Currently prevalent medical technology is decades old. If you look into a medical black bag, the technology there is
obsolete – 150 years old stethoscope lying next to 135 years old blood pressure cuff. While the world is growing
digital, designing medical technology is still a painfully slow process. In our caution to save lives, we’ve hobbled
our efforts to innovate.
However, disruptive technology is already in development for many problems in healthcare. Hundreds of thousands have
access to their genetic data, revealing what medical conditions they are susceptible to. Wearable devices let us
measure vital signs and health parameters anywhere, not just the doctor’s office. The precision of surgical robots
lets doctors perform previously impossible procedures. Exoskeletons let paralyzed people walk again, and smart
algorithms help analyze radiology images. News every day make us feel as if we live in science fiction.
But when we walk into the GP’s office, it’s hard to feel the same. Part of the problem is that disruptive
innovations are little known among patients, doctors and even regulators.
1. Medical education is focused on age old, proven technologies, leaving students unprepared to embrace modern ones
– there are only a handful of courses worldwide that teach digital literacy to medical professionals.
2. For sure, regulators are simply as much in the dark as the rest of us. Approval processes were designed with 20th
century technology in mind, however, as healthcare is going digital, Moore’s Law speeds up medical innovation as
well. With massive advances springing up every week, there’s simply no time to stick to established methods of
regulation. 3. Disruptive medical innovations are often not practical enough to be actually used in the clinical
settings or directly by patients. Their creators have focused on research, but the history of computing shows that
to truly transform our everyday lives, technological advance must be made useable by a large group of people. Health
sensors provide raw data, but rarely give guidance to their users about what it means, and how to act on it, leaving
How can you solve this challenge?
Acquire the skill of digital literacy so you can stay on top of your
practice or medical condition. The social MEDia Course is a good place to start.
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The trust in physicians can also be threatened by technology, if healthcare does not embrace it. Even now, patients
are using their own skills and technology to make health decisions – Google is already used by over 90% of patients
to research medical information. In the meantime, though medical outcomes have never been better, trust in
physicians is at an all-time low (34% in the US compared to 73% in 1966) – evident in the popularity of alternative
therapies and the anti-vaccine movement. Algorithms, apps and services like IBM Watson, smart health trackers and
cheap genome sequencing will hand even more power to patients who will be able to make medical decisions without
consulting doctors. But without the expertise of physicians, patients can fall prey to misinformation or faulty
Disruptive medical innovations could change healthcare for the better. Technology in the clinic has been shown to
help doctors spend more time with each patient. What’s more, with telemedicine, smart algorithms and health trackers
making it possible to stream medical data from every home, patients wouldn’t have to wait weeks for a doctor’s
appointment or have to diagnose themselves, but would get the help they need near instantly. Studies have shown that
medical outcomes increase and costs go down when technology like artificial intelligence is combined with the human
touch of physicians.
If we do not embrace disruptive technology, the doctor-patient relationship may change forever – for the worse.
Patients who are entrepreneurial and skilled enough can hack their own health which might lead to biological
differences because of financial and resource disparities. Matthew James, born with deformed limbs, offered to put
the logo of a company on his prosthesis if they support him, and received the prosthetics he needed. If the
potential of medical technology is denied for most of the population, a new social divide will open up in how
healthcare is delivered that we cannot tolerate. The future of healthcare must be equally available to all, not even
more segregated than it is now.
To embrace disruptive medical technologies, the following steps must be taken:
1) Improving medical training, combining digital & health literacy to prepare a generation of physicians who are
open to technology and innovation. Courses such as the Social MEDia Course can teach doctors how to use social media
to engage with patients and peers.
2) We need to educate patients to make most of new technologies, and take the reins of their own health. Mayo Clinic
already provides great, reliable online resources on hundreds of diseases.
3) Healthcare agencies and regulators like the FDA must understand the coming changes – both the dangers and the
value that can be gained. Passing the GINA Law to protect sensitive patient data and organizing a Patient Advisory
Board to include patients in designing healthcare are promising steps forward. Only understanding can arm regulators
to walk the narrow tightrope between opening up space innovation and protecting all healthcare stakeholders from the
dangers of rampant technological change.
My mission as the Medical Futurist is to raise awareness about the coming waves of change, and bridge the gaps
between innovators, regulators, industry leaders, patients and physicians, fostering communication about key issues
and keeping the public informed about the technological revolution in medicine; the ethical challenges and the
amazing opportunities. I hope to help keep the human touch in medicine intact while facilitating its transformation
through disruptive technologies.
Let’s use technologies to augment the human touch!
2,000 people who want to transform healthcare