Biomedical and biopharmaceutical innovations have already had a profound effect on the world of healthcare as we know it. Read on for a look at more game-changing technologies, techniques, and trends that are likely headed our way soon.
Have you ever struggled to describe just how you were feeling, or exactly where you experienced pain, to a doctor? Augmented reality applications could put an end to the difficulty of accurately describing your symptoms to a medical professional. For example, the medical app EyeDecide uses a smartphone’s camera display to simulate what effect a specific condition has on a person’s vision; this allows patients to better understand both their symptoms and their current medical state. If applied to other areas of healthcare, this technology could also help motivate patients to make positive lifestyle changes by simulating the long-term effects of their current choices.
The sheer amount of information available online has already inspired many patients to take a more active role in their healthcare, and this “empowered patient” phenomenon is only going to grow as new technologies like wearable medical devices put even more data directly into patients’ hands. However, even the best-informed patients will still need the support of experienced medical professionals in every field—perhaps even more than they do now. Both professionals and patients alike therefore need to prepare for a new system in which patients are partners with caregivers, and patient feedback becomes a key driver in healthcare delivery.
Home genome sequencing
The rise of personalized medicine has been made possible by the remarkable advances in genetic knowledge we have made in recent years. Soon, as the cost of DNA sequencing continues to drop, it will be possible for patients to take the digital file of their DNA data to their healthcare provider and receive truly tailored treatment—a radical change to our current concept of how prescribing medication works.
A new generation of “citizen scientists” is emerging as access to technology and information helps amateur researchers make vital discoveries. Jack Andraka is one such DIY biotechnologist: at the young age of 15, he invented an easy and inexpensive early detection test for a number of different types of cancer—including lung, pancreatic, and ovarian cancer—that has since demonstrated groundbreaking results. In the future, as with empowered patients and their healthcare providers, we will need to see increased collaboration and support between professionals, institutions, and individual DIY researchers in order to both promote individual discovery and keep everyone involved safe.
With the capacity to manufacture medical prostheses, equipment, and even pharmaceuticals, it’s not difficult to see how the current 3D printing revolution is going to sweep the world of healthcare. It was just last year, in 2015, that the FDA approved the first 3D-printed drug: Spritam (levetiracetam) tablets produced by Pennsylvania-based Aprecia Pharmaceuticals are used to treat epilepsy. Since that time, a host of other companies have increased their focus on 3D-printed drugs for the general market. MIT has even developed a technique for 3D printing liquids, which could include liquid drugs, via an inkjet printhead. As this technology develops even further, we may eventually expect to see scenarios where a physician sends a prescription to a pharmacy, which then uses a 3D printer to produce a customized formulation for the patient based on their specific and personal needs.
Cognitive computers (think IBM’s Watson) have the power to change the medical decision-making process, thanks to their ability to analyze huge streams of data in the blink of an eye. Supercomputers are already being put to use in this way in areas like genomic research and biotechnology, and their analytic capacity could have a huge impact on the way new drugs are discovered and developed. Naturally, human oversight and intellect will still be vital, but these machines can offer huge benefits in terms of speed and accuracy of analysis.