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Posts tagged ‘Healthcare’

Top 7 Health Technologies at CES 2016

The CES technology show recently took place in Las Vegas. The show, well-known for its gadget news and video games, also featured exciting medical innovations. Forget about another dozen fitness wearables or new generation smartwatches – the top 7 breakthroughs are truly inspiring steps forward.

1) L’Oréal helps prevent skin cancer

A smart patch developed by the cosmetics giant, L’Oréal, measures UV radiation on the wearer’s body. It’s basically a sticker coated in special dye that changes color when light from the sun (or, presumably a UV light source) hits the patch. A smartphone app gauges the exposure and alerts the wearer in case of dangerous UV radiation levels that may raise the risk of skin cancer. A helpful addition to any beach-goer’s pack for the summer season.


2) Withings speeds up temperature measurements with Thermo

There are more and more smart thermometers out there but none of them is comfortable and accurate enough. Withings released Thermo that has 16 sensors and measures body temperature in seconds by pointing it at the temporal artery. It also has a clean interface and only one button, making it easy to use for anyone. This is the most sophisticated device of its kind so far.


3) Veta Smart Case for EpiPen to keep track of the allergy medication

The EpiPen is a disposable, pre-filled automatic injection device that administers epinephrine in the event of a severe allergic reaction. The Veta Smart Case was designed to help patients use it properly – which can be challenging during an allergic event, marking the location of the Epipen to find it faster, among other things. It also makes the treatment as digitally quantifiable as possible. Expiration, location and reason of use are all measured and tracked. This way the patient can keep a better record of their treatment history, and doctors can analyze and discuss the case easily.


4) ReSound brings natural hearing to the hearing impaired

ReSound is launching a hearing aid that mimics natural hearing almost perfectly. The Spatial Sense technology gives a natural sense of where sounds are coming from and helps form a detailed sound picture of the surroundings. The Binaural Directionality technology makes sure the wearer can still understand every word of the conversation. It is smartphone controlled. It can be connected to FaceTime, music apps and more, ensuring their sounds are played back perfectly. This is a truly digital hearing aid for the 21st century.


5) Quell’s FDA approved Wearable Pain Relief fights pain without drugs

Quell is a wearable technology with intensive nerve stimulation that is clinically proven to help manage chronic pain. It is FDA cleared for use during the day while active and at night while sleeping. Although the Medgadget reviewer didn’t experience significant pain relief, they praised the design and comfortability.


6) SleepPhones filter out noise to make sleeping easier

The SleepPhones headphones were designed to help the user fall asleep and stay asleep. It filters out sounds such as a partner snoring or other distractions. Having a great quality sleep is crucial for general well-being. Current technologies can help to optimize sleep but didn’t help at all if someone had trouble falling asleep. The technology will be a huge help for those suffering from insomnia.


7) GymWatch is a true personal trainer for your home

Gymwatch might be the first affordable sensor that guides users through all exercises they need for an athletic body. It can give feedback about pushups, strength workouts, cardio, exercise on machines, and more. The reason why it’s unique is that by measuring strength and acceleration it helps make exercises that do not involve spatial displacement (e.g. running) better. This is a great step forward in wearable technology for those of us looking to stay fit, strong and healthy. I’ve already ordered mine – stay tuned for an in-depth review!


This year’s CES was full of digital health innovation, bringing solutions for athletes, people dealing with allergy or patients suffering from chronic pain. I cannot wait to see what next year’s event will feature.

There Will Be No “Mars Generation” Without These Technologies

NASA is set to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely by the mid 2030s. And a manned landing on the Red Planet will soon follow. However, this work will be in vain if health technology does not advance.

My parents were members of the Apollo generation. The amazing accomplishment of putting men on the Moon defined their era, stretching the boundaries of what humanity can achieve. But after the last Moon landing, no more exciting breakthroughs emerged. Global attention to space declined. Until now.

Visionaries like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are making spaceflight exciting again – turning our children into the Mars generation. Indeed, NASA is set to send astronauts to orbit Mars and return them safely by the mid 2030s. And a manned landing on the Red Planet will soon follow. However, this work will be in vain if health technology does not advance.



