By Rajneesh Bhandari
Medicine will advance more in the next ten years than it did in the last 100 years. The future of healthcare is shaping up in front of our very eyes with advances in digital healthcare technologies, including 3D printing, Remote diagnosis, Wearables, Electoceuticals, Digital therapeutics, Virtual Reality(VR), and Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence(AI), Computer vision, etc. Health-tech startups are incorporate these digital technologies in bringing the future to the present and help millions of patients. The most significant disruption in healthcare is the convergence of these multiple technologies, which exponentially amplifies the impact.
A great example of remote diagnosis is teleradiology. AI-driven teleradiology will bring down the marginal cost of interpreting a CT scan or an MRI to near zero. Products like Zebra Medical Vision technology can read millions of scans in a day at less than $1000 a day. It is predicted that in 5 years, no medical image will be reviewed by a radiologist until it has been pre-analyzed by a machine. Similarly, today algorithms can interpret pathology slides better than pathologists. Computer vision products like PathAI advertise a lower error rate than pathologists.
Wearables and Connected devices
Wearable, ingestible, and implantable devices can monitor health parameters, engage patients and their network of caregivers, and deliver therapies autonomously. Technology can make fitness addictive, making healthy living a cult. Startup Curefit, which focuses on better eating and fitness, is valued at $ 800 m. As per a recent report by Redseer, fitness is a $ 100 billion opportunity for startups in India with 90 million health-conscious individuals.
Gone are the days when wearables could only measure heart rate, steps, and calories. We have smart headphones, rings, and patches. Smart patches can capture body temperature, heart rate, and blood sugar, among other biometric data. Another emerging technology is smart hearing aids, which measure patients’ health and at the same time can provide intervention through a digital training system. Smart rings are capable of measuring patients’ heart rate, quality of sleep, respiratory rate, and body temperature.
Smart devices help in improving the medical “Root Cause Analysis.” We haven’t had patient’s parameters being monitored in their real world, on the go, at work, while asleep. With the ability to monitor one’s health at home and share the results remotely with their physician, these devices empower people to take control of their health and make more informed decisions.
With healthcare becoming digital, patients today are more empowered than ever before. Digital therapeutics (DTx) provides evidence-based software-driven therapeutic interventions to prevent and manage a medical disorder to improve patient outcomes.
Digital therapeutics is proving invaluable in clinical trials, with pharmaceutical companies using AI tech to improve patient adherence to taking medicines. Across the world, more than 30% of people do not take their medications as recommended, and in the US alone, this has been linked to125,000 deaths annually.
Digital Therapeutics use behavior science to help people change their habits, improve their health and reduce their risk of chronic disease.
NeuroEquilibrium apps help patients manage their chronic diseases like diabetes, provide event inputs as in migraine and vertigo, control electroceuticals, carry out interactive vestibular rehabilitation, etc.
VR is now increasingly used in the medical field to diagnose and treat neurological conditions and mental disorders. ‘gameChange’ is one such company implementing VR to treat psychosis, which they accomplish by putting the patient in a virtual scenario that could be potentially distressing to someone with the condition. A research team at the University of Cambridge has developed a VR navigation test in patients at risk of developing dementia.
Gamification can be a powerful tool to improve motivation, engagement, and outcomes in treating arthritis, diabetes, back pain, obesity, etc. Immersive exposure therapy can be used to treat patients with phobias and motion sickness. It is also an important tool in pain management and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. NeuroEquilibrium is one of the first companies globally to use VR for treating neurological conditions and phobias related to balance disorders.
VR is also being used to train future surgeons and for practicing surgeons to develop improved surgical techniques.
Electroceuticals are devices that alter the electrical signals sent through nerves and could be the future for personalized, targeted medicine. Instead of targeting the body’s cells like most pharmaceutical treatments, the electrical impulses target various nerve networks – creating a new methodology of medical intervention.
Electroceuticals, like spinal cord stimulation, are very useful in chronic pain management. NeuroEquilibrium has developed wearable electroceuticals which help in aborting episodes of migraine or reducing the headache intensity.
Of all the technologies in the digital age, 3D printing is arguably one of the most revolutionary. This technology came into prominence during the Covid pandemic, with critical parts of ventilators being 3D printed. Both outside and inside the body, 3D printing has the potential to disrupt medical technology radically, including dental implants, prostheses, hearing aid molds, surgical guides, etc. We can now print everything from bio tissues to blood vessels and even medicine tablets. The wearable devices and diagnostic equipment developed by NeuroEquilibrium are 3D printed to allow for rapid prototyping and production.
In-silico methods refer to predictions using computational approaches.
In-silico trials have shown to be powerful weapons in predicting immune responses of potential candidate vaccines. In-silico analysis helped in identifying ‘spike protein’ as a target epitope for new vaccine development. We have recently published a paper in ‘Frontiers in Neurology’ on how computer simulation developed by NeuroEquilibrium helps visualize certain diseases in 3D to understand the present treatment protocols and develop new ones.
Digital technologies and data-enabled insights and interventions are fundamentally changing how patient care is delivered. This new era of care will be revolutionary, not just evolutionary, as we move from sick-care to health-care, from reactive to preventive, from episodic to predictive, and from one-size-fits-all to personalized.
As Yuval Noah Harari says in the bestseller book ‘Homo Deus’ “While 20th-century medicine aimed to heal the sick, 21st medicine is increasingly to upgrade the healthy.”
(The author is Founder of NeuroEquilibrium, the world’s first chain of vertigo and balance disorder clinics. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)
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