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From machine learning to virtual reality, the face of health care is changing quickly.
Fahad Aziz is the co-founder of Caremerge, an “award-winning technology company revolutionizing communication and coordination of care for seniors.” As an industry leader in the tech space, Aziz has his finger on the pulse of disruptive health care tech. He says a few technologies are poised to seriously upend ‘business as usual’ in health care in the near future, and they are not necessarily what you’d expect. He shares his predictions for the future with Inc.
1. Machine learning
In 2012, Vinod Khosla predicted that in time, “technology will replace 80 percent of what doctors do.” He is spot on, according to Aziz. “If we add machine learning, the field of study that allows computers to self-learn without specific programming to do so, to existing artificial intelligence (A.I.), the resulting machines will be better able to diagnose and heal patients than their human counterparts can now,” he notes. However, to physicians who might become upset about making the sick bay in Star Trek the new reality, Aziz warns not to “overlook what Vinod was really saying–that big data, properly harnessed and utilized, has the potential to help physicians simply do their jobs better.”
He continues, “While farfetched at the time, big data and machine learning have come far enough in just four years to provide gravitas to Vinod’s argument. With a trillion gigabytes of patient data collected from devices, EHRs, labs, and DNA sequencing, alongside surrounding factors such as weather, geo-location, and viral outbursts taken into account, computers learn quickly, and they learn everything. The depth of information provided at such a scale suggests that in the future, patients won’t need to consult with various specialties to figure out what’s ailing them. Instead, consolidated data will enable a fully coordinated treatment plan — something that even Steve Jobs couldn’t create in the last few years of his treatment for pancreatic cancer.”
2. The internet of things
Gartner estimates that six billion devices will be “connected” to the internet by 2020, collecting data for consumption, analytics, and a whole lot more. Aziz asks us to imagine a future where “your doctor has your vital signs, including your glucose levels, blood pressure, temperature and more — and you haven’t even left the house.” All of this will become possible because of “nano devices in the human body and hardware that currently exists only in hospitals and other health care facilities. This information will be transmitted seamlessly to medical professionals and treatment can begin immediately.”
Aziz’s vision goes further. “The internet of things has implications elsewhere for the health care industry. Pharmaceutical research could bid farewell to clinical trials once they can access millions of patients’ data to accurately analyze behaviors and results. Challenges facing immunizations could also be solved. Currently, vaccinations are rendered ineffective by temperature changes during their transport; a simple tracking device with a thermometer could solve the problem. Similar challenges with manufacturing, delivery, and tracking of vaccinations can also be digitized to make the immunization programs successful globally.”
3. The Human Genome Project
Today, it takes only $1,500 and a few hours to decode the human genome and DNA sequencing for one human being. A little over 10 years ago, that cost was $2 billion dollars. Today, researchers in Europe are using 3-D printers and DNA sequencing to grow human body parts that could potentially replace missing limbs or ailing organs. “The more we learn about DNA sequencing, the more accurately medicine can treat patients for their illnesses. There will no longer be guesswork involved. DNA sequencing will help people make better-informed decisions about their lifestyles, illnesses and treatments. This means that the doctor’s role will change dramatically, potentially impacting the entire healthcare paradigm,” said Aziz.
4. Virtual reality in health care
“Mark Zuckerberg’s $2 billion acquisition, Oculus, a virtual reality headset, has the potential to be larger than Facebook,” Aziz predicted. “Virtual reality allows researchers to experience physical and psychological challenges by deceiving the sense of sight and touch. Using the headset, the mind of the viewer believes that they are part of an artificial environment. Fast forward a few years, and this artificial environment will be real. VR is already being used for the treatment of PTSD, autism, social cognition, meditation, treatment of burns, and to help with surgical training.”
Aziz foresees a future where “a doctor could be transported to a hospital in Kenya while sitting in the relative comfort of his clinic in San Francisco. The VR gear would allow the user to move around and interact with people in their environment, enabling participation in treatment, research, or even surgery. Soon, consumers will be able to go ‘virtually’ to a hospital to meet with doctors and specialists there, share vitals through various devices and video cameras, and gain diagnoses and treatment options from the comfort of their home.”
While some of Aziz’s ideas still make me squeamish, machine learning, virtual reality, the Human Genome Project, and the internet of things will undoubtedly impact our lives in the future. This combination of technologies could certainly have a major impact on the health care industry in particular.
“If it all seems impossible,” Aziz added, “remember that the iPhone is less than a decade old, has spawned countless industries, and is shaping our daily lives in wholly newer ways than we could have ever imagined.”