping hand that will make their job easier and better.
Speaking of replacing healthcare workers, automating healthcare is another dreaded topic. But the reality is that it will replace tasks, which aren’t necessarily done by humans. Is it such a bad thing if automated systems were to assist healthcare workers, so they can focus all of their energy on their patients? An example is controlling the entry-points into the hospitals during the pandemic. You usually need a person, who measures the temperature of anyone, who enters the building and checks if they have any symptoms. Wouldn’t it be better for them to care for patients and make this automated? Implementing automation is more than necessary as the number of patients will keep exceeding the number of healthcare workers available to care for them.
Another example of how healthcare automation and AI can help doctors was just published in Nature Medicine:
He [Eric Topol] envisions that speech-recognition software could, for instance, capture physician–patient talks and turn them into notes. “Doctors will love this,” he says, “and patients will be able to look a doctor in the eye, which enhances the relationship.”
A way to relieve the time and space constraints of healthcare is implementing telemedicine. To be fair, this is a topic we heard in medical school…although not very up-to-date. And to be even fairer, COVID-19 gave this area a significant boost. How did people and healthcare professionals react? According to countries such as Sweden, Germany and Estonia, which are the most developed in digital health, the start was tough and different. But after a few months of coping with this new reality, both the people and healthcare professionals adopted and adapted to it. Because technology is only getting better, it’s here to stay.
Reviewing and condensing all of what I wrote about in the last few months makes me optimistic. Sure not all technology is great, we need human connection in healthcare. And it’s here to stay, just as technology is.
The latest from digital health
Article: Research and medical trends in a post-pandemic world. This is the Nature article I was writing about above. It's not strictly about digital health, but it puts digital health as one of the major trends for 2021.
Product: Apple is launching Fitness+ tomorrow, which they dub as "the future of fitness". This is probably true as they're a conglomerate, whose products shape the lives of 1.4 billion people.