The practice of healthcare has been progressively shaped by technology over the past several years. Despite the love-hate relationship many physicians have with documentation in the era of electronic health records (EHR), nobody can deny the dramatic change this has brought to the practice of medicine. The ability to have information at your fingertips instantaneously has both streamlined healthcare while also providing physicians everywhere with information overload.
But, the future of healthcare is going to go far beyond EHR. While it may be a while before your patients’ Apple watches can measure their blood glucoses, we should brace ourselves for a future filled with growing innovations that will continue to alter the practice of medicine as we know it today.
Virtual reality and augmented reality (adding to the real world with virtual reality) modalities are both already being used to shape medical education. From three-dimensional cadavers at medical schools that may obviate the need for traditional anatomy classes to virtual reality experiences that aim to place medical students in their patient’s worlds, medical schools of the future may be very different from what we have been used to for years.
In practice, virtual reality systems are also being used to develop three dimensional medical imaging tools. The impact of these innovations remain to be fully seen, but as technologies advance and are implemented more widely, I anticipate augmented and virtual reality to play meaningful roles both in medical education and patient care.
Most physicians would agree that the impact of genomic editing on the practice of clinical medicine will likely not be seen anytime soon, but that does not make the power of this potential future change any less. Companies with the goal of curing chronic illnesses have a lot to live up to, and only time will tell how this growing field of biotechnology can be applied to medical research and clinical practice.
The information overload mentioned above can now potentially be tackled with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. These algorithms can actually use all the excess data to their advantage to recognize patterns by mining countless medical records. Medical device developers are working on ways to harness the power of AI to diagnose medical conditions, create treatment plans, or even develop therapeutic agents.
Additionally, some AI modalities are being used by medical researchers to investigate large databases to learn more about population health. The impact of AI investigations into population health concerns has already been established, but the use of AI in day-to-day clinical practice is likely still several years away.
3D printing is nothing new, but its application to healthcare has been of recent buzz. From 3D-printed skin for burn patients to 3D-printed implants, the applications to the practice of medicine are endless.
While talk of 3D-printed body parts and 3D-printed organs is what gets a lot of oohs and aahs, perhaps it’s the simpler applications of this technology that could make the most meaningful impact. For example, low cost and mass producible 3D-printed medications may one day help disrupt the American pharmaceutical industry.
Regulatory concerns will likely impede widespread implementation of mass produced 3D-printed medical devices and treatments, so we still have a long while before we’ll see further reaching impacts of 3D-printing in healthcare.
Digital Health Tools
Many of my patients lament how difficult it is to coordinate appointment scheduling and ordering medication refills. Often times even the best designed triage systems leave patients on hold for far too long. From applications that make it easier to find doctors in your area to mobile applications that help patients quickly access their medical information, this is a field that will hopefully help streamline access within American healthcare systems.
Telemedicine comes in all shapes and styles. From physician-to-physician e-consultations to physician-to-patient messaging, the electronic health record helped bring the first wave of telemedicine into widespread use. The next wave has started as well, with telemedicine visits for patients as opposed to in-office visits. Telemedicine appointments can help patients in remote parts of the country who often cannot easily find physicians near them. Improved access to care is just one crucial aspect of telemedicine’s role in the future of healthcare, and I am certain telemedicine will play a major part in the practice of clinical medicine going forward.
Farah Naz Khan is a doctor and a writer. She is a 2018 Doximity Scholar. Find her on Twitter @farah287 or via her website, FarahNazKhan.com.