Image credit: NASA

The trip to Mars takes around seven months, which is a only a little longer than the time astronauts spend on the International Space Station; however, counting their mission, orbit around Mars, landing, and return, the journey will take years.

Spaceflight has a serious effect on astronauts. Variations in temperature and radiation levels, motion sickness, losing bone and muscle mass despite doing exercises, disruption of vision and taste…all of these cause health issues, not to mention the psychological consequences of space travel.

Unfortunately, today, our health can only be effectively monitored by sensors that, at the present time, fill a room. Treating an injury such as a broken bone—a simple matter on Earth—requires medical manufacturing capabilities, capabilities that we don’t have on the Red Planet.

The technologies we need to solve the aforementioned issues exist, but they are in their infancy. Telemedicine is inaccurate and unregulated; genome sequencing is used in the rarest of cases and only by top medical institutions; 3D printing in medicine is the playground of citizen scientists, but has yet to advance into a viable and effective method of treatment.

The sad fact is, we don’t stand a chance of getting to Mars without a booming digital health industry. With that in mind, here are the top inventions and technologies we need if we ever hope to make a new home for humanity on Mars.



Printing with a 3D printer at Makers Party: Via WikiMedia

As astronauts will be alone and cannot bring all the supplies for a lengthy stay on the Red Planet, they will need printers that can print out medical equipment, prosthetics, and drugs on demand. Bringing the ingredients for these, and printing out what is needed on site, makes more sense than bringing a few types of equipment and drugs which could only help under limited circumstances.

Astronauts could establish manufacturing by designing printers that can print out other printers. The whole idea of 3D printing is going to be essential to them. It has been shown that customized prosthetics can be printed out, some forms of medical equipment, and even drug used in epilepsy. The basic examples are here already or trends seem to be pointing into this direction. So the future is looking bright.



Credit: Professor Takao Someya

Forget smart clothes and devices that can measure your ECG or pulse with a smartphone. On a trip to Mars, every ounce of cargo matters. Without tiny sensors that can measure every important vital sign and health parameter, crew members will not be able to make medical decisions.

Today’s wearable trackers are big, get discharged quickly, and are hard to work with. Astronauts cannot rely on them. Digital tattoos and implanted microchips could do the job without the active participation of astronauts. These would measure every relevant parameter and let them know when there is something they should take care of. The Japanese Professor Someya has been developing such tattoos with his team; as well as the MC10 company.


Since they won’t have access to proper healthcare for years, knowing what major conditions the Martian astronauts might face would be highly beneficial, indeed, even necessary. A full genome sequencing, assisted by microbiome tests and other lab markers, will let physicians partially predict what major diseases they will probably encounter in their lives and what they can do to try to avoid most of them. This includes what diet to choose based on the types of bacteria they live with and what lab markers to regularly re-check to catch a disease before it would develop.


IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY. Via: WikiMedia

No matter how sophisticated sensors are, measurements will not help with day-to-day issues unless there are smart algorithms that can make suggestions. Astronauts will have no constant contact with Earth, and they cannot have all the skills of an experienced physician, researcher, and data analyst.

Algorithms will do this job for them. This will help them get the most out of each day to exploit the theoretical limits of efficiency.


Image credit: ITouch

Even though the distance is big between physicians here and the crew on Mars, high quality communication with specialized caregivers on Earth will be an essential part of their care. As was mentioned, the distance and delay in communication will make it tricky, but from time to time, communication with a real doctor will be absolutely necessary.

While the future of smart algorithms used in healthcare is bright, human supervision will still be a crucial part of making sure they are on the right track. InTouch Health is a good example.


Fortis exoskeleton. Image credit: FORTIS

Lifting huge weights and working tirelessly for long hours will be must-have features on Mars, as astronauts will need to build a base camp. As exoskeletons get thinner and more comfortable, the crew on Mars will use them as frequently as the first astronauts used screwdrivers. Exoskeletons today can already let paralyzed people walk again; let soldiers not get tired of walking for hours or even run faster and jump higher. As long spaceflights weaken their muscles no matter how much they try to exercise in zero gravity, exoskeletons could supply them with the lost strength.


