The medical world can be slow to adopt innovations and new trends as compared to other industries. Often for good reason: the history of adopting trends for less-than-precise medical reasons led to the acceptance of often deeply detrimental practices such as bloodletting for infectious diseases and lobotomies for mood disorders. History aside, today we see a plethora of superstitions revolving around fad diets, ill-conceived cosmetic procedures, and unnecessary IV mega-dose vitamin drips.
This stated, the medical community today by in large tries to focus on evidence-based medicine to enhance individualized care and population health. Yet, we find ourselves at an unprecedented cross-section where the interaction and future of medicine and technology has never been more deeply entwined. So what exactly are the current trends in the medical industry, and which of these are likely to become more important in the future? Let’s find out!
This field of medical care is all about tailoring medical treatment to cater to the needs of individual patients. Personalized healthcare has improved considerably and is now becoming a massive trend among healthcare providers and their patients.
Personalized healthcare uses a patient’s genomics, genetics, and any other biological markers that help predict their risk for certain diseases and how they will respond to treatments. This allows for the use of precision medicine, in focusing treatment on the intersection of an individual’s genetics, their environment, and their lifestyle. The benefits of personalized healthcare are numerous, which is undoubtedly leading to its increased use among healthcare providers.
Precautionary considerations for discussion: One area of caution would be around the use of personalized healthcare toward genetic modification of gametes and embryos.
Virtual Healthcare and Telemedicine
Another trend in medical care is the increasing utilization of telemedicine and virtual healthcare. Telemedicine and virtual healthcare have been around for quite some time, but the big boost came during the Covid-19 pandemic. Post-pandemic, virtual healthcare is still being used consistently among healthcare providers. In the United States alone in 2022, the industry was worth $29 billion. Virtual healthcare has also had a positive reception among patients, with many finding it as effective as one-on-one checkups, while some were so bold as to even claim that it was better than physical meetings.
Precautionary considerations for discussion: Telemedicine is certainly convenient, but as providers are already noticing, there are stark limitations of what can be seen and heard via a screen versus in-person, so understanding where the scope of telemedicine ends is critical so as to not miss underlying patient issues.
Related to the conceptual framework of “comfort” that the above-discussed virtual healthcare brings, personal self-healthcare allows users to diagnose and/or take care of themselves from the comfort of their own homes. An example of personal self-healthcare includes home testing kits which allow users to perform health tests such as DNA and thyroid tests at home. These and other personal self-healthcare solutions help lighten the burden on healthcare system demands while offering efficiency and convenience.
Precautionary considerations for discussion: While adding convenience, de-burdening the system, and putting patients in control of their health sound promising, things can obviously go awry with patients over/under-diagnosing and treating themselves.
Wearable Healthcare Devices
There is no doubt that wearable devices have become increasingly popular as a form of healthcare service. As these devices get more advanced, they will become more valuable in healthcare, especially in providing routine checks and monitoring outpatients over time. Some healthcare professionals are not the biggest fans of wearables due to exaggerated claims by manufacturers. However, wearables are generally viewed positively, and we’ll likely see more of them in the near future.
Precautionary considerations for discussion: While wearables can share data beyond the small cross-section of time that the patient is in front of a provider, they can also create unnecessary anxiety in patients as vitals are being constantly displayed for monitoring. This, in turn, could exacerbate objective symptoms due to stress response and/or could lead to subjective over-reporting due to paranoia orienting the patient’s mind toward worst-case scenarios (further aided by repurposing Google into “Dr. Google”).
Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare
Many of the current trends in healthcare rely heavily on artificial intelligence, which makes AI itself a significant trend in medical care. For example, wearables use AI extensively to monitor patterns and predict a user’s future state of health. Alivecor is a company that produces personal ECG devices that predict heart rhythm abnormalities using Artificial Intelligence. Another platform that relies on Artificial Intelligence is Healthily, an app that uses Artificial Intelligence to display a patient’s relevant health information based on symptoms to govern self-care. Even mental health communications are being powered by ChatGPT and other Generative AI frameworks wherein patients can have therapy sessions governed by AI.
Precautionary considerations for discussion: The obvious issues here lie in error, imprecision, and irrelevance. AI, powered on the accumulation of vast quantities of data for statistical prediction, may still lead diagnosticians down prognostic rabbit holes that don’t relate to the actual underlying condition of the real-life patient sitting right in front of them. Over-reliance on AI could dull clinical skill and saavy. Furthermore, in the mental health arena, prompts could lead to strange, even dangerous, responses; one can think of an example of a suicidal patient getting cold AI-powered advice rather than a much-needed human touch.
There is always room for continued innovation and improvement to existing healthcare solutions. No one knows what the future holds, but we can expect some or all of these trends to play essential roles in building up the next stages of the healthcare landscape. Effective marketing, powered by the same sources (namely AI) that are amping these healthcare trends, will fuel trend spread and acceptance at an unprecedented rate. Yet to prevent the potential dangers of blind acceptance, a balanced approach with a view on ethics should be taken while considering the implications of each trend, perhaps in the spirit of realism dosed with a tingle of cautious optimism.