Four reasons why we should be optimistic about the future of healthcare
By Dr. Ali Parsa - Founder/CEO
Recently I have been travelling a lot. It doesn’t matter where I am, whether it is United States or United Kingdom, Ireland or Italy, Saudi Arabia or Singapore, Rwanda or Russia… every one is facing differing degrees of the same issue with access and affordability of healthcare. For some the problem is convenience, cost or speed, for others the issue is more serious: almost 50% of the world population has little access to any quality healthcare.
Yet, four unstoppable trends are coming together to create a prefect storm that will see the creative reconstruction of medicine within the next decade. The result will be a service that is utterly more accessible, effective and democratic for most people, irrespective of where they live. Think of how only a few years ago, access to information, music or books was dependent on where you lived or how rich you were, and today it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, everyone has near equal access to everything that is digital. The same may soon be happening to healthcare, and the following trends show why:
1- Diagnostics has been improving at double the rate of Moore’s Law
Only ten years ago, it would have costed over a million dollars for a full physiological and genetic diagnostics. Today, the same can be done for less ten thousand dollars, including a full genome sequencing. The cost has already fallen by an incredible 99%, and is projected to be near free in the next five years.
But something even more transformational is about to take hold: An avalanche of new applications, mobile devices, bio-sensors, and biological and imaging technologies, wearable and soon embeddable, are making it possible to virtually track any of the body’s bio-signals in real time, and if we wish, transmit them for continuous analysis. For the first time in medical history, we will have the “check engine” capability that we are accustomed to in our cars but never had for our bodies, leading to real prevention possibility.
2- Information is already free and getting smarter
While healthcare has been slow to adopt information technology, patients have not. Healthcare is now the third largest web activity across all generations. Patients are already able to read and watch the entire world heritage of medical library. Ever more sophisticated symptom checkers are distilling these to offer diagnosis on every condition.
This is just the start: Machines like IBM’s Watson are beginning to use artificial intelligence to cope with the new scale of knowledge and data being generated by the said biosensors, in a way that was never possible for a human brain. In 2011, Watson beat champion humans in the game of Jeopardy. While this is reminiscent of the show business of Big Blue playing chess against Kasparov, it only took a few years for every child to have the same on their cheap electronic devices. Soon, IBM is hoping that Watson will be able to examine a patient’s data, search the medical literature, and make a recommendation for treatment in specific specialties. As the technology matures, significant companies are being formed with the aim of putting a personal avatar doctor in everyone’s pocket.
3- Smartphones and “the internet of everything” will create a global channel of healthcare delivery
Today, vast majority of people on the planet are connected by mobile phones. And these are increasingly becoming smart with a remarkable number of devices from video recorder to sensors, rolled into one, creating a personal gateway to world’s collective knowledge.
But what a smartphone can do today is only 3% of what it will be capable of in just five years time, and a mere thousandth of its ability in ten years. More importantly “the internet of everything”, will soon make cheap smart sensors that will connect every aspect of our lives from our environment to our bodies. Armed with intelligent apps and loaded for medicine, these will collect and send much of one’s vital signs in real time for continuous analysis by bio-algorithms. In the short term, they will alert and allow a face-to-face virtual consultation with a doctor anywhere, anytime. In the medium term, much of it will be done by artificial intelligence.
4- Intervention will be unrecognisable
The depth and the breadth of what is happening in clinical intervention are so expansive that it requires a lot more space than what is available in this piece. Enough to say that wherever one looks, from nanotechnology, to laser and ultra sound manipulation, embedded smart devices, organ replication, bio-molecular engineering, robotic surgery and electro-biology, we are re-inventing almost every aspect of intervention.
Again, this is just the beginning; with the help of synthetic biology, for the first time in history, it is not evolution (or creation) but humans who are capable of creating new forms of molecules, and even life. The future of medical intervention will be unrecognizable within a decade.
The above four trends are melting all that is solid in medicine into air. We are at the starting line of a new frontier in healthcare. How it will exactly develop, no one can know. But one thing is for sure. A very different model and means of delivery of healthcare is unfolding, and it should make the future of healthcare significantly better and smarter value for all.