Dr. Bertalan Meskó, Ph.D., is the director of The Medical Futurist Institute, which studies how sci-fi technologies can become a reality in medicine and healthcare. He explained why patient-first technologies must be a driving force in the future of healthcare tech.
Over the past year, where have you seen technology make the biggest impact in terms of the way patients access care?
Any technology that supports at-home care. The pandemic has led to an incredibly quick technological adoption worldwide. Physicians and patients had to learn to use telemedical services in the span of weeks in 2020, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to receive or provide care. If we can put the cultural transformation healthcare needs now next to this skyrocketed technological adoption, we might save a decade’s worth of progress in digital health.
The biggest milestone in the history of medicine is the patient empowerment movement. Patients, who have been the most underused resource of healthcare, can now act proactively and become a member of their own medical team. Any technology that supports that transition significantly improves the ways patients can access care.
What technology should healthcare providers be prioritizing today?
It’s certainly not one or two technologies healthcare providers should be prioritizing today. Instead, they should embrace two approaches: patient design and digital health. Patient design means you involve patients on the highest level of decision-making in the organization, meaning you only design physical facilities, treatment processes, and guidelines or even products with them.
Embracing digital health means healthcare providers acknowledge the cultural part of healthcare’s transformation. One example clearly shows what it means in practice. If you focus on a given technology, such as virtual reality, and give devices to patients staying at the hospital for longer times expecting that they would feel less pain by virtually swimming in the ocean or visiting other countries, you won’t succeed. But if the caregivers of patients take part in the process, acting as coaches to discuss the expectations, the technology, and the whole experience, researchers have been able to prove that patients’ pain scores get significantly lower.
In short, healthcare providers should focus on technology that improves the doctor-patient relationship.
What will healthcare look like in the next five years?
Patients will be empowered, easily and routinely reaching out to technologies, information, peer support, and second opinions. Digital health technologies will make them the point of care, meaning they will be able to receive care wherever they are through the technologies they and their caregivers use.
We will see fewer interfaces in the doctor-patient meetings allowing two people to have a meaningful conversation while being surrounded by invisible, seamless technologies. Medical professionals will closely work with automation, especially artificial narrow intelligence, to remove the repetitive components of their job.
This will not only happen in developed nations, but in underprivileged regions, too, where policy makers decide to take a leap into digital health (such as what has happened in Rwanda).
The above-mentioned situation is not a prediction. It’s a vision we share at The Medical Futurist based on trends and studies, and I firmly believe that whether it becomes common practice in five years or sooner depends only on us, empowered patients, and what we plan to do with our health and disease management. Going for advanced technologies and fighting for a partnership with our physicians are definitely the first two great steps in that direction.