Much has been written about the changing face of consumer behaviour and while some trends are almost a reality in many other industries, healthcare is clearly the laggard.

Here are a  few approaching trends that could fundamentally redefine and transform healthcare as we know it.

Dr. AI 

The human body has 13 different organ systems and at the latest count we have identified more than 60,000 ways that things can go wrong. With dozens of new journals published every day, doctors cannot possibly keep up with ALL the advances in medical science. Artificial Intelligence will not replace doctors, at least not yet, but it will supplement and complement them by instantaneously analysing huge volumes of information, and providing individualised recommendations and guidance. Already this year in Japan, basic Artificial Intelligence saved a woman’s life by correctly identifying her disease when other (conventional = human) methods failed. Learn more about how A.I could affect healthcare in our other blog here.

Brave New Augmented World 

There has been ample hype around the advent of electronic medical records, as hospitals, providers and even entire countries move from paper to electronic records, where clinicians can assess patient information on computers… and sometimes even mobile devices. That was so 2008, now 2000-and-late, as viewing patient information on mobile or computers is no longer novel or innovative. Furthermore, there exists an innate disconnect between the patient and the doctor, a window separating the two…the screen. With the Augmented Reality industry forecasted to be worth USD$130B by 2020, companies like Magic Leap, Microsoft, and Apple are investing significant sums in AR. By using AR to overlay contextual and relevant information, at the point of care – aka the patient – the doctor can intimately engage with the patient, while the patient can also see, understand and interact their own information. 

Unchaining the Block 

The decentralised and distributed technology behind the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, will unequivocally and irreversibly change the healthcare industry, where national healthcare closing in on 10% globally. Blockchain is currently mounting a challenge to the goliath’s of established industries, including finance and telecommunications, and soon to be followed by healthcare. “Bitcoin gives us, for the first time, a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer.” Blockchain represents the dawn of a new day, where large volumes of sensitive patient information can be exchanged securely and quickly between two parties: healthcare providers and consumers, consumers and insurers, consumers and consumers, and so forth. 

‘If This Then That’ Recipes 

Data volumes are exploding; 90% of the data in existence today has been created in the last two years alone. Turning this data into action is crucial in the pursuit of proactive and preventative healthcare. Automated decision trees or ‘IFTTT recipes’ will enable our devices to make complex decisions on our behalf, serving in our best interests. Imagine your smart watch detects when you have a low iron level, automatically shares this information with your fridge, prompting it to order iron rich food (mmm steak), and then seamlessly coordinates the delivery; all without need for human guidance, oversight or intervention. 

Siri Seriously 

Speech recognition is quickly approaching 95% accuracy, the point which serves as the catalyst where early adoption greets the mass majority. And as natural language processing and contextual speech recognition continues to improve, it is predicted by 2020 that 50% of all searches will be via voice and image rather than text. In all western countries minus a few, the number of people above the age of 65 is increasing, already 30% of the population in Japan are over the age of 60. Voice UI will become more influential, especially in healthcare as older and less technologically savvy patients chose to interact with their mobile device in their own language through voice. 

Demographic Data-geddon 

Consumer generated data collected from our personal devices is all the rage, but this data only represents a fraction of our aggregate. By capturing social network interactions, alcohol and tobacco habits, educational attainment, financial means, neighbourhood compositional characteristics, and disposition towards violence; and analysing this data alongside existing clinical data, we can identify associations and understand patterns, which have the potential to improve care, save lives and lower costs. As the utility of combining this information with our healthcare data increases, doctors and data scientists will be able to extract new insights, and “point to the effectiveness of specific treatments for patients with different psychosocial and biological profiles”, the genesis of truly individualised healthcare.

Chatter Bots 

The integration already of bots into social messaging and e-commerce platforms signals that intelligent bots are coming soon to healthcare. At first, bots will only be able to perform simple administrative tasks such scheduling appointments or answering simple questions, but soon they will be able to correctly diagnose, refer and eventually treat everything from mental disorders to physical illnesses. Think an empathetic, supportive and less romantically inclined version of Samantha.

Two Legs Good, Four Legs Better? 

We have been re-engineering life for thousands of years. Using selective breeding, we have selected and cultivated attributes of plants and animals that we so desire, while breeding out less useful traits. Using CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), we will soon be able to do the same with our babies and ourselves. By editing our DNA, we will defeat viruses like HIV, and eventually other common enemies like cancer. In China, clinical trials are already underway in humans using CRISPR to treat Lung Cancer, while the first clinical trial was recently approved in the US. This technology also raises ethical questions as we will be able to modify ourselves, passing on potentially irreversible modified traits to our children and subsequent generations. 

Longevity Escape Velocity 

Advances in modern medical science will continue to increase our life expectancy, eventually to a point where immortality is a technical feasibility. Our life expectancy increases each year as treatment methods continue to improve, and as new technology is bought to market. At present, more than one year of research is required to increase our life expectancy by one year. As Ray Kurzweil discussed in his book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, soon we will reach the tipping point where this ratio reverses, and life expectancy increases faster than one year, per one year of research. This represents the ultimate consumerisation of healthcare as we will be able to choose when, or if we want to die…swansongs need not apply. 

The question is not if these observations will become our reality, but when. We will face difficult challenges and 11th hour second-guesses, particularly when it comes to privacy, freewill and matters of the heart – literally and figuratively. But new technology waits for no man or woman to figure out if, how, or why; so we need to take a technological leap of faith, and find our wings on the way down.

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