Astronauts will need to be able to partially engineer life. By life, I mean bacteria, yeast, and even their own immune system if needed. The new genome editing method, CRISPR, could play a major role in this. Systems involving engineering bacteria to produce hormones, antibiotics, or other materials would allow them to use nature as a manufacturing device, even to filter water or create the desired atmosphere. Community labs currently available in California and the iGem competitions have demonstrated in what a wide range of situations bioengineering can offer solutions.


Image credit: Weyland

There will be cases, almost inevitably, when astronauts will need to undergo surgery. Current surgical robots that perform big operations are controlled by surgeons through a control panel. The movie Prometheus featured a surgical robot capsule that can perform the whole operation on its own. The Mars generation will require an invention somewhere in between. Surgeons on Earth could pre-plan every step, and the robot could perform those steps while being supervised with the time delay digitally.

I truly believe that humans are discoverers – and the next great enterprise is discovering the cosmos, starting with Mars. At first, the task will fall on a few brave people, and we have to make sure we can keep them safe, healthy, and functioning in an environment that is hostile to human life.

We need to upgrade their health with advancements in digital health to make this possible. Luckily, these breakthrough technologies are all within our reach.

Read more about health technologies we will need to reach Mars and how to start upgrading your own health in my new book, My Health: Upgraded,

Top 10 Medical Technologies of 2016

Every year, I publish my predictions for the coming year. As the Medical Futurist, I’m expected to come up with bright visions and I’m happy to rise to the challenge. Last year my predictions included a digital tattoo, portable diagnostic devices thanks to the XPrize Challenge, IBM Watson’s rise to prominence in analyzing big health data, and brain computer interfaces such as Muse or Thync becoming available to the general public. These visions have since become reality.

It’s time to list the 10 major breakthroughs and trends that will dominate healthcare and medicine in 2016.

1) Virtual Reality

Once The New York Times gave out Google Cardboards with its newspapers, it was clear virtual reality was going mainstream. But now that Facebook’s Oculus Rift just became available for pre-order, virtual reality is going to become a booming industry. With really sophisticated devices on the market, it might have its biggest year ever in 2016. It will be used to let medical students gain realistic experience in examining patients or to let patients see what would happen to them the next day at the hospital for stress release.



2) Augmented Reality

A Novartis chief announced that the digital contact lens patented by Google would become available in 2016. As it will measure blood glucose from tears, it is supposed to change diabetes treatment and management. Moreover, Hololens from Microsoft also comes out in 2016 which will have a huge impact on fields from medical education to architecture and engineering. It could help medical students do dissections for many hours a day from any angles without the formaldehyde smell.


3) Fibretronics

2015 was not the year of smartclothes no matter how much we anticipated it. Even the ones with the biggest market potentials like HexoSkin were only traditional shirts with built-in devices in their pockets. But fibretronics are clothing materials with microchips implanted into them. They can react to body temperature or the mood of the wearer, among others. Google has started collaborating with Levi’s to create true fibretronic materials, which could be used to interact with technology through our clothes in novel ways. Imagine this in the OR. As the first promising collaborations in this area came out in 2015, expect to see the first tangible results in 2016!


4) Smart Algorithms Analyzing Wearable Data

2015 was the year of wearable health trackers. A swarm of devices became available, Amazon launched its Wearable Marketplace and millions of activity trackers were sold. But gaining actionable insights from the constant stream of wearable data is not easy. We need clever algorithms and apps that merge data from several devices and apps, and help us draw meaningful conclusions. It would help lay people put more emphasis on prevention and have a healthier lifestyle. I had experience with, one of the earliest attempts, but it still needs to go a long way.

my gadgets

5) Near-Artificial Intelligence in Radiology

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has been used in oncology to assist medical decision-making. It proved the clear benefits of such a system by making diagnoses and treatment cheaper and more efficient. IBM’s Medical Sieve project aims to diagnose most lesions with a smart software, leaving room for radiologists to focus on the most important cases instead of checking hundreds of images every day.

6) Food Scanners

Food scanners like Scio and Tellspec have been in the spotlight since 2014, but as early developer prototypes have already been mailed to their first users in 2015, 2016 could be the year they become generally available. This would enable anyone to find out what’s really on their plates, providing clear benefits not just to people looking to gain weight or eat healthier food, but people with dangerous allergies as well.  


