Profound changes are coming to the healthcare industry, changes that will affect almost all of us. Today, healthcare is delivered in a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach – standardised clinical pathways that people follow based on the diagnosis they receive from medical professionals, yet the reality is that each person has individual needs. Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, are viewed with a fixed mindset when in reality it is a moving target unique to each person.
A more personalised approach to our future healthcare will be driven by technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) that not only promises a more tailored approach, but also one that could predict, and even prevent illnesses before they happen. For instance, AI has the ability to instantly consume all our personal, health data and all of the medical research ever published (that’s 1 new white paper every 26 seconds). The entire healthcare sector, as well as our life expectancy, would be fundamentally altered but what might future healthcare services look like for people?
We will move away from simply managing an illness once you are sick, to predicting certain conditions and preventing them from developing in the first place. Just imagine being able to catch every disease before it’s too late. Futurologist Ian Pearson predicts that in 10 years we could have a much better understanding of our own health every minute of the day. “The miniaturisation is already here, the technology notionally exists, it’s just waiting for some entrepreneurial company to develop it.” The more data AI has, the more it can predict outcomes. We are shifting from the notion of an annual physical check-up, into continual monitoring for a more personalised experience. AI’s ability to drive more tailored care supports the Therapeutic Alliance (the relationship between the patient, as the expert on their illness, and the doctor, as an expert on the medical condition). This alliance needs data gathered over time to work optimally. Tailoring works by continually learning from data and altering care based on new insights – keeping people out of the hospital, contributing to society for longer.
Currently, AI research in this context is focused on biomarkers to detect diseases and health issues within the body. Self-replicating nanobots with the ability to eliminate toxins, viral DNA or bacteria from our bloodstream are on the horizon. But we also see AI’s application evolving to support our mental health – an AI that can detect our emotional ups and downs, predicting when we may need interventions and preventing us from feeling low – “You’ll be grumpy in 30 minutes if you don’t have a snack.”
There are several risks and challenges to this preventative approach that need to be taken seriously, including tech-bias, job loss and privacy. Many people seem willing to trade some privacy if the overall deal offers good value to them. For instance, reducing insurance costs may be an acceptable return for being monitored while driving. With companies having more access to our intimate health details, will humans be as comfortable with this future healthcare scenario just as they have been with always-on voice assistants and cameras more prevalent in their lives?
Emerging tech, like AI, has the possibility to save and prolong many lives, but how do we get to that point? We must first paint the picture of the ideal future we want – one that inspires us towards a collective, inclusive vision. We must reflect on the consequences, refine the future healthcare vision and then build the stepping stones to get us there. When painting any picture of the future, it is the people that must always take centre stage. To identify growth areas, foresee change, or unlock new experiences, one should naturally consider technology, business viability and sustainability. However, building stories around people’s future experiences helps create meaningful services for people for the years to come.
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