Technology has always been able to revolutionize industry and inspire new possibilities. But in health care, the implications feel much grander. New technologies can be not just life-changing, but literally life-giving.
Progress in the last decade, for example, gave doctors the ability to target disease more precisely than ever before, and to personalize treatment based on an individuals unique genetic profile. Biotechnology, or technology that harnesses the power of living organisms, gave us new therapies to treat cancer and rare diseases, whose sufferers have long felt ignored by health researchers.
Even the less-grand stuff like watches that track your sleep cycles and apps that save you unnecessary trips to the emergency room have exciting implications for the future of health care.
As we turn the page on a new decade, the Times Union asked experts to predict the ways in which technology will help us cross new frontiers in science, health and medicine.
The use of virtual technology to deliver health care has grown exponentially as providers realize that much of what they do such as triage, examinations, treatment and counseling can be done just as well over a screen.
And while some people prefer to get their care face to face, its just not feasible for everyone. Nor is it cost-effective.
Everyone is looking for more value out of health care, said Keith Algozzine, founder of United Concierge Medicine (UCM), a virtual emergency room service based in Troy. Whether you think the quality isnt what it should be or cost is too high or access or convenience to care isnt ideal, telemedicine can help all of those things.
Employers are flocking to Algozzines UCM service, whose emphasis on triage means people dont wind up at the emergency room for chest pain thats really heartburn or an infection that requires a simple prescription antibiotic.
Getting patients the right care at the right place at the right time tends to save money, said Algozzine, whose company has seen 100 percent year-over-year revenue growth since its founding in 2014.
So where is the next frontier in telemedicine? Algozzine believes theres untapped potential in the world of follow-up care.
Yes, if you need surgery you need to go in and physically see a surgeon, he said. Thats never going to happen virtually. But why do you need to drive back in for routine follow-ups when you can do it using this technology? Follow-up done this way can be done at a fraction of the cost, for a fraction of the time.
If youve ever heard of stem cells, designer cells, or CAR-T therapy, then youve heard of regenerative medicine.
The branch of medicine that involves regrowing, repairing or replacing damaged and diseased organs and cells was worth $28 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to over $81 billion globally by 2023, experts predict.
Part of the reason is the ongoing success of clinical trials in this area. Stem cell therapy which relies on cells that ultimately develop into blood, bone and brain cells, among other cell types has been effective at treating patients with cancer and blood disorders.
The other reason is its potential to treat a whole host of conditions and diseases.
Essentially what is happening is youre producing tissue at the same rate that it would be produced by the body, at best, said Deepak Vashishth, director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutes Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.
But Vashishth believes scientists can take it one step further.
People are copying or mimicking what nature already does, but what if we could beat nature in some ways and do it faster?
He used the example of a professional football player whos forced out of play by a fractured bone.
Bone will take two to three months to regenerate itself and for a fracture to heal, he said. What if we can make it heal in a month? That would be transformative in terms of health care costs. In regenerative medicine, that concept has not yet been applied.
The concept of a self-monitoring, self-regulating smart home is not new. In fact, plenty such homes already exist, allowing owners to turn off the coffee pot or adjust the temperature while away at the office or headed out on vacation.
The potential for reduced energy waste has driven a lot of recent growth in the field. But Vashishth believes buildings of the future could be built to monitor and even regulate their occupants health.
Think of an office building where your body temperature is constantly being monitored as you move around. If there is flu going around, it will detect that raised body temperature. It could know before you know.
A less pleasant to think about, but still practical application involves smart toilets. Equipped with sensors and artificial intelligence systems, a toilet could measure your urine flow and test for blood, protein and other indicators that might identify an infection or medical condition early on, he said.
Such toilets are currently in development in some parts of the world.
Your environment need not be passive, either. Aside from monitoring, buildings could be equipped with technology or biomaterials that help regulate your health, as well, Vashishth said.
In 2014, for example, RPI unveiled itsfirst public-scale prototype of a special green wall, featuring large panels of densely packed plants that could improve air quality by enhancing the air filtration that naturally occurs in plants.
Its the kind of interdisciplinary work the intersection of science and architecture that RPI is increasingly known for.
Fundamentally these things could change how we live, Vashishth said. And then the question becomes, once we dont have to care so much about our health, what can we do with our lives?
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How will technology shape and disrupt our health care this decade? - Times Union
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