Bosch’s Health Buddy telemedicine system
Put aside the politics and the heated rhetoric. On this point we can all agree: Health care in the U.S. is fragmented at best. Inefficiencies abound. Stakeholders rarely communicate. Tasks better suited to computers are completed by hand. Providers have little time and incentive to adopt new technologies, many of which significantly change established workflows and often lead to fewer reimbursable visits.
Now, change is finally afoot in the health care industry. By 2020, the status quo will give way to personalized health care. More care will be provided remotely. Patients will become empowered participants. Technology will help coordinate care results and yield consistently better outcomes. Our growing knowledge of genetics will lead to personalized therapies. Patient adherence to treatments will improve. Outcomes will be measurable. Hospitals will leave less room for human error–and doctors will refocus on patient care.
Existing technologies make it possible to provide more services outside traditional settings. Telemedicine systems like Bosch’s Health Buddy allow clinicians to consult patients electronically, view abnormalities in data streams and adjust medications before they end up in the hospital. Research at Japan’s Showa University showed that remotely monitoring asthma patients reduced hospital visits by 83%, over a six-month period. Results like these offer hope that, in 10 years’ time, remote care will keep patients healthy and at home.
People will engage more meaningfully with their health. Carefully tailored social-networking platforms, like PatientsLikeMe.com, will allow otherwise isolated patients to find emotional support, gather information and make decisions with help from others. Online resource centers that provide accurate and comprehensive information about health conditions, such as WebMD ( HLTH – news – people ), will help patients make informed choices. Health care companies will learn from other industries: They will speak in plain English, regain trust and ultimately empower patients.
By 2020, medical decisions will be based on better data. Technology will improve clinical decision-making. New body sensors that capture continuous physiological data streams during daily routines–as opposed to discrete data captured at isolated moments in time–will provide clinicians with greater context and enable them to diagnose based on robust evidence. Diabetics are already measuring their blood sugar continuously; other continuous sensors, such as Corventis “smart bandages,” which measure seven vital signals, including heart rhythms, are en route.
As scientists learn more about the human genome, the medical community will be able to use DNA coding to select the most effective therapies for individual patients. Researchers recently correlated a genetic marker to the success of certain chemotherapy drugs in breast cancer patients. Such discoveries will continue as genetic databases grow, and by 2020 scientists may even be able to customize drugs for their patients based on their genetic make-up.
In 2020 patients will finally start taking their meds on time and in correct dosages. No small feat considering that today, only half of all patients take their medications correctly, according to the World Health Organization. In the future technology will help crack the adherence challenge by providing patients with the support, knowledge and feedback they need to follow their care plans. Proteus Biomedical already has an ingestible microchip in the works that can be embedded in every pill to let patients, caregivers and clinicians know exactly when each dose is taken. This data could power a host of carefully designed services to drive adherence.
Outcomes will be increasingly measurable. Today few systems can identify which therapies or doctors achieve the best outcomes. As electronic medical record use spreads, statistics about diagnoses, therapies and outcomes will be readily available via wide-reaching databases. Patients will be able to determine not only which treatments have proved most successful for various conditions, but also which physicians are most adept at treating particular ailments. Medical decisions will be based on solid performance data.
In 10 years, hospitals will leave little room for human error. According to a recent Institute of Medicine report, 1.5 million people are harmed by hospital errors each year. Preventable hospital deaths–nearly 100,000 a year, by some estimates–could be reduced by a simple checklist. In the near future, expect to see increased investment in hospital infrastructure that reduces human error.
That will leave hospitals with more time to refocus on patient care. New technologies can relieve the enormous administrative burden on our clinicians. Consider a typical hospital scenario: Physical therapy must happen after a nurse has administered medication, and housekeeping must change the sheets while the patient is out of bed. And everything must be documented. Currently hospital staff painstakingly manage everything manually, often revisiting patients because of administrative mishaps. Technology could help coordinate staff and manage documentation so clinicians can spend more time caring for patients.
These technologies together will help America’s health care system run more smoothly. Expect to see innovative thinking, new incentive models, clinicians refocused on practicing medicine and patients who enjoy better outcomes.