The future of healthcare is bright, if only we allow it
“We can print a house in 24 hours; we have built exoskeletons that turn you into Ironman; and we’ve got the amazing self-driving vehicle. But these are cute technologies, the best is yet to come: in a decade or so, we go to Mars!” We spoke to Dr. Bertalan Meskó – Director of the Medical Futurist Institute – who believes that healthcare needs that trip to Mars: that technological advancement means we’d have healthcare systems that are accessible, personalized, preventative and augmented. Meskó argues that it’s not just the technical advancements that we need, though – healthcare needs a cultural change to really allow for that huge technological leap to really make waves.
With doctor shortages, a need for 5 million more healthcare workers around the world, a lack of trust emerging between patients and providers, and expensive technologies further dividing people, the healthcare system is in much need for innovation. “We are at the bottleneck of innovation – we have 30 new technologies coming out every week, a technological tsunami, and we must be better at making the most of this opportunity”, Meskó argues.
“Since the dawn of medicine, we’ve been collecting data about patients. We have been asking them questions, examining them, measuring and obtaining their data, and we – medical professionals – have to make decisions based on those datasets. But the tools we’ve had to use have been quite rudimentary – body temperature, blood pressure, et cetera – but now as patients start to use digital health technologies like sensors, wearables, and genomic data, they bring an immense amount of data to the doctor-patient examinations.
Professionals should be able to analyse those kinds of data, but no human being is able to do that alone, it’s impossible to analyse it all effectively without the help of AI.”
Afraid of the Unknown
Meskó argues that despite the technology available for use in healthcare, the fear of the unknown is preventing their infusion into existing health systems. “We are afraid of AI, of robotics, of replacing people. But we have to embrace the fact that we cannot compete cognitively – we need help to make the best decisions for our patients. We need to embrace that we need a cultural transformation in healthcare – not technological, not regulatory, not financial, but a cultural one. We need to accept that we have been averse to change, but now with such constant technological change, we must realize that it’s a positive kind of change.”
Meskó talks about another change required – a change in how the patient interacts with the healthcare system, and how healthcare professionals should welcome this step forward. “We need new technologies that infuse the patient-doctor relationship and put it on a new level. My vision is that in 10 to 15 years from now, patients will become the point of care – you’ll be able to get diagnostics and treatment wherever you are without going to a physical place because you’ll be able to use sensor technologies, among others.”
Embrace Patient Design
“We in healthcare should say this out loud: ‘We cannot do anything without actively involving patients’. Healthcare today asks so many different kinds of people for advice, but we don’t ask the patients themselves.”
Meskó is passionate about the need for C-suite level advisory boards with patients on them, and for the shift required in the vertical hierarchies which have always existed with physician on top and patient at the bottom: “We must shift the doctor-patient relationship from a hierarchy into an even partnership, because patients can bring so much more value to the table.
I’m a proactive patient: I measure data and I want to bring it to my GP when I discuss it, and I want to prevent stuff from happening, not just get medical help when I have a disease or symptom already.”
Technology Doesn’t Replace – it Augments
“We need systems that support us – the humans – in the work we do,” Meskó argues. “A radiologist shouldn’t have to go through 60 normal scans when a computer can do it – no repetitive, non-specialist task should be part of a radiologist job.”
As much as Meskó believes that technology can advance healthcare, he’s also very sure in his assertion that it cannot possibly replace the human factors: “I believe in the cognitive power people have. Patients need empathy, and while you can mimic empathy with AI, it’s not the same feeling as you trust another human being. Empathy is so important, and it’s because of this that we’ll always need the person to lead the patient relationship.”
At the heart of what Meskó believes, is that if we’re really to get that healthcare equivalent of the trip to Mars, we must be much more accepting of the idea that healthcare workers must be supported and augmented by advanced technologies. But to get to that place, the culture within healthcare must emerge out of its traditional vertical hierarchies and embrace this new, empowered patient.
The future of healthcare is bright, if only we allow it.
Dr. Bertalan Meskó, PhD is The Medical Futurist and the Director of The Medical Futurist Institute analyzing how science fiction technologies can become a reality in medicine and healthcare. As a geek physician with a PhD in genomics, he is also an Amazon Top 100 author. He is also a Private Professor at Semmelweis Medical School, Budapest, Hungary.