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Sweeping breakthroughs in medicine, Part I

Perhaps you already have a Fitbit or similar new generation health monitor

What’s the most exciting emerging tech revolution of all?

I believe major technical advances in health care are because of their incredible potential for improving health, quality of life and extending longevity.

Sweeping advances in Health Care delivery

We’re already beginning to benefit from genetic profiling, improved infectious disease mapping and digital implants. Here’s a breakdown of the most important advances–

Cloud-based electronic health records

are one of the major ‘accelerants’ that in the future will help provide immediate access to our health information, from any location via portable devices. Of course, important privacy and connectivity issues will have to be resolved before universal, cloud-based medical information becomes standard.

Implantable and wearable health monitors for tele-diagnosis

will become commonplace with exponential increases in the computing power of tiny, implantable and wearable devices. For those with serious chronic, potentially life-threatening health problems, implanted radio frequency monitors will transmit information directly into cloud-based electronic health histories to help forestall emergencies before they happen. Biomedical sensor innovations have great, still unrealized potential. A single new generation computer chip can now contain multiple accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers.

A friend of mine who is completing his medical residency routinely uses smartphone medical apps with patients on a daily basis, to obtain a wealth of immediate, practice-based and general medical information. Interestingly, Qualcomm is sponsoring a competition this year (2015) for the best new diagnostic device, one capable of monitoring five key health metrics and diagnosing 16 different health conditions.

An explosion in medical apps 

According to a 2014 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, “90 percent of physicians anticipate that mobile medical applications will become important for patient health management within the next five years. …Devices that analyze urine, monitor and report vitals, and even diagnose ear infections are presently available or on the horizon.” About 100 such apps have already been approved to date and the FDA expects a record number of mobile medical apps the year.

Distant future developments 

Expect to see the introduction of injectable nanobots able to grow replacement organs derived from our own tissues. Parallel to this development, researchers are now at the initial stage of learning how to reproduce human organs on 3D printers. In addition, sweeping advances in brain-machine interaction hold the promise of restoring the ability to walk for those with spinal cord injuries.

We will have a wealth of tools to manage our own health

Wearables

Perhaps you already have a Fitbit or similar new generation health monitor. This and similar devices help motivate us throughout the day to maintain vital health regimens (e.g., walking the standard minimum 8K steps a day). They also track weight, sleep habits/patterns, calories burned, etc. Premium versions let us know how we compare to others in our age/gender group for variables tracked.

Opting for advanced genetic profiling 

Expect to see advanced genetic profiling gain much wider acceptance with stronger incentives to participate in disease screening. As an increasing number of genetically based diseases become manageable, we’ll be even more motivated to know about our personal genetic risk factors.

In my next blog, I’ll introduce basic information about robotics, regenerative medicine and other medical tech advances, changes that promise to further blur the line between biology and machine.

 

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