Healthcare 2035: The Promise of Technology-Enabled Transformation

November 14, 2018
Aurel Iuga, MD, MBA, MPH, CMQ, Chief Medical Officer

Digital holographic science and medicine concept

What will the more distant future bring at the intersection of medicine and technology?

Seventeen years is a long time in technology, long enough that it is difficult to predict outcomes. For example, Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, 17 years ago, technology that has been already replaced by smartphones and digital streaming.

To make the future even more challenging to predict, current developments also suggest an inflection point in technology innovation. We are on the verge of high-speed 5G cellular network implementation, which will likely be as transformative to our lives as the internet itself. Advances in computer hardware have also made implementing revolutionary technologies, like artificial intelligence, possible. Digital assistants are now a growing reality, promising to make our environments more comfortable and us far more efficient.

On the other hand, the medium-term future has been more predictable in medicine, due to the field being historically more conservative, with innovation speed constrained by costly and lengthy R&D cycles and demanding regulatory approval processes. This has also set higher barriers of entry for smaller players in the healthcare market as opposed to other industries.

It takes on average 17 years for a successful laboratory discovery to be adopted in clinical practice. While understandable given the “do-not-harm” principle should always come first, medicine has, however, been historically outpaced by other industries when it comes to new technology adoption.

That said, technology is on the verge of significantly transforming healthcare as well.

Medical image recognition has seen probably the biggest leap forward, with several AI-driven products already FDA approved. Some algorithms have demonstrated improved diagnostic performance over human medical professionals.

Moore's Law, even if only an observation, suggests that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit – in other words, the overall processing power for computers – 
doubles every two years. Medicine is one of the fields that can dramatically benefit from miniaturization and mobility. The Internet of Things (IoT), although still in its infancy, will impact the way healthcare professionals monitor and treat disease. Patients will become more and more engaged in their own care, with help from AI technologies and real-time monitoring of vitals and other biomarkers. As mobile technologies advance, home and remote care will become more possible and replace, in large part, traditional care settings.

We should also weigh carefully the adoption of new technologies in medicine against ethics and privacy considerations. We should continue to protect patients’ privacy and hold that as a critical component of any new platform or technology. For example, security standards are still being developed for IoT, with these devices being more prone to hacking than existing technologies.

Additionally, some AI methodologies such as deep learning are opaque when it comes to identifying the real risk factors behind a diagnosis. In other words, an algorithm can sometimes identify the risk of developing a medical condition more accurately than a human caregiver, but we may not necessarily know why it came to that conclusion. Would you, as a provider or patient, go forward with a recommendation for more invasive testing and/or treatment? Enhancing algorithm explainability and even establishing provider and patient trust in such technologies will take time.

While humans are likely to remain essential in the care delivery paradigm by 2035, technology is already on the path to enhance significantly patient engagement as well as diagnosis accuracy and overall care quality. It is likely only a matter of more time until avangardist technologies, such as augmented intelligence, will lead to true revolution in healthcare. We may eventually hear the greeting “Good morning, the AI will see you now!” in healthcare as well, but we will probably have to wait for a bit more time for that to occur.

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