When thought leaders lay out a vision of revolutionizing health care in the coming years, it’s usually a fusion of medicine and ground-breaking technology that calls to mind sophisticated AI robots performing noninvasive surgery with lasers to cure cancer in a matter of minutes.
Chances are that, sooner or later, that vision of the future of health care will be realized. But right now, in many more subtle and user-friendly ways, personalized medicine is already with us and changing the lives of ordinary people.
What Is Personalized Medicine?
In broad terms, it means that there is enough data and analytic ability to craft a health and medical strategy for an individual that is absolutely uniquely tailored to their body and their way of life.
By collecting data via biometrics and sensors, analyzing that data via AI and machine learning, and relying on immersive digital engagement via smart devices, people and patients have access to always-on, personalized health care solutions.
Most of the progress toward personalized medicine is being delivered in such small, incremental steps that it may not seem like much at the moment. But when an old lady in a small town can use Bluetooth to run a medical strap connected to her smartphone to read and deliver data to her doctor in a neighboring town, that is a game-changer that is revolutionizing health care. And when pregnant women in rural African countries receive notifications about what to expect in the coming days and weeks, the scale of change becomes obvious.
With technology’s pervasiveness in all of our lives, we are beginning to experience what it’s like to live with a mobile doctor on hand.
What’s Driving Innovation?
There are a number of factors driving the digital economy that have combined beautifully over the last decade to provide a perfect window of opportunity for changing the way we manage our health and treat illness.
Cloud computing, mobile technology, and big data have fundamentally changed how information is accessed and managed — and have allowed companies and research units to share vital data in real time and develop incredible breakthroughs. When you add another layer built from sophisticated sensors and the internet of things, then all things start to become possible. Measuring blood pressure, iron for anemia and glucose levels … even tracking food ingestion via mobile is on the brink of being utterly transformative.
It’s hard to overstate how profoundly the ways that we gather data, handle it and analyze the results will change the way medicine operates.
Dramatic change is all around us, and there are so many areas of excitement and intrigue presenting themselves. Technology such as IoT and biometric data, smart containers and dispensers that understand whether patients are following prescribed instructions are tilting the equation toward preventive care with dramatic implications.
Looking ahead, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of personalized medicine is being shaped by the advancements in data collection and diagnostics.
Three Areas Of Particular Interest Regarding Data Collection And Diagnostics
• DNA sequencing and the microbiome are the keys to data collection: The Human Genome Project has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements. By mapping and understanding all human genes, known as the genome, scientists laid the foundation for a genetic approach to medicine that is unlike anything the world has ever seen before. The cost of sequencing the genome has been reduced so dramatically that it’s conceivable to begin tailoring treatments based on an individual’s genetic makeup. Closely related is the microbiome. This has an effect on human mood, development, metabolic disorders and gut health. Real-time microbiome analysis could one day give us the ability to instantly diagnose what our body needs and when it needs it.
• Nanotechnology will take data collection even further: The ways in which doctors deliver drugs to patients are about to change forever. In February of 2018, scientists discovered methods of using programmed DNA that could make it “fold itself like origami” in order to starve cancer cells of blood and reduce tumors in mice. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s coming true. Nanotech works alongside ingestible computers that can easily enter the system and monitor what is going on from inside the body. These breakthroughs represent a formidable new weapon in the fight against diseases that have brought people to their knees for centuries.
• Mobile and tricoders are the future of diagnostics: No single device will have a bigger impact on personalized medicine than the devices we carry on our bodies and in our hands. Using incredible computing power, seamless connectivity and sophisticated apps built to gather and transmit a user’s daily health data, mobile devices are at the forefront of preventative medical intervention. Alongside the mobile phone is a new generation of scanning devices called medical tricorders that record basic vital functions and can be used as self-diagnostic tools.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We are at the dawn of a new era, which feels exciting and daunting at the same time. But it’s good to remember that the personalized solutions that medical technology provides are only as good as the data they receive to work with. Is it conceivable that patients should be able to provide their entire DNA sequence to doctors? It is. But will the responsibility to deliver solid health data lie with the patient or external service providers? How is medical data securely stored and delivered?
All of these questions are being asked and debated as the information age begins its transformation of health care. The consequences for all of us will be profound and are set to reshape an industry that is at the core of humanity’s drive for a better quality of life, which is something worth fighting for.