Healthcare is affected heavily by several major trends: budget cuts in the overall healthcare sector, an ageing population and a growing shortage of carers. Although all of these are quite negative developments that will put a strain on our healthcare system, together they do stimulate another trend: introducing more technology in healthcare!
‘Hospital to home’ becomes ‘hospital to phone’!
What will the future of healthcare look like?
For many thousands of years, healthcare has been an exclusive area, only accessible to the academics and the rich. With the rise of the internet, this knowledge has been opened up to a far larger group. Although Google will claim your minor cold is a horrific disease 9 out of 10 times, it has also provided people with information on how to deal with certain diseases and disabilities, given people access to peers sharing the same illness and so on.
Wearables and healthcare
Over the last decade, this once exclusive area has been exposed to several innovations crossing over from other industries, think for example about wearables – introduced to help athletes measure their performance, now also used to measure antioxidants and anxiety among autistic children. Health wearables that can be worn as a wristband or even as a skin tattoo. Or health wearables such as Quell that relief pain by stimulating the sensory nerves. But we shouldn’t forget the oldest wearable around, the hearing aid. Now, improved and solar-powered!
3D-printing and healthcare
Another cross-over comes forth from the manufacturing industry: 3D-printing. We quickly saw that 3D-printing didn’t stop at plastic, but started moving towards other kinds of ‘ink’. Think of steel, glass, carbon fiber, and in terms of health we now have 3D-printing of human tissue, medicine and prosthetics! Using 3D-printing has many advantages, one of them being the ability to personalize every item: from casts to wheelchairs. And second, 3D-printing makes producing prosthetics and other tools a lot cheaper. Check out this video with Genta Kondo, founder of Exciii, who produced the first open-source $ 3000,- prosthetic arm.
Prevention and diagnosis
More and more data sources become available to the public, and there are a lot of companies and organizations who jumped on this train and started providing apps and software to predict – and thus prevent – diseases (from happening). A great example of this is the Sickweather app, that scans for illnesses in your neighborhood.
On top of that, a number of tools and smartphone apps have become available that help home diagnosis. There are many benefits to self-diagnosis, such as an early diagnosis (and treatment!), the reduced strain on physicians and less traffic to the hospital. Examples of such apps are: making EKGs with Kardia and scanning for STDs with ELISA.
Enabling medical staff
Technologies can enable medical staff to become better prepared, trained and able to help their patients. Often this happens by means of virtual reality or augmented reality, teaching methods that are better equipped at learning than 2D pictures. Think of surgical training with the Oculus Rift VR glasses, Virtual ER training, studying anatomy with 3D4Medical.
Enabling the hearing and visually impaired
Over the last year we’ve seen (and spoken to) quite a few examples of tools and apps that help making life easier and better for people who are born blind or deaf. There are two social apps that connect blind or deaf people with others based on the simple principle of helping each other for free: BeMyEyes connect blind people to people who can see, and Chabla connects deaf people to interpreters all over the world so they can communicate without bringing a translator when traveling. Besides apps, there are also new products that help the visually impaired ‘see’ – the Blitab braille tablet and the eSight enhancing glasses. Or how about the gloves from SignAloud that transliterate sign language into text and speech.
Other enabling tools
Recently, the Seoul National University has presented the Exo-Glove Poly, a wearable robot hand that has the potential to assist people with hand disabilities. And there are many such tools that enable people missing limbs, or control over some parts of their body. Take for example the emPOWER ankle by BionX Medical Technologies, the digital prosthesis Shortcut, and the standing wheelchair.
Other great examples of innovation in health:
- Human Longevity – analyzing genomes to predict diseases years before happening;
- Oscar – word’s first human modular body (not for the faint-hearted);
- Hydrogels – injectable polymers that may prevent heart failure after a heart attack;
- Organ Care System – transport system for a living transplant heart.