An excerpt from my new book, My Health: Upgraded:
Millions of medical studies and papers exist, making it humanly impossible for physicians to remain current without digital help. Some estimate that starting in 2020, the amount of medical data will double every 73 days. During their life an average individual will generate more than 1 million gigabytes of health–related data. Data sets that large can no longer be analyzed by people. Cognitive computers such as IBM’s Watson can analyze tens of thousands of clinical studies and patient records, and suggest–for a particular patient–possible diagnoses and therapy options from which the physican can then choose. The time saved by crunching this enormous amount of data could be spent on direct patient care.
Radiology devices will soon provide real–time and more detailed images of a patient’s internal organs. Virtual– and augmented reality devices will further improve this. Such images could help surgeons plan their operations more precisely by guiding 3D printers to produce models of a tumor or other abnormality. Such printers could also create economical prosthetics and instruments.
Patients can not receive proper medical care if they are unable to wear devices that monitor their vital signs and health parameters at home. Telemedicine services like this are vitally needed in areas that have a shortage of doctors. Without it, care cannot be delivered, patients must miss time from work, or travel to an institution far away. Biotechnology that can produce artificial organs in the lab could elimiate transplantation waiting lists forever. Virtual models could test potential new drugs in seconds instead of having to rely on lengthy and expensive clinical trials with real people as we do now.
New technologies are disruptive and revolutionary because they are less expensive, faster, and more efficient than previous ones.
The question is not whether we should use surgical robots, but how we can let underdeveloped regions access their benefits. It is not whether patients should measure their vital signs at home, but making sure that doing so doesn’t lead to wrong self–diagnosis and harmful self–treatment. It is not whether patients should be able to access their records and medical data, but how to implement and safeguard that access.
In the past we have asked whether to use a certain technology or not. Today we ask how not to overutilize them and still make them accessible to everyone. Ethical issues lie ahead of us, but so do unbelievable advantages. And yet no government, organization, or authority has been able to prepare populations for that. Nonetheless, revolutionary technologies are coming, and we must prepare.
Hundreds of research trends and thousands of real–life examples demonstrate how reality is getting closer to the science fiction depicted in movies. Supercomputers analyze medical records and draw personalized conclusions. They model how the brain works. Microrobots swim in bodily fluids and might perform small operations soon. External robots draw blood from individuals without the need for human interaction. And yet still I lose days from work when I catch a common cold.
For thousands of years physicians have been the pilots in the cockpit while the patient hadn’t even arrived at the airport not having access to their data and the measurements of their body. Now patients are settling into the cockpit due to the swarm of health trackers, but they are not welcome by their physicians. This is the status quo we need to change by putting them there together in an equal partnership. Together they can make better informed decisions.
We are at a stage in which the gap between healthcare technology’s potential and what we have in reality has become huge. The only way for human evolution to adjust to the pace of technological change is to embrace disruptive innovations. We need to do so in our jobs as well our healthcare. While robots and the algorithms behind them improve at an increasingly faster pace, we should strive as human beings to improve ourselves and utilize the mind’s utmost creativity. If we cannot make this happen, then we will lose the battle sooner than most skepticists thought.
The changes I propose are not going to happen over our shoulders. Only we, individually, can accomplish that. By upgrading our health to a level not yet seen, and improving the skills that make humans extraordinary we have a chance to retain what’s really important to us while still improving healthcare worldwide.