How will technology change healthcare?
With Apple recently announcing its move into the healthcare industry by creating its own primary care health clinics called AC Wellness, where staff will get free healthcare in return for their data being used to test healthcare technologies, the company joins the likes of Amazon in the race to make healthcare more efficient through tech.
Apple’s smartwatch is already sold as a way of tracking health, and its iPhone’s Health Records app allows users to view and share their medical records. Here we take a look at some of the transformations technology can make within the healthcare industry. From the use of artificial intelligence to virtual reality and genome sequencing, we ask whether death will become more manageable with the help of technology.
Tech in the NHS
In the UK, DeepMind (a London-based AI company now owned by Google) have gone into partnership with the Royal Free NHS Trust to create an app to alert doctors to worsening patients.
In a partnership that has seen criticism for breaches of privacy, the app, called Streams, lets doctors and nurses use a phone to see information about their patients, from which they can then make decisions.
This sets the stage for a partnership between AI tech companies which are able to access patient data supplied by the NHS. While the NHS budget has risen steadily by 3.7% in real terms each year since it was created, in the last few years it has grown by less than half that. It’s possible tech could help the NHS in terms of efficiency and cost.
Accessing a GP using your smartphone
There has been a rise in technology which helps people to access GP’s through their smartphone, meaning you’ve got advice right in the palm of your hand. By positioning themselves as the alternative to long waiting times and strained staff, Babylon has teamed up with the NHS to provide an “online doctor”.
Using an algorithm that has learnt a lot about human symptoms through past users, the app works out what doctor to put you in you contact with according to the information you provide in a questionnaire. Usually, you can get a video call with a GP in under an hour.
A company based in California, called HealthTap,have gone one step further by creating an entirely AI-generated ‘doctor’. “Dr. A.I.” holds a conversation with a user to come up with solutions to their symptoms. Rather than a kind of questionnaire, Dr. A.I. can ask follow up questions to get to the root of the problem: it can immediately direct a patient towards a variety of solutions that doctors previously suggested to people like them in similar situations.
It’s possible that this kind of deep learning can help with discovering targeted solutions for certain diseases as yet undiscovered. By using supercomputers to root out the best therapies from a database of molecular structures, Atomwise is hoping to change the way medicines are discovered and developed.
With the hope of finding ‘better medicines faster’, Atomwise, as the first deep learning neural network for medicine design and discovery, thinks the use of neural networks can spot diseases it has already learned about to create medicines.
VR has been part of tech daydreaming for a few decades, and has yet to enter the mainstream or even function well in our living rooms.
Now, the digital health startup based in the US, Embodied Labs, is using virtual reality technology to show young medical students what ageing means. Everyone can be the hypothetical Alfred for 7 minutes and experience how it feels like to live as a 74 year-old man with audio-visual impairments.
While the notion of understanding life from someone else’s perspective is a fascinating thing, it may be that a virtual tour of the world from a less able point of view could lead to better approaches to empathy and diagnosis.
Researcher at the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with micro-sized – smaller than a millimeter – robots that literally swim through your bodily fluids.These scallop-like microbots are designed to swim through your bloodstream, around your lymphatic system or across the goo on the surface of your eyeballs. If this is making your skin crawl, then have rethink: these bots could be used to give medical relief in a highly targeted way.
Years ago the emergence of 3D printing was a major event. Now, 3D printing could be assimilated into every aspect of life; from overseas aid to local hospitals.
Not Impossible Labs, based in California, recently carried out a mission in Sudan which created personalised prosthetics using 3D printing, giving those affected by war prosthetics quickly and cheaply.
Now, the cost efficiency of 3D printing looks increasingly tempting to the healthcare industry. A typical kidney transplant costs an average of £31,000. In the US, conventional 3D bioprinters are sold for $10,000. It’s possible, then, that 3D printing could solve problems with not just the shortage of organ transplant donations, but their expense too.
Will new tech change the way we think about death?
While the rise of wearable monitors that track your health (such as the Fitbit we all got for Christmas last year) means we’re all thinking about mortality in some way, this new tech raises questions surrounding how we’ll think about our own death. It may seem more manageable, preventable or, at least, disease and and ageing may seem more far away.
Overall, it may become easier to plan for your death – whether at home, a hospice or a hospital.