The opportunities …
Over the past 150 years, medical progress has brought us breakthroughs such as the invention of X-ray technology, the discovery of penicillin, and the first organ transplants. Many experts believe far greater progress awaits in the years ahead.
High-performance computers can evaluate huge volumes of data in no time at all (this is called “big data”) and, by doing so, help speed up the development of new treatments or drugs. Thanks to big data, for example, researchers in the United States have discovered that a drug used for patients with depression could also help treat a specific form of lung cancer.
Imagine wearing a tiny device on your body that analyzes your genetic predisposition, your physical condition, and your behavior. It could raise the alarm before you suffer a heart attack or develop diabetes. Although no such device exists as yet, today’s smartwatches can already warn wearers if, for instance, they have an irregular heartbeat.
3Better health care
If you live in a rural area or on an island, the family doctor is often some distance away. Telemedicine offers a solution in such cases. Cutting-edge blood pressure devices and pacemakers can automatically transmit data to the doctor, while video consultations help decide whether an actual visit is necessary.
The ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to evaluate large volumes of data in fractions of a second means, for instance, that AI could compare X-rays or CT scans in global databases and help make a reliable diagnosis far faster. According to initial studies, for example, AI can help doctors detect skin cancer using photos of suspicious changes to the skin.
Digitalization promises many new treatment options in the future. A few examples are robots that help with operations, tiny microrobots that move through our bloodstream recording values such as blood pressure, and the use of virtual reality to treat diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
6More efficient processes
State-of-the-art technology is already relieving the strain on staff at medical practices and hospitals. Digital treatment and patient data is available at the touch of a button, and medical devices can be equipped with tiny transmitters so that everyone always knows exactly where they are currently in use. All kinds of other possibilities are also conceivable in the future, such as robots reliably taking blood samples from patients.
7Better nursing care
In the case of nursing and geriatric care, too, robots controlled by AI could take over heavy physical work such as washing, turning, and lifting patients. This would give nursing staff more time to attend to individual patient needs. Rehabilitation robots that help stroke victims, for example, regain their mobility are another potential application.
8Risks and side effects
Do these technical advances therefore actually promise mankind the chance of a longer, healthier life? Or should we be worried that the technology will be misused? Risks and side effects cannot be ruled out, even when it comes to the digital future of medicine.