Worldwide health care costs are on the rise once more and they are showing no signs of letting up. According to The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, these costs are rising so sharply that they will become unaffordable within a few decades unless something drastic is put into place. Major reforms are needed and because health spending seems to be rising faster than the average country’s economic growth, public funding is required to meet these bills. But there is some hope in the form of a new technology that has started to make its mark on the way that we look at medicine today. Smart medicine is believed to be the way forward as far as the way that the typical patient deals with health issues and visits to the doctor and hospital. Here, we discuss what smart medicine actually is and hope it may be the solution that the World Health Organisation and many countries have been waiting for.
Smart medicine 101
If the term ‘smart medicine’ is still rather new to the average person, it will not be that way for very long. Traditional medicine has been with us for hundreds of years and whilst it seems to get the job done, there are several issues that we could really do without. Typically, when you become ill and take your prescribed medicine, such as aspirin or paracetamol, once it gets to work, there can be unwelcome side effects. This is usually because instead of targeting the problem area, the medicine tends to travel all over the body. Whilst it will eventually reach the target area, the rest of your body will also be affected. Aspirin will cure your headache but can also upset your stomach. Taking this to a much higher level, think about the way that chemotherapy can cause so much damage and uncomfortable side effects when used in the battle against cancer. Hair loss and nausea being the most common of these. It will also affect the immune system in a negative way and that could lead to infections getting into the cancer patient’s body. Smart medicine has been developed via nanotechnology and, in some cases, the results have been amazing. Instead of causing problems and nasty side effects, scientists are developing cures and treatments that act in a far more direct and less invasive way than traditional medicine.
Smart Medicine utilises modern technology combined with Artificial Intelligence and it is hoped that these developments are going to rewrite the medical journals of today. Not only are there new cures and treatments that are working far quicker and with lesser side effects than established medicine, but there is also a myriad of high-tech equipment being developed that will make the jobs of surgeons and consultants far easier with astonishing accuracy. One example of how smart medicine works is the way that scientists are now able to develop ways to attach human molecules to tiny particles including carbon nanotubes and quantum dots that can carry the drug itself directly to where it is required. This not only works faster but eliminates any risk of side effects. The renowned IBM Watson supercomputer is playing a considerable part in smart medicine by analysing medical conditions within its massive database to find matching results and a subsequent course of treatment.
Why healthcare costs are rising
So enough of smart medicine for now at least, let’s take a look at how and why healthcare costs are spiraling faster than ever before. As we mentioned earlier, because the costs of healthcare are rising faster than the national economy of most countries, it is the taxpayer who has to meet the expense. The US is one country where private health insurance is the norm but even there, certain hospitals are not allowed to turn away patients whether or not they have an insurance policy that covers their treatment. According to Healthcare IT News, a typical trip to the emergency room in the US will cost somewhere between $1500 and $2000. When you factor in the number of people making these visits every year, those numbers soon start to take on a stratospheric rise. Once the actual operational procedure or treatment has taken place, this is far from the end of the story. Recovery time can be weeks or even months and that cost is typically met by the taxpayers of their respective country. Just think about the time it can take to even make a successful diagnosis of the actual cause of the illness. Now just imagine of there was a way to expedite the whole process with a far higher recovery rate and almost zero side effects…If only.
The Smart effect
We’ve touched briefly on both smart medicine and the huge costs of healthcare so now let’s discuss how the two are soon to be connected inextricably. One other reason for the rise in healthcare costs is the increase in chronic diseases that include diabetes, vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These are partially because we are now living longer but also because of an unhealthy lifestyle that has started a meltdown as far as our health is concerned. All of these illnesses add up to a lot more hospital resources being drained and more visits to our doctor surgeries than ever before. By utilising smart medicine, it is hoped that in each instance, the cause of the illness can be identified far sooner than before. This will mean that those lengthy visits to the local GP can be minimised greatly. By using remote medicine practices, it is thought that one day we will not even have to travel to the local surgery to be diagnosed. Smart medicine is also being developed to improve existing electronic devices used in the hospital and clinics. Thanks to some very advanced low-power electronics advances, we are seeing much more compact and easier to use surgical instruments. These harness the new technology in a way that create less invasive procedures and can cut down on the risk of infection thanks to a far speedier process. As a result, certain surgical operations that were previously only possible in the hospital can now be carried out in local clinics. The recovery time will be far quicker and that will have a positive effect on the overall financial burden previously added to our healthcare costs.
Smart medicine in the home
Fast forward a few years and if smart medicine is progressing the way it is hoped, homes across the globe will be seeing the benefits of this ground-breaking technology. Prevention is always better than cure so the like of glucose monitoring system in every home certainly helps in a time when diabetes is threatening to become an epidemic. For those who have already developed this condition, how about a wearable device that keeps track of these levels in a non-invasive manner? Of course, we are talking about a massive infrastructure to support this type of home based technology but this machine-to-machine reality is not just a dream. Other preventative devices include specialist footwear fitted with gait monitors that can detect a change in walking patterns which could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Both of these examples will cut down the time it takes to make a successful diagnosis of their respective conditions and as such will lessen the pressure currently being experienced by our doctor’s surgeries and hospitals.
Some examples of smart medical devices
Despite the fact that we are only witnessing the early days of smart medicine, hospitals and clinics are already using a number of related devices that are offering self-diagnosis, pain relief and self-monitoring options. This removes the need for patients to transport themselves between medical facilities and offers the opportunity to actually diagnose the illness in a far more timely fashion than was previously possible. Here are a few examples of smart medical devices currently in use for the home and clinics:
This ingenious device empowers patients by allowing them to be able to test their saliva, blood and even nasal fluids. It works by enabling preventative care without the need for lengthy and costly visits to the clinic and hospital.
By offering a drug-free pain relief options that actually works, Quell is working wonders all around the world. Not only does it help to manage and minimize local pain around the knee joint, it also relays vital data back to the clinic or hospital via a downloadable application.
This particular smart medical device works much like a stethoscope except it is able to immediately send the heart and lung sounds directly to a chosen host device. This saves both time and money as far as recording and analysis are concerned and improves the efficiency of care delivery in a seamless fashion.
Not all good news
The future of healthcare will certainly be at least partially dictated by how we choose to employ smart medicine and smart medical devices. The costs should definitely start to be reduced so long as the correct practices are followed and if the developers are able to continue with their impressive progress to date. But there remains one main issue that needs to be addressed if smart medicine is ever to achieve its incredible potential. The costs that need to be met as far as bringing new technologies to the operating table are going to be massive. Global healthcare markets are constantly juggling their finances and being able to justify this size of investment could be a problem. Even with the green light for such outlays, any type of breakthrough technology is going to take some time to test and approve for safety’s sake. It may be difficult to convince the bean counters exactly why it makes financial sense to replace a relatively cheap medical process with a device that costs far more.
On the surface of it, we are looking at a very bright future for both the medical profession and the associated healthcare costs. What remains to be seen is whether or not these changes can be underwritten and welcomed in quick enough for those differences to happen sooner rather than later.