Oct
13

Top Ten Healthcare Trends by Futurist Jack Uldrich

  1. 1. Genes That Fit—Finally! (Genomics): The price of sequencing a gene has plummeted 100 million-fold since 1998 and, amid continued exponential progress in sequencing technology, the field shows no sign of abating. This suggests that the cost of sequencing the 3 billion genes in an individual’s genome will drop from $10,000 today to less than $100 within a few years. In the past month alone, researchers have used genomic data to identify two genes related to Lupus and another linked to an increased risk of heart disease. This, of course, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The implication is that the era of personalized medicine is finally upon us.
  2. 2. The Fourth Law of Robotics: Improve a Patient’s Health (Robotics). Since 2005, the number of robotic-assisted prostatectomies has increased from virtually zero to more than 70 percent. The benefit for the patient is that hospital recovery time has decreased from an average of 7 days to about one day. Additional robotic devices are now being developed for knee and hip surgeries and, longer-term, heart and even brain surgery. The cost of these robotic devices is also becoming more affordable. As increasing numbers of hospitals purchase these devices, surgeon training will need to transform. In the near future expect many more hospitals to have in-house virtual training simulators in order to teach, improve and hone surgeon skills.
  3. 3. Sensing a Revolution (RFID). Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are being used to do everything from keeping track of young children on field trips to monitoring Alzheimer patients–so they don’t stray outside the supervised grounds of aging service facilities. Many leading hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, are now utilizing RFID tags to monitor equipment and track patient biopsies. The benefit of the former is that staff can quickly and effectively locate important equipment and supplies. The latter saves time and money while also reducing the opportunities for human error (because fewer individuals must handle each sample). As RFID technology and sensors continue to improve expect hospitals to deploy the technology in new ways. One application (assuming the patient consents) is to monitor whether they are taking their medicine as prescribed. (Today it is estimated only 50 percent of patients medicate themselves properly. The cost to the U.S. healthcare system of this negligence is $290 billion annually!)
  4. 4. There’s an app for that! An estimated ten percent of all physicians now use Epocrates, a smartphone application that allows them to better help them manage patients’ drug regimens. More significantly, in the past few months, an EKG app has been developed for less than $100; while researchers at Nokia have created a low-cost brain-scanning app. Soon these and other low-cost apps will allow patients to remotely monitor themselves and send the information directly to their primary care physician. Coupled with continued advances in bandwidth capability and low-cost, high-resolution mobile web video (See Trend #9), the revolution in telemedicine is coming.
  5. 5. “Watson, Come Here!” (Artificial Intelligence): In September 2011, WellPoint announced it has “hiring” IBM’s Watson Supercomputer—the computer which earlier this year defeated Jeopardy’s two all-time human champions in a televised contest of the popular game show. WellPoint intends to use Watson to sift through vast reams of patient healthcare information to make quicker and more accurate diagnoses. The technology will not put healthcare professionals out of work; instead it will allow them to focus more intently on patient care. As more facilities get serious about electronic healthcare records and as ever-increasing amounts of genomic data are created, expect more hospitals to follow WellPoint’s lead and begin employing artificial intelligence to make better sense of all this information.
  6. 6. Give Me Something More Than Some Skin (Tissue Engineering). In early 2011, Wake University’s Anthony Atala wowed an audience at a TED conference by demonstrating how to print a kidney. In July, researchers in Sweden announced they had successfully printed a new synthetically grown trachea for a patient in African suffering from trachea cancer. The two events are harbingers of the coming revolution in tissue engineering. As advances in nanotechnology allow the creation of new bio-friendly scaffolds and continues advances in biotechnology facilitate the growth of biocompatible stem cells, the field will move from printing skin and kidneys to eventually more complex organs, including, possibly, the human heart.
  7. 7. Your Health is No Joke But It is a Game (Gaming dynamics): The ability for smartphones to monitor everything from a person’s heart rate and blood pressure to their glucose levels is impressive. To date, however, most of this data has just collected and transferred wirelessly to healthcare providers who helped the patient make sense of it. This is about to change and gaming dynamics will lead the way by providing users new ways to engage, interact and, ultimately, control their own healthcare. Imagine, for example, receiving a lower insurance rate because you could verify you had exercised for 40 minutes and burned 400 calories. The potential for gaming dynamics to unleash new, innovative business models for both the healthcare and the insurance industry is real.
  8. 8. The Canary in the Data Mine (Business Analytics): When a mild earthquake hit Washington, DC this past August, the first Twitter report reached New York 40 seconds ahead of the quake’s shock waves. An impressive feat to be sure but it’ll pale in comparison to the type of information that will soon be delivered by data-mining Twitter and various other social networking sites. Officials at Southeastern Louisiana University, for example, recently reported they could track influenza outbreaks by collating the rise of Twitter texts from people complaining about flu symptoms. Other researchers have discovered there is a strong correlation between a person’s physical health and the health of their friends. One future possibility is that publicly available social network data can be data-mined by health insurers to offer discounted rates to individuals who travel in healthier social circles. (Privacy concerns and regulations may prevent such uses but, then again, maybe not.)
  9. 9. The Doctor Will See You – on Video – Now (Mobile Web Video).  In early 2011, Cisco reported it expects mobile web video traffic to increase 250-fold between 2011 and 2015. As more people become comfortable speaking via video as well as sharing information in video format, a growing number of healthcare providers will utilize the technology to perform an ever-increasing number of video consults with patients. The technology won’t eliminate in-hospital visits but it will gradually reduce the number. Moreover, expect a growing number of facilities to use the technology to monitor patients after they leave the hospital in order to lower re-admission rates and their associated costs.
  10. 10.  Patient Heal Thyself—and Each Other. “The most under-utilized resource in healthcare today is the patient.” So says “e-patient” advocate Dave deBronkart. A great many patients have been tapping into the Internet to better educate themselves about their health for some time now but, more recently, a growing number are utilizing social media and social networks to aid their research, share best practices, as well as keep abreast of the latest developments in fields of personal interest. The effect is that in many cases these individuals are highly educated about their own unique health conditions—more so than even their physicians. The paradigm shift that is occurring and which will only grow more pronounced in the near future is this: Healthcare professionals must become significantly more proficient in tapping into the most valuable resource at their disposal—the patient themselves. Patients, in turn, will continue to turn to their fellow patients for more healthcare-related information.

Jack Uldrich is a professional futurist and best-selling author. His most recent book is Higher Unlearning: 39 Post-Requisite Lessons for Achieving a Successful Future

6 Responses to Top Ten Healthcare Trends by Futurist Jack Uldrich

Lonny Eachus says: November 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Re: item #1. You may already be aware, but researchers recently developed an improved (in some respects) PCR machine that is not only hand-held, but replicates DNA in an hour or two as opposed to the days formerly needed by the old desk-sized PCRs.

It sacrifices a bit of accuracy, but in many cases the speed more than makes up for it. They expect it will be a valuable tool for diagnosing viral diseases and other conditions while you wait rather than the days to weeks it now takes.

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Lonny Eachus says: November 17, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Also, re: item #7. A low-cost radiation monitor that plugs into the iPhone has been developed and is now being marketed primarily to concerned Japanese.

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