Dr Who? The virtual future of healthcare
The year is 2071. The common cold no longer exists. Nanobots have successfully cured cancer. Kidneys and livers are being grown autonomously in laboratories and transported all around the world to deserving patients.
You wake up to Eli, your personal assistant robot, who quickly measures your vitals and lets you know that everything is as it should be.
You proceed to eat your breakfast prepared according to the required macros of protein, carbohydrates and fat that you need to get through the day.
On a platter, Eli brings all your meds – from multivitamins to probiotics and pain relievers.
That smallish lump in your neck? Eli tells you that it is nothing to worry about, but schedules a virtual appointment with your doctor anyway so you can put your mind at ease.
You have also recently been informed by Eli that your pancreas is no longer working as it should (you can’t defeat age anyway, even with artificial intelligence) and schedules the next check-up with your endocrinologist.
Sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi narrative, right?
Well, truth is always stranger than fiction. It looks like the current healthcare transformation could very well pave way to a future where hospitals as we know it may not exist.
Instead, doctors will helm Control Centers with rows after rows of screens and headsets, closely watching their patients and offering care on demand.
Let’s imagine a Control Center in the future.
The patient in Screen 11 needs an emergency appendectomy. The doctor dispatches the equipment to the patient’s home and while being connected virtually, a robot performs the procedure autonomously, guided by the doctor. The entire event from the pain response to the final procedure takes only minutes.
In the adjacent Screen 12, a surgery powered by virtual reality is in progress where the screen shows the exact location of a tumor in the lung. It also carefully charts a pathway so the tumor can be dissected with minimal damage to surrounding tissues. The doctor, in full VR gear, prepares to operate on the patient from the Control Center.
This transformation can benefit both the patient and the industry. Patients don’t have to face the hassles of admission, paperwork and waiting times, and industry can tackle the problem of not having enough specialists.
Today, universal healthcare systems in the UK, Canada and France are reeling under cost pressures brought on by dwindling taxpayer money and an increasingly aging population. The new healthcare revolution can help these systems become more efficient by addressing resource scarcity with remote monitoring and surgeries. The NHS in the UK is already offering free apps and devices to help manage chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
On the flipside, however, we need to examine how much this transformation would impact on our personal space and freedom. Having wires and devices attached to your body is not pleasant. It can also make you overly anxious – you may be tempted to keep checking these devices like you obsessively check your smartphone every few minutes for that elusive text or phone call.
And, unlike doctors, robots will not offer the level of human interaction and personal touch – those words of kindness that you desperately want to hear when you are sick – that “You’ll be okay”.
It is intriguing though, that even with all the unlimited possibilities of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and whatever else will come in the future, the perils of technology continue to haunt us.