7) Humanoid Robots

One of the most promising companies developing robots is Boston Dynamics, acquired by Google in 2013. Since then, they only released teaser videos about animal-like robots and Petman, the humanoid robot. Many technologies they are working on seem to be at a stage where they are ready to become actual products, the first signs of which we’ll see in 2016.

8) 3D Bioprinting

Organovo has been in the focus because of 3D printing biomaterials for years. They announced successfully bioprinted liver tissues in 2014 and they seemed to be 4-6 years away from printing liver parts for transplantation. But first, these bioprinted livers could be finally used in the pharmaceutical industry to replace animal models when analyzing the toxicity of new drugs. If it goes through in 2016, I feel printing actual liver tissue for transplantation could become a commercial service within the next decade.

9) Internet of Health Things At Home

Last year, I released a concept art of a bathroom of the future. All the elements in that image from the smart toothbrush to the digital mirror were partially available in 2015. But an array of sensors will reach the general public in 2016 making IoT a reality in our homes. The long-term goal is to make these devices communicate and learn from each other. This way we would not have to analyze the data of the devices ourselves, but the device manufacturers could merge their findings and share a digestible report with us when there is something to take care of.


10) Theranos – Thumbs Up Or Down

The end of 2015 saw Theranos embroiled in a scandal. The company claims to perform blood tests from one drop of blood in a transparently priced way. Concerns were raised by the Wall Street Journal about the validity of their claims, and we are waiting for Theranos to reveal the details of their technology.


Besides these, the new Verily Life Sciences branch of Alphabet and the gene editing method CRISPR might have a big hit in 2016. We will see.

These technologies and trends will create value and have an impact on our lives and the practice of medicine in 2016. To keep an eye on them, subscribe to my newsletter!

What Healthcare Should Learn From Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the best sci-fi movies of all times. It still looks modern and believable after fifty years. Stanley Kubrick’s secret was how he deliberately designed the future with the help of experts from NASA and IBM, not just “imagined it” with artists. Healthcare, which is still designed entirely by people within the industry, could benefit greatly from adopting Kubrick’s methods. So how can we reinvent healthcare using Kubrick’s playbook?

Fifty years ago, on the 29th of December, 1965, shooting of 2001: A Space Odyssey began. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece was to become the best sci-fi movie of all times, according to both the American Film Institute and The Rolling Stone magazine. Part of its success – along with an eye-opening story, a brave script and breathtakingly beautiful scenes – was how utterly futuristic it looked. When production on 2001: A Space Odyssey began, the Apollo program was still in its infancy, and manned missions have not yet reached the Moon. But the movie’s spaceships, cryopreservation capsules and digital screens still seem modern and believable. They could easily be placed in contemporary films like Interstellar or The Martian and without looking anachronistic. He used methods every hospital manager in the world should consider using when the job is to design the future of care.

2001 (1).jpg

Genius director Stanley Kubrick was not impressed by the settings of other sci-fi films of the time. He decided against following Hollywood tradition. He didn’t rely on Hollywood designers and visual artists as every other director did. Instead, he based the movie on the ideas and predictions of experts, engineers and scientists from trailblazing organizations like NASA and IBM.

The ivory tower of today’s medicine is very much like the Hollywood traditions Kubrick violated. Physicians, care delivery experts and regulators all believe they know what’s best for patients, and most everything, from hospital processes to new healthcare technologies is designed based on input solely from people inside the healthcare industry. As Kubrick’s example shows, truly visionary solutions can only be designed by the right mix of industry insiders and outside experts.

Why raze the ivory tower?

Initially the bravest predictions about future technologies came from Arthur C. Clarke, visionary science fiction writer. Inspired by digital guidance systems in development for NASA, he proposed that while the astronauts sleep, an on-board computer could take care of them. But computers back then were rare commodities only big companies could afford.


So Kubrick and Clarke approached IBM, a pioneer in the field of personal computers to find out how to make this computer plausible. IBM actually brought in their celebrated industrial-design consultant, Eliot Noyes, to create designs for the computer system. In the summer of 1965, Kubrick received a letter about the concern that “a computer of the complexity required for Discovery spacecraft would be a computer into which men went, rather than a computer around which men walked”. Finally, he used Clarke’s inspiration and the suggestions from IBM in designing the finalized form of HAL 9000, a computer that became a legacy.

