Every day, millions of people are taking prescriptions and medications that will have no impact on their health. In the United States alone, the highest grossing drugs only help between 1 in 25 and 1 in 4 of the people who take them.
As shocking of a statistic as this is to some, it’s not all surprising considering how an average doctor’s appointment goes. A patient comes in with an issue for the doctor to solve, be it a cold, headache, or pain in their knees when they squat. The doctor does his initial diagnosis and proceeds to do a couple of checks on the patient. Usually, if nothing seems majorly out of whack, the doctor would usually prescribe aspirin or painkillers, and send the patient on their merry way (or redirect them to their good friend’s even more expensive specialist clinic).
If this all sounds a little too familiar, you’d be right, seeing as it’s how doctors have been treating their patients for the better part of the last millennium.
“Last I checked, an A.I. doctor with cognitive consciousness that can fully replace a physician with 10 years of experience under his belt hasn’t been invented yet…”
But times have changed – healthcare is getting more unaffordable with every passing day, countries big and small are all still battling wave upon wave of coronavirus infections, even the life expectancy of Americans has been falling for the past 4 years, a first in over 40 years. Perhaps its about time we reexamine our current understanding of healthcare for the masses.
Enter personalized healthcare.
Consider this – the average patient appointment time spent interacting with a doctor in the United States is roughly 15-20 minutes, whilst the actual appointment time in full averages around 120 minutes, per a study done by Harvard Medical School.
How accurately could a primary care physician really diagnose your problems and prescribe you the exact cure to your ailments in 15-20 minutes, whilst facing a backlog of numerous other patients waiting impatiently for their turn at lamenting their concerns at the poor soul with the stethoscope? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a complicated one.
You might not have realized it, but you are probably already receiving personalized data about your own health. If you have an Apple Watch, Fitbit Fitness Tracker or an Oura Ring, your data is being sent to the smart people working behind the scenes in those companies, fed through machine learning algorithms and processed by a A.I. neural network, all just to pop up a notification telling you that you’ve been sitting for too long. Brave new world we’re living in, huh?
Even if you don’t own a fitness wearable, chances are that you’ve used apps that have tracked your personal health data in some way. Nike Run, Strava, Apple Health and so many others pull data from the GPS and accelerometer in our phones to give their predictive models more to work with, allowing them to gain valuable insights on their customer’s habits, health and preferences, and in turn, passing the output of those models back to you, the consumer, as useful advice on improving your health.
“You have to recognize realistically that AI is qualitatively different (…) We are coming close to the point where not only cashiers but surgeons might be at least partially replaced by AI.”Andrew Yang, The War On Normal People
Former 2020 U.S. Presidential Candidate, Entrepreneur
Of course, the recommendations of an algorithmic model should just be taken at face value, purely as a guideline on how best to adapt your current diet and fitness regime to better suit your own personal goals. Usually in the fine print somewhere for these fitness trackers there’s a large disclaimer stating something along the lines of “Hey this is merely a suggestion, we suggest you consult a physician first, so please don’t sue us if anything happens to you!”
But healthcare isn’t really a zero sum game is it? There isn’t an ultimatum that forces us to decide between the intuition of a human who has spent 4 years mastering his craft in medical school and however long practicing their specialty in residency, or to be beholden to the whims of an A.I. omnipotence that feeds off of big data.
The answer to the future of healthcare, it would seem, lies squarely in the convergence between doctors and technology, man and machine (learning).
You may have heard of the term telemedicine – whereby doctors are able to diagnose, treat and monitor patients using electronic information and telecommunication technologies. Basically, it means that you can receive world class medical care whilst not even being in the same time-zone as the doctor or clinic you are receiving it from.
Now the implications of such a practice being widespread goes without saying. Say you’re out hiking alone(please don’t actually do this, at least get a buddy to go with you) and you accidentally rubbed against the bark of a poisonous plant and are now developing a very painful and excruciating rash.
Using your cellphone to connect at low-latency to the satellite just above you(under SpaceX’s new Starlink constellation), you can be on video call with a doctor that’s on-call 24/7 and immediately have the rash looked at by an expert at his field. Your watch measures your elevated heart rate and a dozen other metrics and starts live streaming information about your vitals via 5G over to the clinic.
Before long, a drone flies overhead and drops a care package with all the necessary medical equipment. As you pop open the packaging, the doctor continuously guides you on how to apply the bandages and medications, keeping you safe and reassured whilst help is on its way to extricate you from your hiking trail.
Seem like a pipe dream? Not anymore. In Rwanda, a company has started delivering essential medical supplies such as blood bags for transfusion to hospitals using drones, bypassing the mostly undeveloped road network in Rwanda outside out its capital, Kigali. Even in the most desolate and unreachable places on earth, such technology is already being relied upon to save countless lives.
