Doctors and Drones: Healthcare in 2050

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Written by Bailey Piazza

“Is there a doctor in the house?”

Yes, just open an app on your smartphone. Well, maybe not quite yet. But by the year 2050, seeing your doctor and getting immediate care can be as easy as making a Skype call or downloading an app. Even treating cancer may be as simple as taking a pill. The world is clearly evolving and in true Darwinian fashion, only the strongest will survive. In order for humanity to thrive over the next four decades, it is imperative to maintain our “one step ahead” status through medical advancement. 2050’s technological innovation could be a boon of prevention and treatment for the healthcare industry. But could it also be the key to human demise?

Telemedicine

Or as The Wall Street Journal calls it, the healthcare “revolution.” With a few taps on a screen or even a vocal command to an AI device, a patient can access their doctor in moments. The ubiquity of smart devices combined with the internet gaining momentum, strength, and availability around the world means health providers of 2050 will be pivoting towards electronic communication. From the comfort of home, or anywhere really, a doctor can remotely diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatment by means of telecommunication technology. What would have required a formal appointment, standing in line, and sitting in a cramped waiting room until a burnt-out doctor could provide treatment will be replaced by a simplified, streamlined approach to getting the care you need as quickly and comfortably as possible.

This quick communication could also be the saving grace in sudden life threatening situations. When the seconds count, like in cases of heart failure or stroke, doctors can use instant communication to share patient data and connect with each other to make fully informed split-second decisions. The interconnected web of doctors creates a personalized treatment plan based on every piece of information provided, right down to your genome. Instead of the patient inconveniently revisiting the doctor days later or not having the means or availability to follow-up, he can use that same instant communication to discuss developments with his doctor and tailor the treatment if needed. This mends the deepening rift between doctor and patient as doctors play a more active role in the sustained health of their patients.

Telemedicine also allows for better care in places where medical expertise is hard to come by. According to The World Bank, Turkey is one of these countries with sparse medical professionals, tallying in at 1.711 physicians per 1000 people compared to Italy’s 3.764 physicians per 1000 people and lower population. At the 35th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations in Washington, DC, Dr. Cavit Avci of the National Telemedicine Project at Istanbul University presented his findings on the future of telemedicine in Turkey and around the world. According to Avci over 42% of the 2016 Turkish population has access to the internet, making it a promising factor for telemedicine in Turkey. Dr. Avci urged the domestic telemedicine market to focus on the evolution of production facilities, factories, and market in Turkey. Turkey’s fast growing telemedicine sector serves as a model for international collaboration. As more nations generate and share telemedicine technology and methodology, the more telemedicine and greater access to health care in developing countries becomes a reality.

Doctors of the future

The push for STEM careers and education will revolutionize the future of jobs by 2050. The education system will need to curb itself to prepare its students for these careers. In the next few decades, young students will be more medically aware and educated. Children will grow up with more and better quality health knowledge than their parents because of a common core curriculum that values this early understanding of science and the human body. The internet will be largely influential in this respect as more students will have access to learning about cells

Early exposure to the medical field will cause more people to be drawn to such careers, making medical education more competitive than ever. In 2050, the world will have realized the failures of the current medical education system that focuses on scores over communication skills and humanistic intelligence, hampering the quality of curriculum and later medical services. A standardized program will replace the curriculum used today.

Contrary to the movements that promote shortened medical education, Ahmad Zaheer Qureshi of the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association believes that such a solution will “leave gaping holes in the physician’s understanding of the human condition, and lack of knowledge would significantly affect patient management.” Qureshi predicts that 2050 will bring with it a new model of education, especially for physicians. This model, he projects, will include twelve years of general education followed by three years of their common core medical education, where students will study the basics of applied science, evidence-based care, informatics, and topics regarding the quality of life. During this three-year term, student are exposed to a variety of hands-on experience, using the latest technology of the times, like 3D imaging or virtual reality goggles to dissect using modified surgical tools. In the next two-year phase, students will compete or choose one of three tracks for higher medical education: physician track, allied health care track, or a medical scientist track. These two years of higher medical education will solely consist of clinical rotations. Two additional years of specialty training will then offered in the following pathways: basic sciences, laboratory based careers, clinical training pathways, medical education, and health administration. This adds up to a total of eight years of post-high school academics.

With this educational system, the term “subspecialty” will become obsolete, according to Qureshi. A general orthopedic surgeon trains under a different program than an ankle surgeon. Each program preserves a specific curriculum to certify safe practice and indoctrinate pertinent skills in their learners.

Nanotechnology

Healthcare in 2050 will mean smarter and smaller solutions with little to no incision or invasion. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanotechnology is the “science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers.” While much discussion of future tech focuses on massive computerization of jobs, transportation, and education, incorporation of nanotechnology into regular healthcare procedures will be revolutionary for sustaining life at the molecular level. A nanometer sized box could travel through blood vessels releasing insulin without catalyzing an immune system attack. Nanorobotics will also be used in transporting and discharging dopamine to a specific location in the brainstem, treating Parkinson’s patients. Nanotechnology could also mean an end to body-ravaging cancer treatments by replacing radioactive machines with nanobots the size of molecules that inject targeted chemotherapy into cancer cells, leaving healthy cells relatively unscathed. Microscopic robots implanted at birth could send alerts to your smartphone when a disease or illness selects your body as its next host, treating symptoms before you even feel them.

Nanotechnology will make surgeries as easy as swallowing a pill or getting a shot. Inside that capsule or syringe, atomic nanobots lay waiting to be released into the body. These nanobots will have the capability to remove harmful clots, collect tissue samples, remove damaged cells, grow healthy cells, absorb toxins in the blood, and even emit magnetic fields to provide MRI scans for minute areas of the body.

While medical optimists prophesize the prevention of illness and aging, nanotechnology has its cons. The size of a nanobot makes it a very stealthy and powerful weapon, easy to conceal and implant in a victim. With nanotechnology constantly monitoring our bodily functions, such tiny devices could make total surveillance a reality. Our medical information will ping off satellites and through Internet connections, making our own bodies a target for hackers. Future crime, terrorism, and warfare take new form as adversaries attempt to utilize these nanobots to hold hostages by threatening to deliver toxic/lethal drugs into the body.

Dissecting 2050 and Beyond

 In 2050, early 21st century healthcare will only exist in relics of surgical instruments and abandoned hospitals turned into museums. The lives of our children and grandchildren will mean the death of many diseases and illnesses deemed incurable by today’s standards. The next generations will traverse the coming age of superhuman ability, replacing our flawed cell structures with robo-cells that will shield our skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation and even block bullets or other forces of trauma. Of course, with greater human power comes greater human responsibility. A new race of superhumans ushers with it a greater need to protect the most valuable weapon: our health.

Looks like Season 43 of Grey’s Anatomy is going to be a good one.