Five technology developments set to transform the future of healthcare 

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Five technology developments set to transform the future of healthcare 

The pace of technological change over recent decades has been jaw-dropping – it has transformed our lives and it continues apace.

The impact of technology in the field of medicine and healthcare has been particularly momentous.

From underpinning advances in biomedical science to providing advanced surgical equipment and supporting our everyday fitness, the innovations have been pivotal in increasing our life expectancy and catapulting our quality of life to unprecedented levels.

Here we glimpse into the future of healthcare technology and look at five developments that may help raise the bar in health treatment and prevention.

1. The robots are coming

In fact, they’re already here! The computer-enhanced da Vinci robot, for example, is designed to assist with delicate and complex, minimally- invasive surgery and is currently used in more than 70 hospitals across the UK. What’s more, a British company has now unveiled a rival system, the Versie’s robot.

To date, robotic surgery has been predominantly used for prostate, bladder and gynaecological operations. As robots become more versatile, compact and cost-effective however, their disruptive potential will increase and the range of surgeries and medical applications will grow.

We can also expect the role of robots in nursing care to increase. Robots, equipped with artificial intelligence, are already being trialled in nursing homes to engage and interact with residents and help stave off loneliness. In time we may see them increasingly helping the elderly to remain independent, lifting patients off beds, for example, recognising signs of illness and alerting medical staff.

2. Smart machines: the power of AI

In addition to supporting robotics, there are numerous other ways that artificial intelligence (AI) may help reshape future healthcare.

In his recently published global best-seller, ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, Yuval Noah Harari claims AI doctors may well be superior to human medics.

Whether or not this proves the case remains to be seen. In the meantime, AI may certainly have a significant role to play in assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of patients by helping doctors analyse patient records and by helping interpret symptoms with greater accuracy. Research recently demonstrated, for example, that AI can help tackle lung disease by improving diagnosis of respiratory symptoms.

Future AI systems may also support personalised healthcare, performing health assessments, offering healthcare advice and assisting patients with chronic medical conditions and drug regime management.

3. Tiny tech and molecular medicine

Nanotechnology promises amazing things and has the potential to revolutionise the future of healthcare.

It was more than half a century ago that the film Fantastic Voyage depicted the shrinking of a submarine crew and their journey inside blood vessels to conduct brain surgery. It may have been fantasy, but the development of microscopic robots that can roam inside our bodies and deliver drugs with precision, or remove pathogens and toxins, is getting ever closer.

Only last year, scientists from Arizona State University and China’s National Center for Nanoscience and Technology announced they’d successfully developed robots measuring just few hundred nanometers – 25 times smaller than the width of a human hair – that could shrink tumors when injected into the bloodstream of mice.

Nanotechnology may also assist in the development of nanoantibiotics to help fight drug-resistant superbugs.

4. Next-generation wearables

It’s now a decade since the first Fitbit was launched, heralding a revolution in smart, wearable, health tech. From heart rate and sleep cycles to steps taken and calories burned, wearables can now give us a snapshot of our health in an instant.

Crystal ball gazers predict a future that will see wearables becoming integral to disease prevention, diagnosis and health treatment.

Wearable biosensors have already been developed that can be used in hospitals to monitor patients requiring frequent observation. Elsewhere, implants beneath the surface of the skin allow diabetics to continuously monitor glucose levels.

Future subcutaneous implants may include ID chips that store patient records or help identify bacterial or viral infections. We may see contact lenses incorporating biosensors that can identify early signs of medical conditions such as cancer.

We can also expect the integration of artificial intelligence into future wearable health tech to evolve and become commonplace, helping doctors more accurately monitor, analyse and treat a multitude of illnesses.

5. 3D and 4D printing technologies

The development of 3D and 4D printing promises to transform the manufacture of everything from pharmaceuticals and human tissues to prostheses, inorganic materials and devices.

3D printing already has a broad reach. It has been able to produce human tissue, for example, and research is currently being conducted to create major organs including artificial hearts, kidneys and liver structures. Drug printing is also well underway – the US Food and Drug Administration approved Spritam, a 3D-printed drug treating epilepsy, back in 2016.

The next stage may be personalised drugs printed using 4D technology – a process that gives 3D structures the ability to change shape or form over time.

This would mean drugs could be constructed and programmed to meet patients’ individual requirements. Pills might swell and release their drugs when they are in a patient’s stomach, for example, or remain closed until they reach the intestine. They could even house multiple drugs, each with different release times.

According to Gartner, medical 3D printing will have a predicted market value of almost £1 billion by 2020.