Each year brings us closer to the science fiction ideal of healthcare, with smart pills, intelligent robot surgeons, artificial hearts and universal access to life-changing interventions.
In this article, we share six recent medical innovations that have already started improving patient care and quality of life.
Typically, doctors prescribe the same treatment for all patients suffering from a particular illness. This doesn’t account for variations in genetics, environment and lifestyle.
Personalized healthcare means customizing drug choices, dosages and treatment plans for each individual. DNA testing offers insights into drug effects and the patient’s genetics. For example, some people might have a higher risk of negative side effects or drug resistance. Tailoring the treatment plan to every patient’s needs thus makes drugs safer and more effective.
Further, analyzing an individual’s genome will help identify health risks and treat diseases before they progress too far. Although we don’t yet have the infrastructure for mainstream personalized medicine, it has great potential for treating rare diseases and genetic disorders.
Health Monitors on Your Wrist
Smart wearables have become ubiquitous recently, and they’re only getting smarter. Today’s watches and phones can measure daily steps, floors climbed, calories burned, sun exposure, sleep quality, heart rate, and blood pressure—and that’s just the beginning.
By monitoring their fitness with wearables, people can prevent chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease. Wearable blood sugar monitors help people manage their Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. For senior citizens and disabled people who live alone, fall detection is an important tool to ensure they get help if needed.
The devices also help with diagnosis and health alerts, like an oncoming asthma attack or low blood sugar. Patients can seek immediate medical attention, thus reducing costs and improving health outcomes.
Other types of wearables are in development, including smart clothes, smart rings and devices charged by body heat or movement.
3D Bioprinting for the Perfect Fit
With its cost-effective and flexible manufacturing process, 3D printing has emerged as the star of implants and prosthetics.
3D bioprinting has been used to create skin for burn victims, airway splints, facial reconstruction parts and even ear transplants. It’s also useful for orthopedic implants like jaw surgery and knee replacements. Because they’re custom-made, these titanium implants last longer and fit better.
With rapid prototyping and 3D scanning technology, people can get a cheap and comfortable 3D-printed prosthetic that fits perfectly. This is crucial for growing children, as they need to be fitted for a new prosthetic or assistive device every few years. Children also love the toy-like designs and multicolor options.
In the future, researchers hope to create more complex human tissues and organs like hearts and kidneys.
Bringing Healthcare to Your Home
Phones and video conferencing tools allow patients to virtually connect with their physicians. Such online doctor visits are comfortable, convenient and cheap.
Telehealth makes healthcare more accessible for the elderly, people with chronic illnesses, disabled people and others who cannot always attend appointments in person. It also improves access in remote areas. Patients save on secondary costs like travel and childcare.
Doctors and nurses can monitor their patients’ health without being exposed to infectious diseases. Telehealth also reduces the clinic’s overhead costs. It’s no wonder the global telemedicine industry is projected to grow to over $286 billion by 2030.
A significant area for telehealth is mental health. Online therapy has proven to be as effective as in-person psychotherapy in most cases. It’s also more affordable and accessible. Patients with severe anxiety or depression might find it easier to attend a video call than physically commute to their therapist’s office.
The internet has also made it easier to reach professionals like medicare insurance experts. No matter your health and financial circumstances, health insurance will let you rest easy knowing you’ll always get the care you need.
Better Analysis With Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence can accurately and rapidly analyze huge amounts of patient data and assist with diagnosis. For example, AI has been successfully used to identify patients at risk of developing sepsis.
This technology has made great strides in the field of oncology. Radiologists have used AI algorithms to detect cancer and identify abnormal chest X-rays and mammograms. One study reported that AI detection was more sensitive than clinical board-certified radiologists.
Not only does this reduce the workload of lab technicians, it ensures that patients have a better experience, with minimum invasive biopsies. For deadly lung cancers that are typically caught in stage three or four, AI-assisted early detection could hugely improve cancer survival rates.
In the future, we may see AI tools being used to guide robot surgeries. With increased computing power, machines would be able to streamline and monitor critical operations and help reduce blood loss and scarring.
Pocket-Sized Diagnostic Machines
You’ve heard of thermometers and pregnancy tests, but did you know the next generation of portable diagnostic devices have hit the market?
Your next visit to the doctor might involve a digital stethoscope with noise cancellation and automated murmur detection. With the introduction of credit-card sized ECG devices, you don’t need to be hooked up to a huge machine to get checked for atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, bradycardia, or other kinds of abnormal heart activity.
Perhaps the most significant development is the invention of portable ultrasound machines. Cheap and lightweight, these handheld devices bring state-of-the-art scanning technology to the places that need it the most. Anyone can create high-quality ultrasound images in minutes—doctors on home visits, health clinics in rural areas, and even midwives in conflict zones.
Another emerging area is portable tests for sweat, saliva and blood. New biosensors make it possible to accurately test for diseases without the need for hospital labs. The Covid 19 pandemic highlighted the huge potential of at-home rapid test kits with near-instant results.
Portable technologies like these bring world-class healthcare directly to patients, no matter where they live.
Today’s medical technology isn’t ready to replace human healthcare workers. However, the industry has been making rapid progress towards better quality and accessibility of treatment.
We can’t wait to see what the future holds!