A futuristic view of health care and technology

November 3rd, 2017 / By Ryan Butterfield, DrPH, MBA, Paul LaBrec

After reading Dan Brown’s book Origin about the future interplay between society and technology, I thought about health care and the growing impact of technology on our biochemical based society, to the point where it’s difficult to distinguish between what is thought to be human and what is thought to be a technologically advanced human (i.e. the singularity). One of the most prominent futurists today is Michio Kaku, a physicist and one of the originators of String Theory. He has this to say about the future of technology:

In physics and computer science there is something called Moore’s Law, which says computer power doubles every 18 months. So every Christmas, we more or less assume that our toys and appliances are more or less twice as powerful as the previous Christmas.

It makes one wonder what the future of health care is if the technology in health care doubles at the same rate? If so, where will it be in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? The technological growth in society is reflected in health and health care as the tools developed for society that can be adapted to measuring health and provision of health care. Think how the Apple Watch can monitor heart rate as a simple example and extrapolate to having a blood sugar monitor in your shoes. Or nanobots being able to repair teeth or bones; they are already being researched for treatment of cancers. The possibilities are extremely varied and will continue to expand  as long as our imaginations do.

Huge technological impacts are readily seen in health care in the areas of imaging, surgery and monitoring. If Moore’s law applies to health care, then the capacity of technology, analytics, data-related processes and decision making will double each year. We see this currently with the potential application of artificial intelligence (AI) into healthcare decision making. Not only does AI possess potential for identifying and predicting healthcare situations (i.e. potential high risk patients), but it may become powerful enough to diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Health care may be the last great area of exploration for technology in modern society, as the need to unite all aspects of health care is extremely great, and will take cooperation among the technology giants. 3M, Google, Amazon, Apple and IBM are all major players in the healthcare marketplace and their involvement centers around data and the uses of data to make informed, split second decisions. These decisions use cutting edge statistical and algorithmic driven analytics and data driven platforms that allow insights to be generated at live speeds. The future surrounds the combination of these platforms and extends to hardware expansions using robotics (i.e. the Da Vinci Surgeon) or as an at home companion to the elderly.

The consumer electronics marketplace generates many of the most talked-about technological advances and is a domain that powerfully shapes our vision of the future—virtual reality, smart homes, autonomous automobiles, etc.  That marketplace is largely driven by the economic forces of supply and demand.  Health care, on the other hand, is a marketplace where supply and demand, regulatory requirements, government mandates, public assistance programs, employer benefits, technological advances, product liability, human rights, and other forces regularly interact to influence the healthcare landscape at any point in time. This reality will shape expression of technological advances in health care for the foreseeable future.          

How do we link the analytics, the software, the hardware, the social landscape, and use this synergistic process to create the best possible approach to health care? That is the golden question and whoever answers it will be at the front of this quagmire we are currently exploring. It’s a great time to be working in health care. Think of the MRI or Da Vinci’s Surgical Robot and the iPhone/Apple Watch combination for monitoring and we can see that the future may have ever newer and faster developments, but in reality, the future is already here. 

Ryan Butterfield, DrPH, MBA, senior researcher and statistician at 3M Health Information Systems.

Paul LaBrec is research director for Populations and Payment Solutions with 3M Health Information Systems.

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