“Innovation” the act of alteration and transformation is crucial for progress and meeting the changing needs of a dynamic society. This is no exception in the field of medicine, through the years, populations change and disease trends shift from chronic to non-chronic as countries experience increasing urbanisation and epidemiologic transition.
These innovations although may seem preliminary when first launched or executed could potentially shape the future of medicine. The following are five innovations that have shown to be groundbreaking and disruptive enough to shape the way medicine is delivered.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence; the mimicry of programmes to think and act like the human mind. Since its formal discovery in 1956, advancements and improvements to artificial intelligence (AI) has propelled its applications to the medical field.
From machine learning to natural language processing, developments in AI have been leveraged by various aspects of the medical field. The attractiveness of AI in medicine has been its ability to process large amounts of real world data to generate meaningful conclusions and assist in decision-making of healthcare professionals.
Notably, the use of AI in radiography and medical imaging through deep learning algorithms has gained much interest in the medical field. Medical imaging for diagnosis of cancers or identification of tumours through automated AI technology provides time-saving and even life-saving possibilities for patients waiting for a diagnosis of their condition.
AI has also had its hand in drug discovery by tapping on the potential of artificial neural networks, the process of designing biologically new molecules for pharmaceuticals could be made more efficient. The feasibility and ease of automating the drug discovery process seems to be in the near future. Deargen Inc., a South Korean drug discovery has reported to have used an AI model to screen through over 4,000 drugs currently available that could help combat the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
No doubt AI will have its part in the future of medicine, however it would not only take a well-taught programme to change and improve the way medicine is delivered but also the people who make up the healthcare ecosystem.
The use of prosthetics dates back to ancient Egypt in the year 3000 BC when the earliest proof of prosthetics were found. Since then this area in medicine has advanced rapidly through the years, assisted by technological advancements.
Prosthetic technology are now more advanced with more precise functions. Some advances include the use of 3D printing to manufacture prosthetics in a cost-effective manner. This allows the increase availability of prosthetics to those who were previously unable to afford. 3D printouts of prosthetic limbs have as been found to be more lightweight and convenient for the patient.
Besides prosthetic limbs, bionic eyes could become available soon in the not so distant future. Scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have recently developed the world’s first spherical artificial eye from a network of nanowire light sensors. This offers the potential for the visually impaired.
In Japan, researchers at Tohoku University have developed contact lenses with a self-moisturising system that could help to prevent “dry eye syndrome” — which is prevalent in contact lens wearers. This new technology shows the potential for expansion for other applications for ophthalmology such as drug delivery for those visually impaired or with retinopathy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of telecommunication; whether is it for work or in our personal lives. Even before the rise of the pandemic, telemedicine has already been on the rise. With clinics offering outpatient consultations and purchase of pharmaceuticals through mobile applications, it is no doubt that telemedicine will become an integral part of healthcare delivery.
Telemedicine or telehealth has been understood as healthcare delivered in a home-based setting without the need to walk into the doctor’s office. Older formats of telemedicine took the form of medical advice through the radio. In 1906, one of the earliest attempts at telemedicine was created by the inventor of the electrocardiogram.
With the concept already in mind, it only took time for digital technologies and the advancement of internet speed and capabilities to catch up for telemedicine to provide quality healthcare in the comfort of the patient’s home. Besides the advancements in telecommunications and the internet have a key role to change the healthcare system with telemedicine, the development of real-world databases will also provide assistance in improving telemedicine for the future of delivering healthcare.
The use of telemedicine is now still in its early stages, with regulations and quality standards still yet to be established in some countries. For it to shape the future of medicine, advancements in technology and policy guidelines for proper use to protect the patients are also needed.
Robotics has a wide range of applications in the field of medicine. These applications range from surgical robots to the use of robots for rehabilitation. In 1967, the use of robotics in surgery has already been hypothesised.
For surgical procedures, robots have multiple purposes. Such robots provide assistance to surgeons when conducting operations which are mainly minimally invasive. Other robots such as those for rehabilitation assist disable patients in recovery from traumatic conditions, strokes or even spinal cord injuries. These rehabilitation robots help out in improving motor functions of these patients in their road to recovery.
Another purpose of robotics in medicine are transportation robots used for delivery of medical supplies or medication to patients or healthcare staff. Advances in navigation abilities of such robots can assist doctors in maximising their time with the patient and also for healthcare workers to focus on patient care.
With the progress in the materials science field this area of robotics in medicine will also reap its benefits. Improvements in material quality and durability, or even the development of antimicrobial material for surgical robotics will definitely shape the future of medicine.
The rise of biosensors and its applications through the years has proven to be and integral part of medical advancements. These devices serve analytical purposes by converting a biological response into an electrical signal which then generates data to bridge knowledge gaps.
There are many types of biosensors; piezoelectric, DNA biosensors, enzyme-based and immunosensors just to name a few. These types provide a bevy of applications which can range from personal trackers for diabetic patients to drug discovery or even understanding previously unknown metabolic processes.
Biosensors are a breakthrough in medicine ever since the discovery of the first enzyme-based sensor in 1967 by Updike and Hicks. Besides the medical field, biosensors have been useful for the food and marine sectors. The ability of biosensors to provide stable and sensitive readings are essential when monitoring quality of processes.
In medicine, biosensors are widely used in clinical applications for diabetic patients. More specifically the use of glucose biosensors in detecting diabetes mellitus as well as the precision of blood-glucose biosensors that provide ease for the patients to use at home. Advancements of glucose biosensors through the years has improved its convenience for self-management of diabetes as well as patient monitoring by the doctor or healthcare professional. Diabetic patients are now able to upload information collected from blood-glucose biosensors to mobile applications for their doctors in real-time. This will provide valuable patient information on their condition and also help to reduce the strain on healthcare resources through self-management of diabetes.