During the long, cold and eternally dark winter months at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, landing in the white-out conditions at -56F for emergency medical evacuation is almost impossible. Although there are medical facilities and trained personnel that stay on base during the long dark winter months, medical care is still very limited. Hence, the base is always connected to doctors and researchers in Galveston, Texas through telemedicine, where on-call physicians can diagnose heart attacks, inspect a lesion or even provide psychiatric counseling to workers from thousands of miles away.
In the context of everyday people like you and me, however, the prospects of telemedicine and personalised healthcare get infinitely more interesting. Far from the enormous costs one would typically associate with having doctors being 24/7 on call 365 days a year, current personalized healthcare solutions for example are, dare I say it, relatively affordable in the grand scheme of things.
Take the Oura Ring for example – it’s basically a whole host of advanced sensors jam-packed into an unbelievably small package – literally the size of a ring. With those sensors, the ring can continuously monitor key signals such as your resting heart rate, body temperature and heart rate variability(HRV) and provide you with personalized readiness, sleep, and activity scores each day based on what it tracks as your baseline.
Such technologies would have been merely been just a cool concept two decades ago, but it is here today and now, and with the help of rapid advances in battery technologies, miniaturization of computers as well as the advent of distributed systems and the Internet-Of-Things(IOT), the 4th Industrial Revolution is only getting started.
At risk of boring you into a comatose with endless techno-babble, the gist of it is this – though devices such as the Oura Ring and the Apple Watch make no claims to be a medical-grade device, their capabilities comes pretty close to what a clinical solution can offer at a fraction of the cost. Our bodies and aliments are unique to us, so why shouldn’t the solutions to our individual health problems be equally as targeted?
A doctor can only conceivably receive so many patients in a day, and less we lower the standards of medical school and increase the intake of doctors ten-fold, the problem doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Last I checked, an A.I. doctor with cognitive consciousness that can fully replace a physician with 10 years of experience under his belt hasn’t been invented yet, therefore the issues of struggling to match patient demand to the supply of quality healthcare is only set to increase.
In the meantime, the advent of personalized healthcare through IoT technology and 5G means that we are ever so closer to a world where we can detect and destroy cancer cells as soon as they propagate, monitor vital health signals such as heartbeat rhythm to potentially warn of a heart attack, and give accurate targeted data that can offer a doctor invaluable feedback in which to offer a much more accurate diagnosis and treatment for the patient without utilizing incredibly expensive medical equipment or invasive methods.
Even simple test kits like 23andMe and our very own Saliva Test Kits, in which you spit in a tube and send it halfway across the globe to have tested in a lab, can give you a comprehensive report about your genome or hormone levels taking from a huge range of data points and indicators within your DNA. Even your Ancestral Origins can be checked with some of these kits!
So it’s no wonder some of us are beginning to look forward to a day where we may no longer need to wait 2 hours in a doctor’s office just to get prescriptions for some stronger painkillers. In fact, in some countries this is already a possibility. A clinic in Singapore recently introduced a few years back a service that allowed patients to video call doctors for consultation and get priority treatment for common aliments, with the medicine being delivered straight to their mailbox by courier from the pharmacy, completing eliminating the need for patients to leave the comfort of their own homes.
Even if we take clinical healthcare and doctors out of the equation, being able to analyze accurate data from our own body and make life choices from our conclusion of it rather than relying on our own intuition like “I feel like I’m going to be sick” or “My knees feel bad” can prove invaluable in improving our mental health as it takes the guesswork out of the equation regarding the state of our health. The cost of fitness wearables and test kits usually range from a few hundred to just over a thousand, far more cost-effective than the enormous jaw-dropping bills from a double-bypass surgery, even if you’re covered under a good insurance plan.
So as we look into the future that certainly seems more and more likely to be proliferated by Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, why not tap on this revolution in technology to improve our health and happiness? Nobody said the future had to be a dystopia. The choice firmly lies in our hands.
And hey, whilst we track our sleep with the always-on Oura Ring, monitor our fitness with the Nike Run App and check our hormone levels with the Kinexcs Saliva Test Kit(available in our online store now), perhaps one day we will kick back and relax in our front lawn, free of aliment and comorbidity as we reminisce and laugh about the “good old days”, where we used to sit lethargically in the doctors office, lamenting in our minds about how miserable mankind is as a species as we wait for a literal eternity to get the doctor’s verdict on our third colonoscopy. Sounds like a desirable future? You’re already living in it.
Welcome to the future of personalized healthcare.