By 2030, America will be 150,000 doctors short, just as the median age of baby boomers hits 72. A voracious consumption of health care will far eclipse what can reasonably be provided by the current distribution model, but never fear; technology to the rescue.
Today, there are more than 200 robot-assisted da Vinci Surgical Systems deployed across the country. also in use are products such as Socrates Robotic Telecollaboration Systems, which allows shared control of procedures, while decreasing invasiveness. By 2030, this technology will be ubiquitous, allowing surgeons to perform procedures without ever leaving their office. This lowers the need for more doctors.
Also by 2030, adult visits to a doctor for annual physical, blood screening, exams for prostate or breast cancer, and many other non-emergency consultations will be a thing of the past. Several trends will drive this change.
Technology will enable personalized diagnosis in your own home. The ubiquity of smart phones and sensors tied to cloud computing will allow screening for cancer, heart attack and stroke precursors, and more. The information will upload into a personal medical database, and no human will ever see it until your database alerts your doctor that something is amiss.
Patients will, after initial privacy concerns abate, begin to understand that regular, consistent monitoring of many health indicators will act in their favor, preserving good health and indicating catastrophic conditions.
Insurers will price policies and coverage conditional on the use of this system of monitoring and detection.
The economics of this system address the needs of socialized medicine and the looming doctor deficit.
National Institutes of Health director, Francis Collins recently predicted that personalized medicine and improved electronic records would one day allow doctors to tailor treatments specific to each patient.
Doctors will increasingly use genomic profiles and patient lifestyle data to develop strategies for preventing, detecting, and treating disease, Collins said. Other experts also predict that stem cell therapies, 3-D bioprinting, and remote monitoring devices will play important roles in tomorrow's healthcare.
To turn these views into reality, experts believe more focus must be placed in the following areas: 1) lower the cost of sequencing genes, making it affordable for patient genetic profiles to become part of every medical record; 2) further understand how to grow stem cells into new tissues, blood, and organs; and 3) create remote monitoring devices that offer patients more control over their own healthcare.
Genetic Profiling – have you ever wondered why it's so difficult to lose weight or change bad habits; or questioned whether the prescription drugs and vitamins you gulp down every day really help? Analyzing genes not only provides a more detailed view of your health condition, it also enables doctors to prescribe treatments more accurately. Learn more from this NOVA presentation, "Cracking Your Genetic Code."
Stem Cell Therapy – a government report, "2020: A New Vision – A Future for Regenerative Medicine" declared stem cells to be the evolution of healthcare. Positive futurists believe that by 2030, this wonder tech will enable doctors to rejuvenate body parts damaged from disease or aging; even wrinkled skin might one day be replaced with young resilient skin. Could the 'Fountain of Youth' finally become reality?
Though more research is needed to realize all the hopes and dreams of stem cells, progress is advancing; especially in areas of creating dissolvable housing systems (templates) that direct stem cells to grow into specific parts, such as hearts, livers, pancreas, muscles, bones, eyes, skin, and teeth.
Remote Monitoring – includes devices that give patients more control over their health. Corventis Corporation recently completed clinical trials with a device that sticks to patient chests like a Band-Aid and transmits heart rate, fluid status, exercise, and posture habits directly to their doctor 24/7.
By 2020, most of the developed world will shift towards a proactive, personalized healthcare policy. Here's hoping that the medical advances mentioned in this article may one day help every reader enjoy a long-lasting healthy life full of vim, vigor, and enthusiasm. As Star Trek's Spock would say, "Live long and prosper."
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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