Healthcare faces similar challenges. We need a strong vision of the future and innovation to take us there. But these cannot be achieved from the ivory tower of medicine, by regulatory agencies like the FDA and boards of physician experts. Physicians can’t see the problems of care delivery without patient input. And decision makers might not even realize there are innovative technologies available to solve these problems.

We need people with intimate knowledge of both the actual health problems we seek to treat, and the technologies disrupting our industry. We need to bring in the ideas of patients and disruptive startups. We need to raze the ivory tower, or we’ll keep running in circles while we waste trillions of dollars on ineffective care and patients continue to suffer.

What healthcare can learn from Stanley Kubrick

From spaceship interiors to the Moon base, from videophones to digital advertisements, Kubrick relied on experts not only from Hollywood, but also from scientific fields from computer science to the space industry. This is why he created something that stood the test of time. Changing an old system is not possible without putting the primary stakeholders in the driver’s seat. And this is why today’s healthcare, designed without contributions from patients and innovators, cannot meet the demands of neither patients nor politicians.


There are signs that this is changing. The Food and Drug Administration launched a Patient Engagement Advisory Committee in September of 2015. The Society for Participatory Medicine and the Blue Button movement in the US aim to provide patients with their own data and medical records. The prestigious British Medical Journal seeks more patients to be reviewers on articles about their conditions.

The HealthDesignBy.Us movement brings together patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, engineers, artists and researchers who are passionate about patient-centered participatory design. They develop smartphone games for kids with diabetes; social media campaigns, and hold workshops to redesign care delivery processes. This is a true bottom-up initiative, focusing on patients and letting them shape their care.

Still, these are just the first steps. Patients should play a pivotal role in designing the future of care. They should have their voices heard when the interior of a clinic is designed or the delivery of health services is structured.

Innovative startups that are built around patients could also help change the status quo. TrialReach connects patients to open clinical trials. Smart Patients provide a platform to share experience and advice. The Heal application connects patients to physicians the same way Uber connects passengers to drivers.

When 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968, the first critical reactions were utterly negative. Well-known critics thought the film offered “pretentious music and weird effects”; or was “in summary, a most unsatisfying movie”. Viewers did not like it, and left during screening. But this audience consisted of people over 50, with no interest in science fiction. When people started spreading the word about how unique the movie is, a younger generation took notice, and cinemas started to get crowded.


We see the same in healthcare today, with physicians and regulators pushing back against empowered patients and innovators asking for a bigger say in shaping the future of care. The “old guard” may judge your contributions harshly, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forge ahead anyways.

Designing the future of healthcare with Kubrick’s method

There are several great ways to put Kubrick’s design process to use in healthcare:

  • Every hospital should have a patient advisory board including patients who have been treated at that facility. Only with their help would it become possible to create a healthcare system that is futuristic even decades after the first plans were drawn.
  • Hospital managers and administrators should organize healthcare hacking events. Far from just inviting experts to tell him how to do his job, Kubrick planned and organized experts from outside his industry to get the most out of their knowledge and expertise. The Radboudumc REshape Center in the Netherlands has been doing this for years.
  • Healthcare event organizers should include patients in the planning of their conferences. More and more healthcare conferences get the “Patients Included” badge which means patients either speak at the event or are in the organizing committee.
  • Startup incubators should connect engineers and developers to patients who can tell them their needs. This would establish a relationship between the technologists and those who will actually use their innovations, and make sure that patient needs and concerns are resolved. Currently, this is a missing link.

It’s up to us to decide – should healthcare remain a paternalistic hierarchy with obsolete technologies, or should it be built on a foundation of innovation, serving patients effectively and at a manageable cost?

Read more about the future of healthcare and learn how to start upgrading your own health in the new book, My Health: Upgraded.

11 Things Star Wars Could Learn From Healthcare Today

I’m an enthusiastic Star Wars fan, however, as the Medical Futurist I cannot help but see what medical technologies the episodes featured. The digital health innovations we have today are so amazing that they could even improve the futuristic Star Wars universe. I binge-watched all 7 episodes to find the 11 most interesting technologies we already possess, but Star Wars — despite ubiquitous space travel and lightsabers, does not.


