There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the North American healthcare system. While costs are increasing year over year and now represent a massive percentage of GDP; the system’s overall performance is degrading. North America’s elderly population is about to double over the next twenty years, and it is expected that they will use the greatest amount of healthcare resources at this stage in their lives. Healthcare is reaching a dire situation.
Business as Usual is No Longer an Option
I’m hugely optimistic that we are about to see a positive transformation in healthcare. The problem is big, painful, and it’s triggering new thinking. Because of this, healthcare is set to reinvent itself. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.
With traditional one-size-fits-all treatment care models on their way out and new patient-centric models like precision medicine and functional medicine emerging; care is being shifted to custom tailored, individual solutions. Technology advancement will be critical to the consolidation and utilization of disparate health data in the creation of patient-centered, rather than disease oriented, care plans.
I’m not the only one espousing these views of a more patient-centered form of healthcare. In his article, “20% Doctor Included” & Dr. Algorithm: Speculations and musings of a technology optimist, Vinod Khosla paints a picture of a promising future where 80% of a doctor’s time will be replaced by smart hardware and software. The technology will allow doctors to focus 100% of their time on the human side of medicine. This will drive the future of medicine making it many times more accessible and more fit to our personal needs.
I see the two main drivers for further adoption of these models as:
- Connected health/wellness devices
- Progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI)
With more available data than ever and more “intelligent” processing power to make sense of it, ultimately making use of the technology available is going to make positive changes for all of us.
We are creating an enormous amount of health data, whether that be from medical research, doctors’ records when diagnosing a patient, or the results of a treatment. This data has the potential to make substantial improvements to the diagnosis and treatment of patients. However, the data is often siloed and inaccessible to all health practitioners. We are in the transition of data from paper charts in your doctor’s office to medical records software making data more accessible to patients and doctors alike. That data is still siloed. It’s not securely sharable between your doctor, hospitals, and specialists. Even if it were to be made available, there is no way that an individual would be able to make sense of it all and translate that into care improvements. The volume of data is just too large.
As the connected health market expands, we will see an influx of health devices making their way into the hands of consumers. At best, most health measurements are taken twice a year. With these devices integrating into a patient’s daily life, the volume of this data will be extreme. Add to this the progress that is being made in mapping the human genome and microbiome. These are the two missing pieces from our health files that can truly unlock the potential for patient-centered care plans. Without the assistance of AI, there is no way health practitioners can truly utilize this data. They are setup to fail.
Circumventing the Human Limitation
It’s shocking how often getting a second opinion will change a diagnosis. This is what happens when a diagnosis is reliant on an individual practitioner’s experience and the limited data available to them.
What happens when we remove that human limitation? IBM’s Watson is on the verge of being able to connect the dots between data points. Machines being able to connect dots 24/7 presents a huge advantage over humans. AI like Watson will be able to utilize all available medical information to make recommendations rather than being based on the limited knowledge of one or two doctors. When Artificial Intelligence becomes better equipped to diagnose a patient’s condition than a doctor, we will begin to remove the human limitation and start to utilize all the data we are creating to improve health outcomes.
AI will Shorten the Feedback Loop
The feedback loop between research, diagnosis and patient treatment are broken in light of connected health devices and advancements in artificial intelligence. It takes too long for the latest in medical research to begin making impacts on treatment and care plans.
If we can begin to break down the siloes of our data and allow AI to start making sense of it, we will then see the impact of a drug on a patient’s condition become actionable data for another patient in a matter of seconds. The rate at which the system will evolve when these feedback loops are shortened and working together will help us all live longer, healthier lives.
A Connected Toilet is in Your Future!
Food is the best drug. It’s like the software for our hardware. Upgrading your software has the potential to make huge changes. For many, food is underestimated as an avenue for healing illness and improving health. Thankfully, the functional medicine movement, taking a patient-centered approach, is making inroads in changing that misunderstanding. The only way to know how food is affecting you is through continuous self-monitoring.
Connected medical devices will allow us to monitor our reactions to the food we eat and cross reference it with our genome and microbiome. Consider the impact of a connected toilet. The idea may seem like a joke at first, but daily stool sampling will help us understand how the food we eat or diet changes we make are impacting our overall health. This is only one device. You can only imagine the spectrum of things that need to be connected to realize this future.
With these changes, and tools at our doorsteps, we must jump, and make the change. If we don’t, others will. Let’s work together to make the feedback loops of research, diagnosis and treatment, short and effective at making us all better far more cost effectively.
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