Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

Top 8 Trends in Healthcare and Technology

FEBRUARY 01, 2017
 
We are in a golden age of “exponential technology,” a term coined by author, executive, and innovator Peter Diamandis. Exponential technology, which refers to technology that is doubling in power and speed each year despite a continuous drop in price, includes innovations such as 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, and artificial intelligence (AI).
 
Thanks to innovators around the world, the healthcare community is leveraging exponential technology and reaping incredible benefits. Healthcare providers, including pharmacists, are now able to access more affordable technology that helps to improve patient care, increase efficiency and reduce error rates.
 
Here are 8 trends in healthcare and technology that are using exponential technology to its fullest potential:
 
1. AI that can predict disease.
 
Scientists at the London Institute of Medical Services trained an AI system to analyze blood tests, patient health records and 3D models of functioning hearts to predict potential heart failure. After completing its analysis, the AI system predicted which patients would die in the next year with 80% accuracy; the average doctor’s accuracy rate is about 60%.

As scientists learn more about AI and gain access to more patient data, we can expect to see dramatic advances in the number of diseases that can be predicted and improved accuracy rates.
 

2. Regeneration of the human body.
 
Researchers in London were able to stimulate the self-repair of large dental cavities by regenerating stem cells in tooth pulp. Using a small amount of an existing Alzheimer’s drug and a collagen sponge, scientists were able to generate new dentin, a substance found in healthy teeth, during a 2-week period.
 
RenovaCare, a biotech firm in New York, has developed experimental technology for treatment of burns that suspends a patient’s own unwounded stem cells in a water-based solution that can be sprayed on the burned area, enabling new skin to grow. This treatment would allow doctors to provide quicker, more effective and lower cost burn treatment.
 
Advances in stem cell research—when combined with gene editing, artificial intelligence and data mining—will allow us to more effectively and efficiently promote the repair of the human body.
 
3. Advanced diagnostics and treatment for cancer.
 
The American Cancer Society has reported that US cancer deaths have decreased by 25% since 1991. Although lifestyle factors such as decreased smoking rates can be credited for some of the decrease, advances in diagnostic and treatment technology have made cancer easier to detect and treat in its earliest stages—leading to better outcomes for patients.
 
Microsoft has launched an ambitious effort to “solve the problem of cancer” within 10 years using a combination of biology, engineering and computer science to “reprogram” diseased cells.
 
Other researchers have developed nanorobots that can navigate the bloodstream and deliver targeted treatment to cancerous areas of the body. Researchers at Washington State University have developed a 99% accurate, cancer-detecting smartphone app that could put advanced diagnostic technology in the hands of consumers.
 
4. Faster and easier diagnosis of health conditions.
 
Scientists in Israel have developed a breathalyzer that can diagnose 17 unique diseases from a single breath. Using AI, the system was programmed to recognize a unique signature for each disease—including cancer and neurological conditions—based on volatile compounds found in our breath.
 
As scientists continue to blend different disciplines, such as AI, materials science and nanotechnology, we can expect to see dramatic improvements in our ability to accurately and efficiently diagnose disease.
 
5. Availability of healthier foods.
 
MycoTechnology, a startup from Colorado, has developed technology that uses invisible fungi molecules that block bitterness on a person’s taste buds. Including the fungi in food would allow food manufacturing companies to reduce the sugar content in food products while maintaining taste.
 
Being able to naturally reduce flavor defects without adding extra sugar will change the processed food industry—as well as the way Americans eat—and may reduce the incidence of a range of health conditions, such as Type II diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
 
6. Improvements in medical devices.
 
Scientists at Trinity College in Dublin are using Silly Putty combined with graphene, a special form of carbon, to create a malleable material that conducts electricity and is very sensitive to pressure. Although graphene is already being used to make high-performance transistors, sensors, and composites, experts believe that this combination of materials may allow for the development of devices that can be used to take a person’s pulse or blood pressure by simply touching it to their arteries.
 
7. Targeted treatment for infections.
 
As part of a joint research effort, scientists at Harvard, the Empa research group and the Adolphe Merkle Institute developed iron-coated antibodies that stick to bloodborne bacteria.
 
Using magnets and a dialysis machine, scientists were able to remove the infection from the blood by pulling out both the antibodies and bacteria.
 
The development of synthetic antibodies is part of a growing effort to target specific cells. As researchers begin to gain a better understanding of the immune system, targeted treatment may become available many conditions, including severe allergies, sepsis (blood infection) and cancer.
 
8. Personalized, automated care.
 
Although the healthcare industry of the future may be more dependent on technology, it will also become more personalized. Technology such as 3D printing will allow physicians to quickly and inexpensively create lifelike replicas of a patient’s actual body structures to help them provide personalized care.

Improved gene analytics and access to data will allow physicians to deliver individualized treatment based on a patient’s specific health condition, such as a specific type of tumor or dementia that affects certain brain functions.
 
As science continues to evolve, healthcare providers will be able to offer increased, more affordable access to technology that improves patient longevity and quality of life.

As we move toward the prevention of disease and therapies targeted toward specific health conditions, the pharmacy community will need to adapt to changing treatment methods. Although new technology and scientific advances may come with a learning curve, these trends will result in a healthier community.


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