1. Instant wound healing?

The most obvious discovery was that laser guns are common weapons in Star Wars but there is no instant wound healing, but we have it today. A sponge-filled syringe that was announced in December, 2015, was designed to close up gaping gunshot wounds in seconds.

2. Plastic surgeons?

Between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker develops a scar over his right eye. When the scar appeared in Revenge of the Sith, there was no explanation as to how it got there. If he had access to a plastic surgeon, such skin problems could be resolved easily.

3. Anesthesia?

Still in episode 3, when Anakin is burnt and loses his legs, robot surgeons work on him while he is in great pain. I kept on wondering why. They had no painkillers and anesthesia? No cold liquid therapy for the burnt tissue? Moreover, they put the mask on him while the skin was still not intact and susceptible to infections.


4. Food scanners?

In the opening scene of Episode 1, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi drink what the droid brings to them without checking exactly what the drink contained. Food scanners such as Tellspec orScio will become available in 2016. These tools can tell us what we have on our plates or in our glasses.

5. Biomarkers?

If midi-chlorians, the microorganisms that reside within all living cells and communicate with the Force, are in the blood and can be measured with handheld tools (as seen in Episode 1), why are there no clear blood biomarkers with which people could be screened to become Jedi apprentices easily?


6. Diagnostic devices?

Anakin finds his mother by using a really fast vehicle, but when he gets there and his mother is dying, there’s no way to rush for medical help, or to use a hand-held diagnostic device to discover how to treat her?

7. Supercomputers?

In episode 4, Han Solo says it takes a few minutes to get the coordinates from the navicomputer for faster space travel. While there are robots with artificial intelligence and free will such as R2D2, and a robotic midwife in episode 3; there are no smart artificial intelligence systems onboard starships? IBM Watson could easily navigate the Millennium Falcon thousands of times faster.

8. Smart clothes?

In the The Empire Strikes Back, Luke almost freezes to death on the icy planet Hoth. They use state-of-the-art spaceships but there are no smart clothes to keep them warm and safe?


9. Skin tissue on robot prosthetics?

The fact that Luke’s arm didn’t bleed when Darth Vader cut it off, no matter how the lightsaber could cauterize his skin and tissues, is one thing, but Luke’s robotic arm in episode 6 looks much more lifelike than Anakin’s metal one in episode 2. I guess a prosthetics startup could have disrupted the galaxy’s industry in the meantime. A few more years and Organovo could print out skin tissue with their 3D bioprinters in real.

10. Cloning issues?

Stormtroopers featured in Episode 2 were cloned from bounty hunter Jango Fett and look alike. But this doesn’t mean that they should have the exact same phenotype, an individual’s observable traits, in their adulthood. Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger — meaning even though two people might have the same genetic background, but the chance of being exactly the same physically is very small. Look at identical twins who grew up in different environments.

11. Symptoms after waking up from carbonite hybernation?

Finally, when Han Solo wakes up from the carbonite state, he should be feeling way worse than he does on screen. Symptoms would include serious vomiting, dehydration, headache and even more. He might have been lucky to “only” temporarily lose his vision.


There are also some good ideas though. In the underwater scenes of episode 1, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi wear a device on their mouths that lets them breath in water. When Padmé gives birth to Leia and Luke in episode 3, the movie features a weirdly shaped, quite futuristic birth bed and a robotic midwife armed with artificial intelligence is overseeing the whole process.

If you watch the episodes again by and keep your eyes open, you might catch even more ways our world could help the one of Rey, Luke and Han Solo. Until then, I keep on being a fan and cannot wait to think about what futuristic medical solutions the new episodes will feature.

Subscribe to The Medical Futurist newsletter to receive more analyses about the future of medicine and healthcare.

Transporting Lab Samples With Drones? What Else?

The news article of the day award goes to FastCoExist that gave an awful title to its story about how drones could deliver lab samples. They said drones could take urine samples from your own bathroom.

The reason why this issue came up is that getting samples analyzed in big labs is safer than in smaller ones. But because of the distance, drones could do the hard job.

“Currently many, many couriers drive one or two lab samples over long distances (over 50 miles) because there is a medical need for it,” says Amukele. “However, the cost (gas, driver salaries, wear and tear) is incredibly high, especially for rural areas, and makes no sense. This occurs in both rich and poor countries.”

Drones don’t care about poor roads, either, another advantage in rural or developing areas. But the regulation of drones currently stands in the way of using them for medical purposes. Amukele doesn’t see that changing for a decade.


Last year, there was a demonstration about using drones in emergency at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.

What else could be delivered by drones?

Medical equipment?

Drugs to rural areas?

What else? Please share your ideas!


Will Robots Take Over Our Jobs In Healthcare?

An excerpt from my new book, My Health: Upgraded:

I teach a course about the future of healthcare to medical, public health, and allied students. In one lecture I ask students to design the future of care. They come up with their own ideas. We talk them through those and design the process of care in real time. Doing this I learn a lot each semester about how students think about the future. I had an older student with a previous degree in economics. He had decided to become a doctor at the age of 30. When I spoke about what jobs robots and algorithms might take in the future, he raised his hand and asked whether robots would take over our jobs in healthcare–with a very worried look on his face.

Surgical robots become increasingly precise each day. Man–size robots can lift and move patients and transport them throughout the hospital. I held a PARO therapeutic robot in my arms. It was cute and calmed me. At a conference I once watched how a diminutive robot made an entire audience dance with it. It only takes the Xenex robot 10 minutes to disinfect a patient room with UV light. A robot called Tug works at hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. It delivers food and medicine. It picks up waste and laundry. It navigates the halls without crashing into people.

Paro robot

Paro robot

The above student asked about robots, but I think he was really asking about automation. Automation includes robotic devices, robots that look like a human, and algorithms. Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla once said something that resonated within the medical community for a long time. He said that technology would replace 80% of doctors because machines, driven by big data and computational power, would not only be cheaper but more accurate and objective than the average doctor. He added that we eventually wouldn’t need doctors at all.

In 2015 the information technology research firm Gartner predicted that one–third of existing jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. Blue collar as well as white collar workers such as financial and sports reporters, marketers, surgeons, and financial analysts were in danger of being replaced. As Martin Ford outlines in Rise of the Robots, healthcare represented less than 6% in the US economy in 1960. Its share had tripled by 2013. The real issue is not utilizing too many robots but too few. Typically robots are expensive but reduce costs. Medicine and healthcare won’t be able to and should not try to avoid this.

If we look at the history of automation the first wave of machines in the 19th century was better at assembling things than people were. The second wave machines were better at organizing things. Today data analytics, cognitive computers, and self–driving cars suggest that they are better at pattern–recognition.

But both the simplest tasks and the most complicated ones require people. By simplest I mean that there is a greater chance a robot can play chess than go upstairs. By complicated I mean that regarding jobs such as managers, healthcare workers, and others related to education or media; humans are still superior at working with, and caring for others humans. Although, making a diagnosis is cheaper with cognitive computers than doing that alone as physicians.

But whether a robot can make an ethical decision is a huge question. An interesting experiment raised this question. In it a small robot was programmed not to let other robots called human proxies, which represented real people, get into the danger zone on a table game. When only one human proxy approached the danger zone, the robot could successfully thwart it. But when two proxies appeared the robot became confused, and in 14 out of 33 trials it wasted so much time trying to decide that both human proxies fell into the hole. Robots cannot make yet the ethical decisions that characterize experienced physicians.

A Robot companion for the elderly

A Robot companion for the elderly

Automation will make the world better and create opportunities for people clever enough to seize them. But healthcare will change. Tasks and procedures that can be automated should be, and will be. Algorithms will make diagnoses based on quantifiable data better than how humans do it now alone. It is easy to automate the fabrication of equipment or the transportation of patients. The challenge comes when empathy and interpersonal interaction comes into play. Robots won’t approach this level of sophistication for a long time.

To answer my initial question: many jobs will be taken over by robots and automation in the coming years. If people whose jobs are replaced cannot acquire new skills or improve their existing ones, they will no longer have a job. Given this possibility we must constantly question what our best individual skills are and what we can do to improve them. Let’s make sure to attend to those skills that make us irreplaceable.

Read more about other 39 exciting questions in My Health: Upgraded.




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